Staying safe and managing stress during the harvest season | The Spokesman Speaks Podcast, Episode 54
Welcome to Episode 54 of The Spokesman Speaks podcast. Harvest is a particularly stressful time that can produce more safety risks, and no one understands that better, both personally and professionally, than Emily Krekelberg (a farm safety and health expert for the University of Minnesota). This special episode features a conversation with Emily about staying safe and managing stress during the harvest season.
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Resources referred to in this episode
- Farm stress resources from Iowa Farm Bureau: IowaFarmBureau.com/FarmStress (including information for the Iowa Concern Hotline, our 3-part podcast series on managing farm stress with Iowa State University's Dr. Larry Tranel, Emily Krekelberg's webinar on farm safety and stress management, and much more)
- Rural stress resources from the University of Minnesota:
- Click here to view the transcript +
Narrator: Welcome to the Spokesman Speaks a podcast from Iowa's leading agricultural news source brought to you by the Iowa Farm Bureau. Now here's your host.
Zach Bader: Welcome to this special September 28th edition of the Spokesman Speaks podcast. I'm Zach Bader and today's guest is Emily Krekelberg. Who's a farm safety and health expert for the University of Minnesota. You might've noticed that we've broken away from our regular podcast schedule for the past couple of episodes, bringing you a special episode with Senator Joni Ernst last week, and another special episode on farm stress and safety this week. We will be getting back to our regular podcast schedule in the weeks ahead, but we felt like we needed to get you these last couple of episodes a little bit more quickly due to the timeliness of the topics that we're covering. Of course, we all know that harvest is an especially stressful time that can produce more safety risks. And no one knows that better both personally and professionally than Emily Krekelberg. I had a chance to speak with Emily earlier this month, and I hope that her perspective and advice will stick with you as you make your way through the 2020 harvest.
Zach Bader: Emily, we're here to talk about the stress that farmers are going to be under this harvest season and how they can manage that stress to stay safe and avoid accidents. And I know that this topic is very personal to you. So maybe we can start right there by sharing a little bit of background with our listeners?
Emily Krekelberg: Yeah, absolutely. I get asked pretty often why I do the type of work that I do. So I work as an extension educator for farm safety and health. I think that we think about farm safety is really its own topic just in avoiding accidents, et cetera, but our health and our wellbeing play a direct role in our ability to stay safe on the farm and all of those things really intertwined together. And so back to when I'm asked why I do this, I have two family members, immediate family members that have lost limbs in agricultural accidents. When he was 19, my dad lost his leg in an inline auger for a feeding system. He was working at a feed lot. And then just, we're just shy of four years ago. My brother lost his arm in an agricultural accident actually at a cheese plant and because of my dad's accident and growing up with a parent missing a limb due to a farm accident, I was always more about the dangers of farming and, and much more, you know, passionate, I think about farm safety, but after seeing firsthand what my brother went through, I started to spend a lot more time thinking about how these accidents, it's not just the accident itself. It plays a really big role in what happens on the farm afterwards. And I think that's why it's so important to talk about safety during harvest season, because I think that we all get so busy and there's so much going on. There is a lot of stress, which we'll talk about in a little bit. And we don't realize that if, if there is an accident, if something does go wrong, if we are cutting those corners accidents can happen. It takes less than a second for something to go very, very wrong. And with my family, like I said, I saw specifically from my brother's accident, what happened to him? I saw him mentally struggle, probably more than physically, and also it was heartbreaking, but eye opening to see the way my dad reacted to it. And I just think of the stress that it put, not only on my brother and my dad, but on our whole family. At the time we were still milking cows. I grew up on a dairy farm and it's a thing where my entire family. So I have four siblings. There's five kids, both my parents, some spouses and all of that in his hospital room. I couldn't tell you who milked the cows those next few days. I have no idea. I, you know, there was only that hospital room became my entire world for that week. And so yes, it is something that has impacted me really, really powerfully. And I know that, you know, both my dad and my brother would say the same thing, you know, I wish I would have just slowed down. I wish I would have been paying a little more attention to what I was doing. They didn't do anything blatantly wrong. But again, that's, that's why it's an accident. We don't expect it to happen. We don't think it's going to happen. So they are really big inspirations behind my work. And I tell people, you know, I don't want to see this happen to you. I've lived it. It's not fun. And I always tell them the same thing I say, I do not want any of you to get that phone call, because the phone call I received when my brother lost his arm, it's one of those things that will just be burned into my memory for life. I mean, until my dying days, I will remember exactly what my mom said exactly where I was, what I was wearing even. I mean, I remember every detail of that phone call and I don't want other people to get that phone call because it is life-changing.
Zach Bader: And that's just such a powerful story. And thank you, first of all, Emily, for sharing that with us and sharing that with other farmers that you worked with on these issues. I like how you talk about how those things are all tied together, right? The accident can lead to stress, stress can lead to the accident. And I think sometimes we look at stress maybe as something that just needs to be pushed through. This is part of farming and we just got to push our way through distress. And so can you talk about on that end as well of why we need to manage that stress kind of on the front end and what can result if we're not aware of that and managing that stress?
Emily Krekelberg: Absolutely. You know, with stress, it's a thing and you'll hear people say this and it's true. I'm a believer in this as well. That some amount of stress is a good thing. It's been proven to be a motivator for us because it's sending off chemical signals in our brain for us to keep moving and to get things going on. So having some stress is certainly normal. But I think where we run into trouble is that because we say that people just think, Oh yeah, any stress is normal and that's not the case. And also I remind people as well, that we all deal with stress differently. We all have different thresholds, just like people have different thresholds for pain and also different thresholds for different types of stress. Right? So if something is happening with my family, that's a much different threshold than stress related to my job. And so I think it's important to know where those different stressors are coming from, what are thresholds for those different ones are. And remembering that we need to express when we are stressed and we need to cope with the stress and ignoring it and wishing it away is not coping. That's what I always tell a farmers that I work with. And for so long, I think agriculture, as well as just in society in general, there's been a lot of pull yourself up by your bootstraps. And in farming specifically, if my grandpa did it, you know, during the depression and my dad did it during the eighties farm crisis, I can do this now. I just need to power through or, or my personal favorite. Usually that one person will say to another is just snap out of it. I really, really wish that it was that easy that we could just snap our fingers and feel better, not the way it works, unfortunately. And so, yes, we do need be aware of our stress and again, we need to express when we are stressed and we need to figure out what are the best ways for us to cope with that stress and also be really respectful of other people's stress. Right? I think that sometimes we kind of try to, to outdo one another, like, Oh yeah, well, I got this, this and this going on, and I'm not as stressed as you. And, and another thing I always tell people, you know, at the end of our lives, there is no trophy for who suffered the most. So why would you let yourself suffer? I just, I know that for a lot of people too, it's time and it's stigma and it's all these things. And again, we'll all find something different that works, but it's so important that we do something because if you don't address your stress, you know, you, you hear a million different, you know, metaphors for this, like a pot of boiling water or whatever it might be. And if you are just keeping all of your stress to yourself and just internalizing all of it, you will just reach your threshold where you cannot hold any more stress. And then, you know, it will boil over. It will come out of you in one way or another. And that may be in an unhealthy or unsafe behavior, or it may just be right. It happens to us all. We lose our tempers, we snap at people. And that's usually why is because we aren't confronting our stress. And so our stress is just kind of spilling out.
Zach Bader: So kind of building up that concept and I think you're alluding to how you identified there. How do we identify? Of course, that stress that's okay. And healthy and part of life that we can cope with in some ways, and when we're either seeing it in ourselves or seeing it in someone else stress that is unhealthy, that maybe requires some additional management or additional reaching out that type of thing. What are some signs they can look for? In addition to, like you said, it kind of spilling out in terms of different reactions or interactions that they're having.
Emily Krekelberg: Yeah. That's a great question. So I tell people, you know, we all have bad days, right? So there was a flat tire on my car, and then I got some bad news about the beans I was going to sell. And then, you know, all these things happen, right. And we just have a bad day. So we're in a bad mood. We feel down, we're maybe a little more irritable. We have a headache or something. That's probably okay. You know, I think most of us have those bad days and we can wake up the next morning and we feel a lot better. Rest is sleeping is very, very important. I'll I will drive that point home every day. And what I tell people too, is learn to become very familiar with your signs of stress and stress can appear in a lot of different ways, very commonly there are physical manifestations. So again, I mentioned headache, stomach ache, backache, poor appetite, so eating too much or not eating enough, sleep, so not sleeping enough or sleeping too much, lack of hygiene, lack of grooming. Those are some physical signs. There can be emotional signs, right? We're mad. We are sad. We're depressed, we're anxious, we're nervous. There can be behavioral signs. So, you know, passive aggressive behavior increased drinking, tobacco, and/or drug use. There can be cognitive signs and that's where really with mental health, I like to hone in because mental health specifically refers to our brain and our cognitive function. And so, you know, how are we processing the information that we're getting? And when we're under a lot of stress, we can't process information correctly always or quickly enough. And so when we're under stress, we might have a lack of focus and concentration have difficulty making difficult or making simple decisions, excuse me. And just, you know, anything like that. Those there's a lot of different signs, but I tell people become familiar with what your signs are and learn to recognize those signs in other people as well. And then, like I said, you know, you can tell if somebody's stressed typically. And I always say, you know, just keep an eye on them. Because again, people have bad days and that's, that is totally human, but is it a bad day that has become a bad week, has become a bad month. So basically you are seeing these signs of stress every day. They're not getting better. Maybe they are multiplying that's, that can be an indicator of chronic stress. We call it also things like appearance. So that would be appearance of the individual, but also appearance of the farm or their home. And, you know, we know some people are certainly messier than others. And, but if you kind of know what that standard is or what that benchmark is, then you go to the farm a month later. And I mean, it is just completely out of sorts, not in a way you've ever seen it, or the people are very, you know out of sorts, don't look like they've slept or haven't been well kept up. Those can be signs also. If there's kids involved showing signs of stress or acting out at school you know, we, we can transfer our stress to other people if it's chronic and we're with those people every day. And so, you know, looking out for what's going on with the family members and also increased illness, increased farm accidents, those, those are all signs of chronic stress as well. And so when we're seeing those things start to pop up, that's when we really need to stop. And whether that stop ourselves, if we notice it in ourselves, or I'm speaking up and talking to our neighbor, our friend, our family member, whomever, you know, the, the I'm a little concerned, I think you have a lot going on and, and I want to make sure that you're okay and that you have the help that you need. You know, I, I will briefly mention mental illness. So that would be like a diagnosed illness such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, anything like that. And we don't know all of the causes of different mental illnesses, but one is believed to be unmanaged or unchecked stress that we can, you know, basically push our brains into mental illness because we aren't taking proper care of our mental health. And I know that from experience actually I had some very challenging things happening in my personal life, and I just kept pouring myself into other people and focusing on that and thinking everything would be okay. And I, I developed depression and anxiety and it was a very dark and scary depression. Not just, Oh, I feel sad. I mean, it was debilitating. And so another reason I speak out about this and I'm such an advocate for our mental health, because we need to be able to either a, allow people to check us, or we need to check ourselves. And that's something I try to do almost daily with myself is just kind of this gut check of like, okay, how am I really feeling what's really going on? Is there something I'm ignoring? Is there something I'm avoiding? So I know that that's a very, long-winded answer to your question, but there are just so many things that I think of when it comes to stress and, and that hopefully is helpful to some people.
Zach Bader: Absolutely. I think that's a really good set of things that we can be looking for. So let's say that we've got people listening here and there's some alarm bells going off, right. Either for myself or someone in my life who I'm seeing some of these signs in of stress or intense stress. So it sounds like communication is kind of the first part of that, but how do I giving folks some kind of practical steps when they recognize these things in themselves, or they recognize these things in others? It sounds like, again, communication is part of that, but what is, what are things that they can do to proactively kind of manage these things?
Emily Krekelberg: Yeah. So number one is absolutely communication and kind of intertwined with communication would be social connectedness. So one thing I haven't mentioned yet that is, that is considered a stressor. That's somewhat unique to farming, but as a stressor in general for anybody is isolation. So being on your own a lot, not having a lot of social connections throughout the day, not having a lot of people to talk to. And of course in farming, isolation's fairly prevalent. You know, we have, even if it's a farm with a lot of employees or a lot of people there, everybody's just kind of doing their job and doing their own thing throughout the day. And, and for some of our smaller farmers, like I think of my brothers, they both farm and it's just them all day by themselves. That isolation can be really difficult. And so it's kind of making sure that you do have that social connectedness. You do have someone to talk to. I think a lot of what we see, and again, I know this is what happened with, with me and with a lot of the farmers I've worked with, as they've told me, is that they just did not talk to anybody. They felt like they didn't have anybody to talk to. They couldn't talk to anybody, nobody understood. And so again, they just let all of that stress, all of those feelings get bottled up until, you know, they came out in some way that was maybe undesired. And so with that, you know, I tell people like first and foremost, and this is the hardest thing, why is hate first? You have to be an advocate for yourself. And when I say that, I mean, if again, if you are a recognizing stress in yourself, advocate for yourself, say that, and also spend some time thinking about what you need to, to help you feel better or to help alleviate or relieve some of that stress. You know, I, I'm a really big runner, so I know if I'm just really stressed, I need to be able to just get outside and go for a run or even for a walk just, and being able to signal that to my family or, or my partner or whomever like, Hey, you know what, I just, I got to go out, you know, kind of kind of do some me time for a little bit. So, so that's really important, like I said, advocating for yourself. But also if you notice stress in somebody else and you don't see them doing anything about it. Speak up, say something. September is National Suicide Prevention Month. So we spend a lot of time in September talking about this. And, and also we just passed World Suicide Prevention Day. And I know this seems like a really severe jump, right, going from stress to suicide. Unfortunately it's not as big of a jump as you might think it is for some people. Cause again, it can be more than stress. It can be years of pain and trauma. And again, there may be mental illness involved in there as well. And so if you are worried about somebody say something to them, because again, I mentioned that isolation and it's something that we also do to ourselves. If we're stressed, we learn to self-isolate because I don't want to be a burden to people. Nobody cares, nobody understands, nobody wants to help. And so if you see somebody who's under stress, it is vital to reach out to them. I cannot explain to you how many people have told me, just somebody speaking up and going, "Hey, you know, I'm really worried about you, but what's going on? What do you want me to know?" That is so important to people, the acknowledgement that somebody sees your suffering and understands that you aren't well can be such a relief. And it's really, you know, back to some of that social connectedness and, and realizing, hey, somebody does see it. Somebody does understand somebody does care. That is so, so important. And I know that they are awkward conversations. They're never super fun to have. But I will say they do get easier and they get easier by continuing to have them and checking in with people. And sometimes people will brush you off with the, you know, I think this is a very Midwestern thing, right? Of the I'm fine. I'm fine. And so those of you listening right now, I would ask you if your child, spouse, partner, sibling, anybody has ever said to you, I'm fine. Have they ever actually been fine? Because my guess is no. And so I say, you know what, and if you get the I'm fine, that's okay. Check in with them tomorrow, check in with them in a few days again. I know for me, when I wasn't doing well, I had people that were checking with me regularly and that kind of helped break down that wall that I had built. It took time. So I tell people, you know, don't be pushy, but be persistent and be reassuring. You know, let the person know that you care about them and you want to help them find the help that they need. And that may be encouraging them to talk to their doctor about their stress. Their doctor may recommend a lot of different things, right. But it also goes down to just our general health. I kind of mentioned in the beginning, how all of these things are connected, right? When we physically don't feel well, we usually mentally don't feel well when we mentally don't feel well, we can physically not feel well. And so anything we can do to take care of our mind and our body, even just those simple things, like getting enough sleep at night, making sure we're, you know, eating good, full whole nutritious meals, that kind of thing. And so that can be something that we can do to help others too, is make sure they're eating, you know, make sure they've slept. And so there are so many different things that can be done. It's difficult because you know, I can't sit here and recommend one specific thing that works for everybody. This is not a cookie cutter situation. We're not all the same. So I said the very beginning, we all have different thresholds for stress. We all cope with stress differently. But I would say as far as yourself, you know, you know yourself better than anybody. So, you know, what's going to work for you and then start to learn. What's going to work for other people, you know, talk to them, ask them what they need and really listen. That is, that is the key right there to a social connectedness, effective communication, listen, active listening. And I tell people, you know, are you, are you listening to understand or are you listening to respond? And without realizing it, most of us listen to respond. We're not actually trying to understand where the person is coming from. So I would say, you know, be unbiased, let people really share how they're feeling. Don't tell them their feelings are wrong or invalid don't discount the way that they feel. You know, really honor the fact that that is the way that they're feeling and be really understanding that yep. It, it might be totally different for you, but this conversation is not about you. It's about them. So really making sure that you are practicing a lot of empathy. You know, people don't just want us to feel sorry for them. You know, they want us to be empathetic to really understand their pain. And a lot of us can understand stress and feeling helpless. And so it, it should be really easy to connect with people, but it's difficult because it's uncomfortable and we've had all of the stigma around it for so long. So it's really, really easy for us to go, you know, Oh, I, you know, I don't want to intrude or, Oh, they know they can come to me if they need to do they know they can come to you, will they want to, if you're usually on radio silence, I don't know, make sure to remind them.
Zach Bader: I think those are some great tips for, again, like you just said, they're not taking that for granted that if I know somebody or I see that in someone else, being able to reach out to them and affirm that and initiate that conversation and in a way that's going to make that other person feel like opening up to you about that. Let's tie this conversation back into, as you have been throughout tie this back into farm safety. And especially right now, we know that during harvest, we've got the increased stress that that farmers have been under for a while, but also all these other activities around the farm now that just produce new safety risks that are out there. So talk a little bit about that. Some of those things that farmers should be aware of, be thinking about those tasks that they're doing that are particularly high risk and how they can manage that.
Emily Krekelberg: Yeah. So, you know, I've been working on all sorts of stuff in farm safety for quite some time. And I always kind of give people the same, same three rules or guidelines, whatever you want to call them. And they are each just two words, right? So it's six words total that I encourage people to remember. And those are slow down. think twice, be safe. For me, a lot of what I see is, is, you know, kind of the opposite of that is people are going so fast. And, and I know that time, right? We all wish we had more time all of us. But, but like I said, early on, if, if you're rushing so quickly that a mistake is made, somebody is hurt, you are injured, somebody is killed. Somebody loses a limb, you have not saved time. You have not saved any time. And so I think it's easier to, you know, step back, like think twice, you know, what do they say in carpentry? Measure twice cut once, right? And so it's kind of like think twice and just do it right the first time, you know, allow, allow yourself to think about what you're doing. Be conscious of that. Because yes, when we are under a lot of stress, I know it's easier to make mistakes. And again, I talked about, you know, how cognitively stress can impact us, so it can be harder to focus. Our judgment can be a little more clouded. We're when we're really stressed, we're really easily overwhelmed. And so we may forget things. And so, doing what we to set ourselves up to not feel that way, which I know can be difficult, but I always encourage people. I mean, the biggest one is sleep. You need to sleep. So getting enough sleep, making sure you're eating good food, you know, nutritious food. I know that pop and candy bar are really easy to grab. But you know, water and a protein bar, you will get so much far benefit from. And so again, because all that interconnectedness our, our physical health, our mental health and our emotional health, which is kind of tied into that social piece and our ability to express our emotions. Those needs don't go away just because it's harvest season. We choose to push them away sometimes because it's harvest season. But I tell people like self-care is never selfish and it should be number one. And when I say self-care, you know, Google it, look it up in the dictionary, whatever, but basically self-care is any intentional action you take to take care of your health, physical, mental, or emotional. So yes, sleep is self-care eating is self-care, you know, participating in a hobby or, you know going for a walk with your spouse, that's all self-care. And again, it's, it's not selfish. I mean, if you're spending all of your time going, Oh, I need to take care of myself and maybe, but during harvest season just being like, yeah, you know what I mean? I need to get six or seven hours of sleep every night. That's still not enough. Seven to nine is ideal, but you know, I'm, I'm a farm girl at heart, so I understand how it goes. But just doing those little things to, to help take care of us because I tell people this, you cannot pour from an empty cup. And I think during harvest season, I mean, we are on E right. We are running on fumes. We are, we are walking to the gas station with our gas can in our hand, down the interstate, like I get it, I know it I've lived it. And so anything we can do to, to find ways to kind of refill our cup and, and knowing that, yeah, it's not going to be perfect and I don't need it to be perfect. I don't think anybody needs you to be perfect, but you know, you need to try, you need to be doing these things for yourself and encouraging them and other people too. I think that that's really important. I talk a lot about culture on a farm and specifically creating a culture of safety. And so just about, you know, do you have all of these safety equipment attached to your machinery and do you have warning signs and are things properly labeled? And when you train people or talking to people, are you very clear about what the safety steps are for that? You know, that's a culture of farm safety and with that, you can morph it into a culture of wellness in that. Yeah. You know, you make sure that your family, your employees, whomever that's working on your farm, they have those opportunities to get a lunch break, to eat a good meal. They you know, are getting opportunity to go and sleep each night. All those things that I know just seem so simple, but because they're so simple, I think they're really easy for us to push them aside as unimportant, but it's the simplest things that are the most crucial in my mind. And so I think that really understanding and respecting that all of, all of it ties together, right. How we physically feel impacts how we mentally feel and vice versa. If we are under stress, you know, it's going to take a lot out of our bodies out of our minds and we need to be making that effort to make sure we're keeping the stress at a minimum. I mean, there is going to be stress. Absolutely. I don't, I don't think that, you know, stress free, especially on a farm is a true possibility and that's okay. Because I've already said some stress can be good. It's good for you. But we just really want to make sure that we are managing that threshold very, very carefully. You know, and, and farmers all know how to manage thresholds, you know, soybean, aphids, all of that. And, and so think of that for yourself too, you know, what is your threshold? And then when do you need to be doing something when you've exceeded that?
Zach Bader: Well, Emily, I appreciate it. And I know just listening to you talk here and I'm sure that our listeners will agree that we appreciate the insights and how they come from a place of not only of course, clearly passionate personal connection in person personal invest in this topic, but also from research and the knowledge that you have in this area, if you were to recommend to folks where they wanted to go to take the next step, to learn more about whether it's farm safety or just wellness and stress management and mental health, are there places that you recommend that they go for that?
Emily Krekelberg: Yes, absolutely. So I know that this, this is for Iowa. So I'm a Minnesota girl, if you didn't know that. But Iowa State University Extension has a lot of great resources. So I would check out their website. If there is something that you feel is a little bit more of an immediate need, immediate threat there's the Iowa Concern Hotline that's available 24/7 for people. I know I always encourage people talk to your doctor about it. I know that a lot of people get a little worried about that because they may be worried about being put on medication. They don't want to be put on or, you know, being told to go see a therapist. But they recommend those things because they've worked because they help. And if they don't help they'll help you find something else that will work for you. And so, yes, I tell people do that. Also, I would be remiss if I didn't mention our own website. Yes, it's for Minnesota, but a lot of the information on there is applicable to anybody. It's not state-specific so z.umn.edu/ruralstress is where you can find a lot of great information.
Zach Bader: I'm really glad that you had a chance to hear from Emily when it comes to these hard to discuss topics like farm stress. I think it really helps to hear from someone who can truly relate to the situation that you're in. And clearly that's the case here with Emily. Emily actually did a longer webinar with us on this same topic earlier this month. And we also have a three-part podcast series on managing farm stress with Iowa State University's, Dr. Larry Tranel that's back in episodes 40, 41, and 42 of the Spokesman Speaks. And you can find all of those farm resources and more including the Iowa concern hotline that Emily referenced in today's episode IowaFarmBureau.com/SlashFarmStress. You can also find them linked to the notes for this episode so that you can click on them there with that. We're going to wrap up this episode of the Spokesman Speaks podcast. We hope that you picked up something helpful here and that you'll join us again for our next regularly scheduled episode on October 5th. Until then, I hope that you have a safe and successful week of harvest. Thank you for the important work that you're doing that benefits all of us and thanks for listening to the Spokesman Speaks.
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