After I had kids, I wanted to create better stress-coping strategies than the ones I had...

Ahem, which was none. So, I began building my “mental health” toolbox.

If you were to peek inside, you’d see my tools include listening to my favorite songs, spending time in the sun and talking to someone I trust.

For Josie Rudolphi, assistant professor and extension specialist at the University of Illinois, exercise helps regulate her emotions and reduce anxiety. And while each of our toolboxes will look different, she says it’s important to build them out before stressful situations arise.

We are better equipped to tackle challenges if we know what helps bring us peace and clarity. (Here is a great, practical list of ideas to get you started.)

How do you know when it’s time to dig into the toolbox?

You don’t have to wait for stress to become disruptive to text a friend, go for a walk or express gratitude—if that’s what feels good to you. Just like you would maintain a piece of equipment to keep it running well, you should do mental health “maintenance,” too.  

However, there are behaviors to be aware of that signal we’re becoming depleted.

“We may notice we are more temperamental than normal or less patient,” says Josie. Other common red flags may be changes in sleep, eating patterns or making mistakes due to exhaustion or distraction.

When we get busy, we often stop prioritizing the activities that make us feel like ourselves, especially during harvest and planting season. That’s when it’s especially important to carve out time to engage in what brings you peace or makes you happy. The benefits, Josie said, will far exceed any costs.  

Another way to get ahead of stress is by keeping a calendar of farm events, suggests Josie. Include things like deliveries, purchase dates, how long planting took, when you hauled grain, etc.

In doing so, you can reflect and adjust for the future—Did you run out of fuel too soon? Were there hiccups with getting fertilizer delivered? Small changes for next year can reduce stressful impacts.     

How can I help a family member or friend struggling with mental health?

If you notice someone in your life struggling, Josie says it’s important to avoid making them feel guilty about their stress by saying, “A lot of people are worse off…”

Instead, validate what they are going through and leave space for them to open up with these phrases:

  • It’s a really busy time of year. How are you holding up?
  • I know planting can be a grind. How are you managing?
  • Wow, there is a lot on your plate right now. How can I support you?

Whether it’s you or someone you care about, there is also zero shame in speaking to a counselor about your stress and what coping strategies may work for you. For Iowa farm families, free on-going counseling is available through the Farm Family Wellness program.  

You deserve to feel like your best self, and when you do, your farm will be at its best, too.