Stress - The Silent Partner of Farmers
During boom times for farmers, stress is a silent partner. Today, stress is calling the shots – and you’re more vulnerable to its chronic consequences as the current drought conditions continue to create stress for farm families, workers, and agricultural professionals and key services such as health care, behavioural health, legal, and financial are often less available in rural areas.
Stress is a response to threats to physical or emotional well-being or survival. When this response persists, it becomes unproductive and leads to anxiety, depression, or even suicide.
Chronic stress causes biological and neurological chemicals to flood the brain, preparing us for fight, flight, or freezing up. Repeated release of these chemicals interferes with the regulation of the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal axis. You could compare it to a thermostat that doesn’t shut off.
This chain reaction makes inroads through five major mind/body avenues
1. Physical health.
Most visits to health care providers are related to stress. Physical signs include headaches, fatigue, poor sleep patterns, and frequent illness. Symptoms manifest as anger, irritability, aggression, and anxiety. Receptors in the brain lose the capacity to regulate hormone levels, leading to increases in blood glucose, blood pressure, and inflammation.
2. Cognitive abilities and memory.
Stress hampers learning, decision-making, adaptation, resilience, concentration, and long-term memory. Continued release of cortisol affects neurons and dendrites.
3. Fear and anxiety.
Anxiety is tension and worry that continues after the stressor is gone. Under normal stress, the prefrontal cortex calls the shots, but during chronic stress, cortisol causes the amygdala to grow, escalating anger, fear, sadness, and aggression.
4. Addictive behaviour and risk-taking.
Over time, stress overload shows up as low productivity, greater use of drugs or alcohol, forgetfulness, and relationship conflicts. Stress also may increase accidents, as risk-taking rises and concentration declines.
5. Communication and support networks.
Under stress, conversations and relationships become more emotional. A warning sign of depression and suicide is withdrawal from enjoyable activities and social support.
All too often pride, reputation, and self-sufficiency inhibit farmers from sharing their dilemma with close friends and neighbours.
Not all farmers are affected by the drought, and this can be isolating. Most aren’t considering these bad times to be normal yet. The ones who are most affected are likely to be suffering alone. There’s no simple solution to coping with stress. Helping people help themselves takes patience, time, and a multitude of approaches.