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Feel like you’re in a fog of stress? Farming is truly a stressful occupation.

Farming also ranks as one of the most dangerous industries in the United States, according to the National Safety Council (2017); stress, long hours and physical fatigue contribute to injury.

But there are ways to find and use the throttles that control the flow of hormones and chemicals that fuel chronic stress. “Understanding the science of stress” will be the topic of the upcoming UW-Extension program for area farmers Wednesday March 21, at the Jackson Electric Cooperative.

Dr. John Shutske, UW-Extension Agricultural Safety and Health Specialist, will present the program and discuss the science of stress and how farm families are coping with stress.

Here is an excerpt:

All people feel short-term stress when something frightening happens — a fire in a shed; or, you learn of unexpected medical news. When we encounter acute events or “stressors” like these, stress hormones cause your heart rate to increase, blood pressure to rise, spleen to release more red blood cells to supply oxygen so you can act quickly. Lots of other things happen and the front part of your brain that is responsible for deep thinking, careful decision-making and productive communication becomes far less effective.

In short-term stress situations, the response is helpful. We are prepared to fight a threat (like calling 911 and grabbing an extinguisher to fight a fire) or we can run away from the situation. Humans have developed this acute stress response over thousands of years. It helps insure our survival.

The problem is that during prolonged challenging and stressful times over months or years, this “stress response” repeats itself over and over. The brain’s thermostat mechanisms that keep these chemical releases in check become less effective. The result becomes long-term, chronic stress that often lead to numerous health problems. The constant presence of high levels of this stress “fuel” (adrenaline and cortisol) also make it more difficult to make smart and focused long-term financial decisions.

The question is: Where is this throttle to reduce the flow of the hormones that fuel chronic stress?

Check in with your primary health-care provider: Fighting off stress in difficult times takes physical energy. If you are dealing with underlying health problems or conditions, it’s important to seek good medical advice and follow the directions of your local physician or professional who you trust.

Give your body the quality fuel that it deserves: Coping with stress requires that you eat well and provide the high-quality energy your body needs. Our brains are relatively small (about three pounds), yet the brain burns up to 20 percent of the energy our body uses. No farmer would dream of heading out to harvest a crop in a $300,000 machine that’s filled with lousy or dirty fuel. The crop won’t get harvested, and the machine will break down when it’s most needed. Yet that’s how we treat our bodies at times when under stress. Eat breakfast. Eat healthy, well-balanced meals. And, stay hydrated.

Find time to quietly power down: Research points to the value of short (10-15 minute) opportunities to quiet our minds and to purposely relax our bodies and our brain. Some people wait all year, craving the quiet moments and opportunities like sitting in a silent deer stand for hours at a time. These actions help rebuild our brain’s “thermostat” and capacity to throttle back chronic stress.

Take control in areas where possible: Research in both people and animals suggests that having some sense of control, where it is possible, is the most important stress fuel throttle! Push through that urge to shut down and enlist help—first steps are always the hardest. Write ideas down. Set goals. Be specific. Identify next steps and actions that are measurable and realistic. Seek advice, stay connected to your community (including church, school activities, etc.), and ask lots of questions.

Farming is truly a stressful occupation. But, there are ways to find and then use the throttles that control that flow of hormones and chemicals that fuel chronic stress. Find those throttles and put them to use. The world depends on you and appreciates what you do!

Learn more about the science of stress and how to cope with Dr. John Shutske March 21st at the Cultivating Your Farm Business Future program.

For more information contact the Jackson County UW-Extension at 715-284-4257. Shutske is director of the UW Center for Agricultural Safety and Health at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Shutske has more than 30 years of experience working with the agricultural community and health professionals.


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