Agriculture, Education February 01, 2024
Finding ways to maintain your inner peace.
The ¾ inch wrench is missing! The cows are out! Bill drove over the auger! There is no end to aggravations when you're a farmer. Some handle their stress by cracking jokes; others fly into a rage at the drop of a hat.
"Anger is a natural human reaction to stress," says Cynthia Beck, a psychologist with Saskatchewan Health in Milestone, Sask. "It's part of the crisis response to stress that's kept our species alive until now."
When sabretooth tigers attacked our ancestors, their bodies responded automatically by triggering its fight, flight, freeze response. It dumped adrenaline into their bloodstream and got their hearts pounding as they prepared to react to the crisis.
"If something triggers an anger reaction at the farm today it'll cause the same physiological reactions," Beck says. "To calm yourself, put it into perspective. You're not fighting a sabretooth tiger, so what's going on?"
Everyone, not just farmers, are emotional beings, Beck says. Many developed habits with their emotional responses to stress by learning from the living examples demonstrated by their parents. For example, if you witnessed your father getting angry every time he couldn't find the tool he needed, you learned that's how to react when you lose a tool. It's a very successful avoidance strategy. If people see that a subject always triggers an outburst, they quickly learn not to bring it up.
As a result, they haven't learned the skills needed to handle their stress in different ways. Fortunately, Beck says, it's possible to learn them so we're able to approach stressful situations calmly and make decisions that work best for us in the long run instead of making knee jerk ones that can potentially harm us.
Step by step. Beck says that the first step that anyone who wants to change how they manage their anger should take is to become more self aware, and take note of their habitual reactions to stress and adversity. The step after that is learning to recognize what is triggering the emotional reaction whether it's anger, sadness, frustration with everyone, or happiness.
"It's amazing how just looking after your body and recognizing your triggers can help change how you manage your anger," Beck says. "If certain things will make you angry every time, there are a few basic (strategies) to help you regulate your emotions. Getting a good night's sleep, drinking enough water in the day to avoid brain fog, and having adequate nutrition can make a big difference. You don't always need to eat the healthiest diet but you do need to fuel and hydrate your body in the morning."
Hangry is a real thing, so if you skip breakfast and constantly find yourself getting angry around lunchtime, there's a simple solution, eat. Exhaustion comes into play, too.
"People tend to blow up more and have more accidents in the busy season," Beck says. "People feel they're too busy to eat, have a glass of water, or a 15-minute nap. Nobody runs a tractor with three wheels, but we do this to our bodies all the time. It's not effective, not productive, and can be dangerous or even life threatening in farming."
Be prepared for your busy seasons as much as possible. If you calve in January in a northern climate, make sure you have your calving barn ready to go to prevent scenarios that induce stress.
If you get worked into a rage there are a few simple things you can do to try to calm yourself, Beck says. Taking deep breaths breaks the adrenaline response. Drinking or eating something and washing your hands with cold water helps, too.
"If you're a bystander, don't tell someone in the midst of a crisis response and angry to calm down, it just makes things worse and will prolong it," Beck says. "Give them a period to calm down. Once they've cooled off, offer them some water, something to eat, and a listening ear." ‡
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