Stress Management on the Farm is Essential to the Health Of Farmers

Nov 02, 2018

Farming is stressful. Farmers, ranchers and agriculture workers face factors that are beyond their control such as financial uncertainty, varying commodity and yield prices, rigid schedules, animals dying and weather. The stresses farmers face impact both their mental and physical health. Data from a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study of 130 occupations found laborers and farm owners had the highest rate of deaths due to stress-related conditions like heart and artery disease, hypertension, ulcers and nervous disorder. 

“Since farmers’ careers and lives are so intertwined, if they feel like a failure at farming, they often feel like a failure at life,” said Jami Dellifield, an educator with Ohio State University Extension, told Successful Farming. “If your identity is that you’re a farmer and then you lose that, who are you?” 

Besides dealing with factors beyond their control, which leads to high stress, farmers deal with a lack of mental health services. More than half of rural American counties do not have access to psychologists, psychiatrists, or social workers, according to data from the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services. Dellifield suggests starting with a local primary care physician in those cases. 

Ongoing, chronic stress left untreated can cause or exacerbate many serious health problems including mental health problems, cardiovascular disease, obesity, skin and hair problems, and gastrointestinal problems, according to WebMD. The Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice offers these tips to decrease stress: 

  • Exercise: Many farmers may think the physical labor that they do on the farm is enough, but having a regular exercise or stretching program is essential. Regular exercise provides a break in your daily routine, benefits your overall health, and provides a constructive way to relieve excess energy. Try to exercise three times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes. 
  • Caffeine: Try to reduce or eliminate caffeine intake. Removing caffeine may result in reduced headaches, increased relaxation, improved sleep and a calmer mood. 
  • Humor: Laughter might help to reduce stress. Explore ways to add some laughter to life such as social groups, books, movies and comedy shows. 
  • Talk: A strong, supportive group of friends and family can help provide necessary assistance during stressful or difficult times. 
  • Relaxation Techniques: Deep breathing and taking mini-breaks during the day can help clear the mind and reduce tension. 
  • Sleep: An ample amount of sleep every night helps the mind and body become refreshed. Try to follow a nightly routine. 
  • Nutrition: Eating balanced meals throughout the day helps provide the body with the energy to combat stress. 
  • Breaks: During a stressful situation, take a break by going for a walk, spending some time alone, meditating, or working on a hobby. 

Michigan State University Extension provides a free online course, How to Handle Stress on the Farm, designed to help farmers and their families understand the signs and symptoms of chronic stress, as well as other resources. For more information, visit dle_stress_on_the_farm

Individuals experiencing emotional distress or suicidal thoughts may contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (1.800.273.8255), or visit

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