Farm life can be full of hidden stresses

Don't underestimate the impact of mental strain

Don't underestimate the impact of stress
Don't underestimate the impact of stress

Finola Colgan

The farm enterprise is more than just a business. Unlike a typical business premises, there is no pulling down the shutters, turning on the security alarm and heading off home for a nice quiet evening. Farming is a 24/7, 365-days-of-the-year job that requires careful time management.

In addition, many factors in farm life are beyond the farmer's control, ie the weather, machinery breakdowns, market prices and so on. Add in all the other variables, like family pressures, age and fitness, and there is clearly a risk for stress, and this needs to be managed for good health and well-being.

The most basic definition of stress is "physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension". Another popular definition is "a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilise."

In a new publication, Manage and Reduce Stress Mental Health Ireland (www.­ define stress as a feeling of being under abnormal pressure, whether it is an increased workload, an argument with a family member, or financial worries.

The long hours culture associated with farming can impact on the farm family and may not allow for adequate time to relax and recuperate from the physical demands of farming. Lack of regular sleep and tiredness are associated with these working patterns which can be exacerbated by worries about farm incomes and security.

Stress affects us in a number of ways, both physically and emotionally, and in varying intensities.

While research has shown that some stress can be positive, making us more alert and helping us perform better in certain situations, stress is only healthy if it is short-lived.

Unfortunately, excessive or prolonged stress can lead to debilitating illnesses such as heart disease and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

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There are some good tips on developing mental resilience and combating stress suggested by a new Mental Health Ireland leaflet. These include:

Stay Connected - nurture relationships with friends and family. When you're going through a hard time, don't withdraw from others. Accept help from those who care about you.

Learn Healthy Habits - A person will manage stressful times better if they exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet and take time to rest.

The lifestyle of a farmer does not lend itself to normal working hours, so therefore it is important to make time for self care. After all, water cannot be got from a dry well.

Be Optimistic - a positive, hopeful outlook makes you a much more resilient person. Many of the problems being faced in life are temporary; most people have overcome setbacks in the past and can overcome them again.

Be imperfect, allow for imperfection, accept and work with personal flaws and imperfections - everyone has them! Be true to yourself and aim to do your best.

Mental Health Ireland recently promoted the theme 'Dignity in Mental Health -where we Live Laugh, Learn Love' as part of World Mental Health Day.

It is a network of words that have significant meaning when applied in daily living. We need to make every day a good mental health day.

As the Arabs say: "The nature of rain is the same, but it makes thorns grow in the marshes and flowers in the gardens."

Finola Colgan is an area development officer for Mental Health Ireland and a member of the Teagasc Farm Financially Fit National Committee. Email:

Depression - the  warning signs

The symptoms of depression vary widely, but if you experience some of these symptoms for most of the day, every day for more than two weeks, you should seek help from your GP.

Psychological symptoms include:

Continuous low mood or sadness

Feeling hopeless and helpless

Having low self-esteem

Feeling tearful

Feeling guilt-ridden

Feeling irritable/intolerant of others

Having no motivation or interest in things

Finding it difficult to make decisions

Not getting enjoyment out of life

Feeling anxious or worried

Having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself.

Physical symptoms include:

Change in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased)

Loss of libido

Disturbed/altered sleep pattern.

Social symptoms include:

Not doing well at work

Avoiding contact with friends

Neglecting personal interests

Having difficulties in family life.

Concerned? If someone close is showing signs of depression, you can:

Listen to their concerns. Avoid saying, "pull yourself together". It is not helpful.

Be supportive. Although you might not be able to help directly, offer reassurance.

Encourage them to seek professional help (offer to go with them).

Find out more about stress and depression and take advice yourself on how to help.

Call Samaritans free on 116 123

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