October 2, 2015 Comments (0) Views: 3335 Healthy Thinking

Coping with stress on the farm?


Stress is a normal physical response to changes or events that make you feel threatened or upset. When you sense danger – whether it’s real or imagined – the body’s natural defenses automatically kick into high gear; this is known as a “fight or “flight” reaction, or stress response. It’s the body’s way of protecting you from harm.

This response helps you to stay focused, energetic, and alert, improving your ability to respond intuitively to a situation, for example, being able to slam on your brakes to avoid an accident or keeping you on your toes when you are kicking a game- winning conversion.

The danger lies in too much stress or stress over a long time. Beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and the quality of your life. Everyone experiences and deals with stress in different ways.


In the rural workplace, examples of things that can cause stress include:

  • Weather not doing what is needed.
  • Time pressures, “too much work, too little time” (especially during calving, shearing, silage, cropping).
  • Financial pressures and uncertain incomes (for example, paying the mortgage, supporting children, buying property or shares, buying stock or feed, managing staff).
  • Unfair and/or unequal returns in the market.
  • Rising costs and lack of support from being geographically isolated (for example, education, health care, transport, communications, social services).
  • Relationship issues with boss, staff, neighbors, and family.
  • Long hours, shift work.
  • Having unclear roles and responsibilities, a promotion with more responsibility.
  • Complicated or unpleasant tasks, poor training.
  • Feeling isolated or undervalued.
  • Bullying or harassment.
  • Physical environment (for example, noise, dirt, dangers, poor equipment, working in bad weather, difficult animals).
  • Juggling work and home life.
  • Technology – it can be so frustrating and stressful, especially if it breaks down.


  • Every person has a different reaction to stress, here are some of the more common warning signs that it’s time to manage your stress and consider getting help:
  • Loss of enjoyment and interest in activities usually enjoyed.
  • Loss of energy and constant tiredness.
  • Persistent worrying about little things.
  • Changes in sleeping patterns: sleeping difficulties despite physical exhaustion, or sometimes sleeping too much.
  • Indigestion or stomach upsets.
  • Muscle tension and pains (for example, lower back, chest, shoulders, joints, nervous “twitches” or muscle spasms).
  • Skin itches or rashes for no apparent reason.
  • Frequent sickness (for example, cold, “u and stomach bugs).
  • Shortness of breath or shallow breathing.
  • Memory or concentration problems.
  • Doing risky or careless things (excessive drinking, gambling, drug use).
  • Continuous feelings of anxiousness and tension for no obvious reason.
  • Feeling irritable, impatient or teary with no apparent reason.
  • Finding it hard to make decisions and concentrate.
  • A sad mood that will not go away despite good things happening.
  • Loss of appetite or over-eating.
  • Isolation by avoiding people, places and events.


In some instances you may be able to remove the cause of stress. However, it is not always practical to change your workplace, where you live, or your relationships – but you can manage your body’s reaction to stress by learning new ways to manage or cope differently. What you do may make the difference.

Here are some ways to help manage stress:

Talk about your worries: Spend time with someone you trust. Talk to a friend, partner, parents, counselor or clergy. Talk to your mates, you might be surprised to find out that they are or have experienced similar difficulties.

Limit your expectations: Be selective and use your energy to do the most important and achievable tasks. Set goals you can reach. Do not blame yourself if you don’t reach all your goals, these may be possible next time.

Eat well: Eat a variety of fresh foods in a balanced diet. Some foods actually cause increased tension, for example, coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol and soft drinks. these are foods we crave when we are stressed so be aware and try to limit your intake of them.

Make time to exercise, take time out, and spend time with family and friends: Make some time (3 times a week minimum) for exercise such as walking, swimming or something you enjoy. Give yourself a breather now and then.

Get away from the farm for a few hours or a day. Spend time with family/whanau and friends or find ways of meeting new friends.

Organise your work habits: Get up 5 or 10 minutes earlier so you don’t have to rush; break large projects down into more manageable smaller tasks. Spend 5 to 10 minutes at the end of the day preparing for the next day. this helps you gain control of your life.

Solve problems: Try to find a solution to conflict; learn to be more assertive and say NO.

Get sufficient sleep: To help sleep, take a walk in the evening, practice relaxation, make your bedroom a sleeping space only (remove the TV).

Put fun and laughter in your life: this has proven to be good for health and it makes you feel good.

If you or someone you know is experiencing high and persistent levels of stress and would like further information or support, talk to your doctor about how you are feeling. Your doctor will let you know what options are available.

“When you are working by yourself, as many farmers are, it is important to get off the farm – go to the bach or play sport. I isolated myself and it was the worst thing I did”.

Ken Ballantyne (Ken and Sue Ballantyne are the 2010 Ballance Farm Environment Awards Supreme Winners in the Horizons region)

“If I ever felt a downer coming on I would pick up the phone and call someone, just to talk and get things back in perspective. The support from friends was huge once I was prepared to let them know what was going on”.

Lindsay Wright (former Wendonside farmer and Chairman of the Southland Rural Support Trust)


Other avenues for information and support include:

OrganisationContact Details
Depression Helpline0800 111 757
Like Minds Information Line0800 102 107
Lifeline0800 543 354
Victim Support0800 842 846
Youthline0800 376 633
Free Text 234
The LowDown, for
Free Text 5624
Healthline0800 611 116
Alcohol Drug Helpline0800 787 797
Gambling Helpline0800 654 655
Rural Women New Zealand0800 256 467
Federated Farmers0800 327 646
Supporting Families in Mental
Men's Health
Rural Support Trust0800 787 254
Suicide Prevention Helpline0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Are You OK?Family violence helpline 0800 456 450
OUTLine NZ0800 688 5463
Crisis Team

If you or someone you know needs urgent help, call 111.

This pamphlet was produced by the Ministry for Primary Industry with help from Rural Women  New Zealand, Like Minds and the Rural Support Trusts.

For copies of this information please contact the Ministry for Primary Industries on 0800 00 83 33 or email

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