Focus on the Positive

Cambridge dairy farmer Marc Gascoigne recently spoke at the Southland/Otago Dairy Industry Awards about how to reduce stress and increase wellbeing on farm.

Speaking on behalf of Farmstrong, Marc shared how, despite running a successful farm, his mental health had suffered in the past due to stress. He shared the practical skills and wellbeing habits that had helped him recover.

“I really encourage farmers and growers to integrate tools such as Farmstrong’s Five Ways to Wellbeing into their lives. That’s what I’ve done and these days I’m in a much better headspace.”

International research has found that people who thrive and cope with setbacks have five things in common: keeping the body active, taking time to notice and enjoy simple pleasures, learning new things to keep fresh, giving back to community, and staying connected with mates and neighbours.

“These simple habits return balance to your life when you’re busy and lower your stress levels when you’re ‘under the pump’,” says Marc.

“When you’re getting stressed and anxious on the farm and dwelling on everything, the world closes in. One thing I discovered really helps is to pull on the running shoes and go for a run, go for a bike ride, or head to the gym – It clears my head and gives me a sense of escape. It also burns off stress.”

“I also help to run the Te Awamutu cycle club which ticks a lot of boxes – giving back, exercise, staying connected. We’ve got 350 members and run 40-plus races every year on road and velodrome. When you’re helping people like that it energises you and makes a real difference to your own wellness.”

Live well, farm well’

Earlier this year, Marc completed a speaking tour and helped to launch Farmstrong Scotland. He says Farmstrong’s ‘live well, farm well’ message is a universal one.

“The main thing I’ve learnt about staying well on the farm is before you can look after your family, your farm, and your animals, you’ve got to look after yourself.”

“In farming, it’s also very easy to get into a pattern of negative thinking. The solution is to coach your mind to have more constructive thoughts.”

Daniella Sunshine-Tervit is the Southland /Otago Regional Manager for the NZ Dairy Industry Awards. She and husband Gary manage the family dairy farm. The couple found Marc’s tips very relatable. One piece of advice really struck a chord – pushing the ‘delete’ button to counter negative thinking.

“Marc’s right, it’s easy to feel isolated and stressed out in farming. You’re so busy your mind’s always racing with things you’ve got to deal with. You need to train your brain to filter these worries out, because 80% of them never happen and don’t actually matter. To protect your health, you need to delete them,” says Daniella.

“I loved his example about driving past a broken fence post and beating himself up because he hadn’t fixed it. Then when he fixed it, he didn’t even notice that he’d fixed it, he only noticed the next broken post along the track! I think every farmer in the room could relate to that. If you just focus on the negatives all the time, you soon lose the ability to pick up on the positives.”

“Let’s face it, in farming there are so many challenges. Prices go up and down, it’s either too dry or it won’t stop raining. If you just have all this negativity constantly whirring round your head, it’s going to flood up there as well.”

Practical advice

“What I liked is that his advice was so practical. You know, instead of taking your motorbike, walk three or four of the paddocks for a change to ‘reset’ and clear your head. If you haven’t seen people for a while, go and take up your neighbour’s offer for a coffee or wander down to that discussion group. Push yourself not to dwell on the negative. Get off farm and do stuff that turns your crank and brings you happiness.”

“Gary and I are big fans of the Five Ways. That’s partly what prompted us to make the shift back to the family farm. We had good contract milking offers but we were so busy before that our kids hardly saw their grandparents. Now their grandparents are just up the road, which was a big drawcard. It’s taken the mental and physical load off all of us.”

“That’s why farmers like Marc speaking up about their struggles is important. It gives other people the confidence to talk about their own and do something about them. You know, when people are in a dark space, if they just focus on trying a couple of the Five Ways, the difference will be huge.”

Emma Day, the 2022 Southland/Otago Share Farmer of the Year, hosted Marc for a farm tour and said the event had reinforced the importance of making wellbeing a priority.

“It was an amazing night and Marc’s a great speaker. His story reminds me to check in on friends, family, and our staff. Also, to evaluate myself and how I’m doing. What could I be doing to be more active or connecting or look after myself in the future?”

“Marc’s story resonates with so many farmers. Farming’s a tough job that can be very secluded from the world. The Farmstrong message about being active and connecting with your community and friends is very important for all farmers in all walks of life.”

Farmstrong is a nationwide, rural wellbeing programme. For free farmer-to-farmer tools and resources, head to

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