Tumbling Downs

The upheaval caused by two earthquakes and the end of a relationship left north Canterbury sheep and beef farmer Kara Lynn in a tough spot. Farmstrong helped her through.

“I grew up on the outskirts of Rangiora but always loved the country and wanted to go farming. When I was 14 my friend and I would spend hours going through that classic book High Country Sheep Station,” says Kara.

She ended up farming in Tinline Downs, Waiau (which she affectionately refers to as ‘Tumbling Downs’ after the earthquakes) looking after 4,000 stock units. But a few years ago, that dream lifestyle fell apart.

“After the earthquakes (2016) and the end of my marriage, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and hardly left the farm, saw a friend or went out. I was stressed out, not sleeping or eating well, isolated from friends and suddenly running a major farming operation singlehandedly, as well as raising three kids.”

Today, she’s a different person. Loving her farming, relishing life. Here’s how she bounced back.

Ask for help

“I made it through because I’ve had a lot of support. So, the first thing is to ask for help. Everyone has issues in life. Farm life is not always going to be this picture postcard, Country Calendar lifestyle. Shit’s going to happen and to deal with that you need a network of supportive people. People who understand you and are in your corner.”

“When you’re feeling down it’s easy to think ‘this stuff only happens to me and I’m a loser.’ and isolate yourself from your community. This is very common in country areas.  People are reluctant to ask for help and battle on alone. But you must remember no one else can fix you, but you.”

Check out Farmstrong

“I ran across a Farmstrong workshop in the Greta Valley that really sparked my interest. It taught me that when setbacks happen, you have a choice about how you react to them. There are things you can still control that will make you more resilient and bring you happiness. As a farmer you can’t control the weather, the stock prices or if your hill or house comes down in an earthquake, but as long as you have your health and good people around you, you can do anything, and the world is still your oyster. That’s a very helpful mindset when you’re farming.”

“Being Farmstrong is about realising you’re always going to have the odd shitty day on farm, but the sun’s still going to rise next day. There’s always going to be a fence to fix, a drain to unblock, the spouting falling off your woolshed or sheep escaping. That’s just farming.”

Get the body moving

“To get better I had to really address my health. I started swimming at Hanmer pool. It was 45 minutes away and felt like a sanctuary for me. By exercising regularly, I was getting all these endorphins that boost your mood. The water itself was also healing and therapeutic. So, swimming not only improved my mental state, but it also got me off the farm. Being Farmstrong means asking, ‘what do I need to do today to look after myself? Having a plan to get out in the world, rather than shutting yourself away and hiding.”

Take notice, be grateful

“Being present and in the moment was a huge part of my recovery. For many years I would block out how I felt, just went through the motions and told myself everything was fine, when it wasn’t. Now I try and do something every day that’s going to give me that buzz. I make time just for me. Whether it’s going for a walk or a swim or doing something together as a family like mustering.”

“This morning for instance I thought, it’s a beautiful morning, so I made a conscious decision to go outside look at the sunrise, check the cows in the paddock, watch the storm coming up the valley and just listen to the birdsong for a few minutes. Being present is about enjoying that and looking at your farm and going ‘shit, it’s amazing.’ We should all do that, but many farmers don’t.”

Take Your Breaks

“I make a conscious effort to get off-farm. A lot of my friends hardly saw me for five years. I didn’t see a movie or go out for three years. A friend said to me the other day, ‘it’s like the old Kara’s back. I can see that you have this energy about you which you didn’t have.’ Getting off farm regularly to recharge is a big part of that. You need to find your tribe and have like-minded people around you.”

Prioritise Sleep

“Sleep was a problem for me. If you’re in good shape mentally and out doing physical work on the farm all day, by 10.30pm you’re knackered and ready for bed. But if you’re worried all the time, sitting watching tv or scrolling endlessly on your phone thinking ‘my life sucks’, you’re not going to sleep well. And you can’t function properly without sleep.”

“I also did some research and found that sometimes we wake up at night because we are thirsty or hungry. So now I have water beside my bed and finish screen time an hour before bed. I’ll read a book or have a bath and get my body ready to sleep.”

Make Wellbeing Part of Your Business

“I really like Farmstrong’s emphasis on self-care as part of your business. Let’s face it, many farmers are hopeless at looking after themselves and it makes no sense at all, because if we’re not functioning, our farms aren’t going to be functioning, our animals won’t do well, nothing is going to go right. You’re also not going to have staff work for you if you are grumpy through lack of sleep and throwing your toys out of the cot.”

“Nowadays, I make time to explore these ideas even when I’m busy, because I always pick up something that’s useful for my farming.”

Manage your workload

“What I’ve found helpful is having a plan on a Monday morning for what needs achieving in a week. There are the urgent jobs; there are the not-so-urgent jobs. Making those lists and doing that planning hands you back control, makes you more focused and relieves stress. If you just turn up every Monday and try and do everything at once, you’re just putting yourself under the pump.”

Be patient, enjoy the ride

“The thing with instituting changes like this in your life is to give yourself time. It’s not about being perfect, it’s a journey – you have to cut yourself some slack and think, ok I got that wrong, but I’ve asked for help and I’m doing something about it.”

“The biggest insight is that there’s no need to go it alone. There’s help out there. Farmstrong gives you the tools to work your way through these challenges.”

“I’ve got no idea what lies ahead in a month or a year’s time. I could still be sitting here rocking in the corner thinking ‘oh my god, what’s going to happen?’, but instead my attitude is that I’m going to enjoy today. I have the tools to get through and enjoy those memories. We get one life, and one shot at it, so make the most of it.”

Farmstrong is an award-winning rural wellbeing programme that helps farmers and farming families live well to farm well. To find out what works for you and ‘lock it in’, check out our farmer-to-farmer videos, stories and tips on  www.farmstrong.co.nz.

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