As farms and ranches here and across the nation continue to face financial stress, farmers, ranchers, staff and their families shoulder the stress of that strain. Unfortunately, economic hardship can lead to serious negative outcomes, including loss of home and savings, divorce, separation from loved ones, or much more.

In February CropWatch featured an article by Agricultural Systems Economist Educator Robert Tigner that focused on the importance of running a financially resilient farm. This month the focus shifts from the farm to you. When physically and emotionally stressed, the body is at its least optimal operating level. Stress is an emotion everyone experiences at some point and one that our family easily catches from us! To take care of your livelihood and others, you must first take care of yourself

To take care of your family and your livelihoodamid a barrage of stressors, learn how to identify and manage stressors.

What is Stress?

A common definition of stress varies significantly from its more scientific definition. "Stress" is a word people commonly used to describe a current state of emotion. Individuals often report "excessive demands" and a "lack of resources" as factors contributing to stress. From a more clinical perspective, stress refers to two things: the psychological perception of pressure and the body's response to it.

How do our Bodies Respond to Stress?

When your brain perceives a threat — a stressor — it triggers a cascade of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, that surge through the body, increasing your heartbeat and the circulation of blood, mobilizing fat and sugar for fast energy, focusing attention, preparing muscles for action, and more. It takes some time for the body to calm down after the stress response has been triggered. Very brief periods of this response are important and helpful andknown as eustress or "good" stress; however, prolonged or repeated arousal of the stress response, a characteristic of modern life, can have harmful physical and psychological effects, including heart disease and depression.

How do we perceive stress?

The human brain and body have a highly sophisticated system of communication. When an event that is often perceived as stressful occurs, it sets off an automatic response system, known as the fight, flight, or freeze response, to prepare for survival.  Unfortunately, this system responds in the same manner whether the event is external (e.g., the sudden appearance of a barking, growling dog), or internal (e.g., not enough money to pay the bills this month). Our past experiences strengthen these communication pathways, inadvertently causing us to continue to perceive stress (also referred to as "perceived threat"), where none exists.

Over the last few decades, a rising tide of studies have demonstrated the value of regularly engaging in activities that calm the stress response. 

Effective Strategies to Manage Stress

The following stress management techniques are recommended in Nebraska Extension’s Co-parenting for Successful Kids parenting education course. 

  1. Take time for yourself each day.
  2. Exercise.
  3. Listen to music.
  4. Read.
  5. Pursue a hobby.
  6. Breathe.

In addition, since the stress response begins in the brain with the perception of stress, researchers are now looking into what may be a most basic, and effective, way to defuse stress – simply changing your perception of certain types of situations so they are not seen as stressful in the first place.

A key to mitigating the effects of stress in your life is to first identify the events, both internal and external, that you perceive as stressful. Second, use strategies that will help you (both in body and brain) relax in these moments. Examples of such strategies include positive self-talk; calming, deep breaths; and focused muscle relaxation.

Once you understand what stress is and how it affects you personally, you can work on cultivating resiliency within yourself and family. Again, the key is to look for something positive so your perception of the situation is not as stressful as you initially thought.

When difficult times arise, be sure to use the strategies referenced in this article. Building family resiliency starts with you. Be a role model for your family and others by taking care of yourself. 

Also See

For more information and resources on how families can stay connected, despite stressful times: https://child.unl.edu/strongfamilies

If you know someone in the process of divorce, custody modification, or separation who needs additional support, see https://child.unl.edu/coparenting

Nebraska Extension NebGuides for families: http://extensionpubs.unl.edu/search/?keyword=families

References

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. (n.d.). Financial Distress and the Family. Retrieved from Content and Consumer Updates.

Brooks, K., Walters, C., Parsons, J., Ramirez, A., Van Tassell, L., Lubben, D. B., and Aiken, D.  Characteristics Contributing to Nebraska Farm and Ranch Financial Stress. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Department of Agricultural Economics: Cornhusker Economics, January 24, 2018.

Tigner, R. Characteristics of Financially Resilient Farms. February 5, 2018. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension: CropWatch.unl.edu.

DeFrain, J., Friesen, J., Swanson, D., Brand, G. Creating a Strong Family: Effective Management of Stress and Crisis. August 2008. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.

Additional Resource

Stressed Out Nation. Zak Stambor. American Psychological Association Monitor on Psychology, April 2006.