Health and safety are a much talked about subject; however the “health” aspect can often be overlooked writes Serena Gibbons, Education Officer, Teagasc Galway/Clare.
Managing both your mental and physical health is hugely important in maintaining that balance and putting you in a good place to get the most out of you and your farming activities.
Stress is the body’s way of responding to any kind of demand that makes you feel threatened or upsets your balance in some way.
When working properly, stress helps you to stay focused, energetic, and alert.
A little stress from time to time is normal for most people and is inevitable with deadlines, weather and other commitments but prolonged periods of stress have a negative impact on our health.
We must realise that beyond a certain point, stress can stop being helpful and start causing damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships and your quality of life.
Anyone can suffer from stress; we are all human.
Every person has a different reaction to stress. Some of the more common warning signs outlined in table 1 indicate when it’s time to manage stress and consider getting help.
Table 1: Signs of Stress
|Physical Signs||Mental Signs||Behavioural Signs|
|High blood pressure||Negative attitude||Loss of interest & enjoyment|
|Muscle tension||Reduced concentration||Withdrawal from friends & family|
|Disturbed sleep pattern||Forgetfulness and confusion||Irritability & mood swings|
|Weight change||Difficulty in making decisions||Increased drinking, smoking, or drug use.|
|Reduced energy||Feeling uncertain and overwhelmed||Loss of sense of humour|
A key approach to managing stress is recognising the signs and responding to them.
The key thing for each person to be aware of is the issues leading to stress and then adopt positive strategies to minimise it; start with small changes.
Changes to manage stress in a farming context can include modifying the farming system to cut the work time or having a health check completed.
Here are a few Positive Strategies to minimise stress:
Social Involvement is crucial;
- Talk to trusted family members, neighbours and friends.
- Discuss farming problems with your Agricultural Advisor.
- Farm Discussion groups have a valuable social dimension as well as a practical farm one which is positive to solving problems & managing stress.
- Farming and sporting organisations also perform valuable social networks in rural Ireland.
Examine the profitability of your farm;
- Complete a profit monitor. Numerous studies indicate that efficiency beats scale in terms of profitability.
- Check the length of your working day as excessively long working days can lead to isolation.
- Examine your farm for hazards and remove them. Work organisation is crucial to avoid long hours, rushing and injury.
- It is often said that farmers have a better relationship with their vet than their GP. If this is true, make an effort to change this.
- Have a regular health check-up with your GP. Forming this habit is crucial in the long-term.
- Exercise regularly; being physically active is a key approach to stress management. Farming activity may lead to ‘strength’ but research has shown ‘aerobic fitness’ which is required for cardiovascular health is lower within the farming community, this typically decreases when farmers cease playing club sports.
- Aim to incorporate some cardio work into your day, small improvements like opting to walk instead of using quad or jeep around the farm all help.
- Eat a balanced diet, including fruit and vegetables. Be mindful of consuming foods in excess such as alcohol, chocolate, coffee and soft drinks as these can increase tension.
- Take time out every day for relaxation; take regular breaks and a holiday from the farm.
- This may sound like a rather obvious piece of advice but it is amazing what a long exhalation can do to reduce the way you react to a situation. This is a much more useful tool then the swearing method that a lot of us default to when in a pressurised situation.
- Try to include a breathing exercise such as three long inhalation and three long exhalations into your day. It really does have a positive impact on how you meet the demands of daily tasks.
Check out publications such as “Staying Fit for Farming”- A health booklet for Farmers’ and “Coping with the Pressures of Farming” for more helpful advice on looking after your health.
The next half-day Health and Safety course will take place on Wednesday, June 26th from 10.00am to 1.30pm at the Teagasc Centre, Athenry, Co. Galway. Please email - firstname.lastname@example.org - to confirm a place on the course.
Written by Serena Gibbons, Education Officer, Teagasc Galway/Clare