Farmers should make time for wellness

By: Dana Carver

Farmers and the primary industry put a lot of focus on the sustainability of land and business. We focus on the health of stock, pasture and crops. We also look at how we can give back to the community and nation. But perhaps the most important leg to a successful farming business and industry is the sustainability and wellness of farmers themselves.

Farmers should make time for wellness
Farming isn't a walk in the park these days.

Although lucrative and rewarding, farming is just not a walk in the park these days. There are increasing nutrient and water limitations. There are health and safety regulations and increasing people management standards to comply with. There are volatile pay out prices and, although nothing new, unpredictable and harsh weather. Not to mention, many farmers are carrying high debt levels and struggling with high staff turnover as well. And to add to it all, it feels like we’re farming in a fishbowl these days with everyone watching what we’re doing and wanting a report.

But what about us, the farmers? How do we fare with all these pressures? Recent market research shows that these pressures are taking a toll on farmers with farmers reporting they are 31 percent more concerned about the impact of stress on their health than the general population. The survey also found that 23 percent more farmers worry about work all the time and 19 percent of farmers agreed that "life is a constant struggle". That’s 67 percent more than the general population. What’s happened to the farming lifestyle?

We must realise that these issues are here to stay and therefore if we want to reap the benefits of farming without it taking its toll on us we need to make sure we’re resilient enough to deal with these relentless pressures. The answer to resilience lies in learning how to keep ourselves strong by maintaining our health and wellness. But what exactly is wellness? The World Health Organisation’s definition of wellness is: a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, copes with the stresses of life, works productively and fruitfully and makes a contribution to his or her community.

This state of well-being comes from having a balanced life and being able to slow down and enjoy what we do. To be resilient we must make time for activities that revitalise us physically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. This personal restoration then creates the energy we need to perform demanding work and be sharp in the face of challenges and change. Partaking in these activities requires time management. We will not succeed in being well if we are always rushing and never able to fit in the things which replenish us. Time is, something we farmers often say we don’t have enough of. But the reality is that if we don’t make time for wellness, we’ll eventually have to make time for illness.

The good news is that if we put the time in, wellbeing and resilience can be improved. Research shows us that wellness is 50 percent determined by genetics, 10 percent by what happens to you and 40 percent by how you choose to deal with it (Lyubomirsky, Sonja; Sheldon, Kennon M.; Schkade, David – 2005). This is encouraging as there are many people who often say that the reason they aren’t well is due to things outside of their control, but the truth is that there is a lot we can do. 

According to the extensive UK foresight project undertaken in 2005, the things which keep us well are connecting with others, continuing to learn, spending time doing things we enjoy,; keeping active and giving. It is also important that we rest and make good food choices.

Here are some practical ways to include more of these things into our lives:

  • Spend time with people you enjoy
  • Attend functions and join groups, both within the industry and outside of it
  • Take the time to stop and really listen to others when they are talking
  • Volunteer your time and talents
  • Embrace new ideas and try new things. Surprise yourself!
  • Stay up to date with your industry and interests
  • Watch and read things which stimulate your mind
  • Choose on-farm options which require your body to move (walk when you can instead of using the bike)
  • Eat plenty of fruits, veggies and protein.
  • Avoid high-sugar and high-fat foods
  • Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake
  • Listen to music that inspires you
  • Pay attention to the beauty of simple, everyday things
  • Take notice of your surroundings and appreciate nature
  • Take breaks during the day to get perspective
  • Take holidays and get off-farm long enough to unwind
  • Try to get consistent sleep
  • Do the things which make you laugh

These are the things of lifestyle. And it’s up to us to make an effort to put the lifestyle back into farming.

Dana Carver is a wellness and wellbeing specialist at Dairy New Zealand.

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