Supporting Rural Women in Business: An Interview with the Founders of The Rural Collective

What is the Rural Collective? 

Started by Jan and Erin Johnson, “ The Rural Collective is a member-based community where enterprising rural Canadian women can come together for mutual support, ideas and to network with potential collaborative business partners, all with the aim to build and grow sustainable, successful businesses. We have women who are makers, farmers, producers, ranchers, specialty product and service businesses in our community… and a whole lot more. Rural women are creative and innovative in the ways they choose to grow their entrepreneurial ideas and we love seeing all the ways they show up in the marketplace.”   

“Alone, women have power… collectively, they have impact.”

How and why did you create the Rural Collective? 

“We have been working with enterprising women in a lot of ways over the years – from developing and delivering workshops and courses, to writing books and working one-on-one to build websites and develop branding. Helping enterprising rural women is a niche that slowly developed for us over time and we absolutely love helping women get grounded in and grow successful businesses. Launching The Rural Collective in the middle of a pandemic is not something we could have predicted, but it has proved to be the best timing as it has brought women together from across Canada to connect and be in community with each other in a time when disconnection and separation have dominated our lives.” 

What are some next steps for the Rural Collective? 

“The Rural Collective Membership currently includes a directory listing, peer learning sessions, an online group and member profiles on our social media. We’ll soon be launching The Rural Collective Mastermind – a combination of brainstorming, education, peer accountability and support in a group setting that will sharpen a woman’s business and personal skills – and The Rural Collective Marketplace – an online multi-vendor platform where rural women can set up storefronts to sell their products. Everything we do is geared to help women grow and succeed in their businesses with the tools, mindset and resources to help them do that.”

What is the importance of mental wellness in your lives? 

Mental wellness is something we talk about and think about often. We have been juggling a lot of business projects in the past year and often we feel stretched and sometimes overwhelmed. Stepping away from our business roles to do other enjoyable things, talking with our team about how we are all doing with the large number of tasks and responsibilities on our plates, and having open conversations and supporting our members are a few of the things we do. We also partner with other businesses and organizations to share and promote mental wellness for rural women and their families.”

To visit the The Rural Collective website, go to theruralcollective.com.

Check out the Stigma-Free Society’s latest article on rural women entrepreneurs:  “Women Entrepreneurs in Rural Communities: Their Challenges and Successes

Women Entrepreneurs in Rural Communities: Their Challenges and Successes

Starting a small business in a rural community can come with its fair share of challenges. A small business is defined as a firm that has fewer than 100 employees. These small businesses can come in many forms, serve the diverse needs of populations, carry different products and encompass many forms of work. Entrepreneurs and small business owners are the backbone of rural and agricultural communities. Small businesses dominate the industries that keep rural communities viable, such as forestry, fishing, hunting, etc. However, owning and operating a small business in a rural community can pose some unique challenges to entrepreneurs. 

Some of the key challenges that rural entrepreneurs face include:

  1. Low population density/remoteness
  2. Depressed access to markets, capital, and labor 
  3. Lack of necessary infrastructure 
  4. Geographic isolation from support networks 
  5. Infrastructure gaps, including reliable internet and telephone service 

Women entrepreneurs who own small businesses in rural and agricultural communities face even more unique challenges to keeping their business up and running. One of the main challenges female entrepreneurs face in these communities compared to the urban dwelling counterparts is higher poverty rates. This can create issues for securing capital needed to get a business up and running, and also for maintaining the business if times get hard. Once women in these communities have successfully started their small businesses, other challenges have been cited. According to the Rural Women Entrepreneurs Report, challenges with training programs, personal support systems, identifying financing, and finding qualified employees have been noted by women who run small businesses in rural communities.  

A very interesting area of growth and success for female entrepreneurs has been in the area of agriculture-related business endeavours. According to The Center for Women in Business’ report, over the past three decades, the share of U.S. farms operated by women nearly tripled to comprise 14% of all U.S. farms. In this typically male dominated space, women are getting more involved and are becoming increasingly successful. However, being a woman in a male dominated field can pose challenges. Women might feel as though they have to do more in order to stay competitive with their male counterparts. Regardless of these challenges, the above statistic makes it evident that women are getting involved in the agricultural business in a big way. 

For female entrepreneurs in rural communities, the unique hurdles and successes they face can make them feel isolated and alone. Finding community in rural areas can be a challenge in and of itself, but for women who own a small business in these geographic regions, finding that community can be even more of a challenge. This is where Peer Support Facilitator Training for Rural Women Entrepreneurs comes in. Women entrepreneurs in rural communities do not need to face their hurdles or experience their successes alone. With this peer support training, they can find a community of women who can understand and support them in profound ways. 

In this training, Rural Women Entrepreneurs will gain an understanding of peer support fundamentals and learn how to apply them effectively when supporting their peers facing similar challenges. They will also learn how to effectively communicate and share personal experiences to enhance interactions as a peer supporter and support group facilitator. Participants will gain an understanding of the importance of self-care and how to apply this practice in their lives. 

Finally and most importantly, individuals will learn how to become great peer support facilitators! This work is extremely rewarding and can lead to so many amazing opportunities for trainees. Individuals who participate in this training will be able to apply the skills they learn to do work that is nourishing and steeped with care and empathy. Participants don’t need to have experienced/be experiencing mental health challenges to participate. All are welcome to join! 

The Peer Support Facilitator Training for Rural Women Entrepreneurs will be a 2-day virtual course taking place on July 21st and 28th 2021, from 9AM PST – 5PM PST (with breaks). 

Registration is by donation to the Stigma-Free Society. 

To register for this remarkable program, or a future training, please click HERE to visit our peer support landing page.

Sources:

U.S. House of Representatives, Small Business Committee

 

A Glimpse into the Rural Peer Support Training Program

What is Peer Support?:

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, Peer Support is “a supportive relationship between people who have a lived experience in common. The peer support worker provides emotional and social support to others who share a common experience. But despite evidence of the benefits, for both individuals and families, peer support programs have yet to receive the focus, funding, and attention needed”. 

Simply put, peer support is a way for individuals with a similar background to connect with each other and ensure that they are taking care of themselves on their specific needs and experiences. Peer support workers are trained on how to work with individuals with lived experiences that are reflective of their own and support from a place of empathy and understanding. This program is designed to truly empower both the support worker and the individual seeking support, as they work together, sharing experiences and developing wellness-related skills. 

To become a peer support worker, individuals must go through a training process. There are many organizations that offer peer support training. One of the best is Robyn Priest LIVE YOUR TRUTH, an organization that is currently offering online training for individuals and families. 

According to Robyn Priest, “Peer support isn’t limited to mental health or addiction issues. It can be about anything anyone is going through; about life.” This type of holistic, well-rounded support is imperative for everyone, as we all have unique experiences and struggles and want to connect with others who can understand what we might be going through. 

Why peer support in rural and agricultural communities?:

Peer support is led by trained people just like you who have lived experience with mental health challenges, but also get what it is like working in agriculture or living rurally. Since there aren’t that many mental health services in rural communities like psychologists or counsellors, peer support is a great option. Peer support can also be done over video chat, so you can keep it personal and private and makes support extremely accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Robyn Priest notes, “I know having moved from the city to a farming community was a culture shock and being able to chat with others who had experienced that, or even just chatting with others who had dealt with dealing with crops, animals, the ever changing seasons, helped enormously. It was like – ahhh you get it.”

No one understands the life and struggles of those living and working in agricultural communities better than those who have that shared experience. The unique challenges individuals face are best supported by those who have been through similar things and can empathize from a place of deep understanding. For rural communities, these might be experiences with loneliness, burnout, stress around crops, unique family challenges, addiction and so much more.

What are the benefits for Peer Support training participants?:

There are so many benefits to participating in this training experience. First, participants will gain an understanding of peer support fundamentals and how they can apply them effectively when supporting peers in individual or group facilitations. These foundational skills can be useful in these facilitations, but also for supporting loved ones and other individuals in one’s life. 

Another benefit for participants is learning how to effectively communicate and share personal experiences in order to enhance interactions as a peer support worker and group facilitator. This unique way of communicating will aid trainees in their ability to connect and share reflectively and vulnerably with others, while maintaining professionalism. 

Thirdly, participants will gain an understanding of the importance of self-care and how to apply this practice in their lives. This skill of self-care can be carried throughout one’s life and can support the trainee’s mental wellbeing in all areas. It can also aid in their ability to take time for themself when supporting others, which can be an emotionally challenging task. 

Finally, and most importantly, to learn how to become a great peer support facilitator. This work is extremely rewarding and can lead to so many amazing opportunities for trainees. Individuals who participate in this training will be able to apply the skills they learn to do work that is nourishing and steeped with care and empathy. 

Please continue to check in with the Stigma-Free Society, as we add training sessions in the coming months!

Check out our peer support landing page HERE for more information. 

Farmer’s Perspective on Mental Health

We interviewed 6 farmers to tell us about their perception of mental health and the challenges faced by farming and agricultural communities. Their answers were truly eye-opening. Below are excerpts from our interviews with Brendan Byrne, Nathan Brown, Carey Portell, Kristen Kelderman, Louise Virostok, and Sandi Knight.

What does mental health mean to you?

Interviewees acknowledged that mental health is complex, intertwined with other aspects of our lives, and looks different for everyone. They emphasized the importance of self-awareness, consistent care and nurturing of one’s own needs.

Mental health to me means taking care of myself as in self care physically and mentally in order to take care of my family and be a good friend.” – Louise Virostok

Mental health is our emotional well-being; our state of mind. Like physical health, it is an important part of our overall well-being. The two are intertwined; the health of one often impacts the other. Both require on-going care, attention and nurturing as we age and deal with life experiences.” – Sandi Knight

What did you learn about mental health growing up? Did you ever talk about it?

For all of our interviewees, mental health was not something that was discussed when they were younger.

Absolutely nothing. You didn’t speak of it or it was a sign of weakness.” – Carey Portell

It wasn’t until much later in life that I began to understand that how we act, think and feel impacts our overall well being. That it can be as important as physical health. This opened up a whole new world to me.” – Kristen Kelderman

Why do you think mental health is an important issue in agriculture and rural areas? 

All of the interviewees expressed that there are unique mental health challenges that rural dwelling individuals face, such as isolation, as well as access to and affordability of resources. They also highlighted that many individuals do not talk about mental health and fail to prioritize self-care.

Most rural people and aggies have grown up just the way I did, having no idea that what they feel/think is normal and that it is beneficial and not weak to seek guidance.” – Carey Portell

In agriculture we are taught that we can fix anything and do anything and that you do not quit until that task is complete. We often use and abuse our bodies to accomplish those tasks, and self-care often is not something that any of us consider as part of our existence. There are always animals to tend, crops to be sown, or equipment to be fixed. Self-care is usually the last thing anyone thinks about in their daily lives on a farm. Often access to services are often harder to receive and the stigma that surrounds mental health only amplifies the issue.” – Nathan Brown

I believe that many people were coached that pride meant that you don’t ask for help, you don’t admit defeat, you just put your head down and get the work done no matter what. We can do better than this. We must do better for our people in agriculture. Creating safe and helpful spaces to discuss and support each other.” – Kristen Kelderman

Do you have personal experience with mental health challenges?

All of the individuals interviewed have either suffered from mental health challenges themselves or witnessed a loved one struggling from mental illness.

Aside from the usual stresses of planting and harvesting, I personally don’t have specific mental health challenges.  I go through the usual ups and downs of life but have been able to navigate those waters okay. But I understand the issues more than most as my wife has been diagnosed in the last few years with a mental illness and that process has brought me to a deeper level of compassion and understanding.” – Brendan Byrne

I struggle day to day with anxiety most recently after COVID came through and the stressful events that have been drawn out long term. Without the social aspect of my lifestyle, my ‘balance wheel’ is out of balance and causing more challenges.” – Louise Virostok

I am a survivor of childhood abuse. It’s not something that I openly talk about a lot, but it’s a trauma I’ve lived with my entire life. More recently, a few years ago a friend took her life to suicide. These two events have been dark times in my life that have caused a lot of shame and grief.” – Kristen Kelderman

Do you observe stigma in your community around mental health? What does that look like?

Most of the interviewees have observed stigma surrounding mental health in their communities, which manifests in a lack of acknowledgment of mental health issues. Mental illness is viewed as a weakness and is highly stigmatized, as they are taught that farmers should be stoic and strong.

I know in the agricultural community at times asking for help isn’t easy.  I remember when we first started talking about mental health I had a farmer ask me why we were wasting so much time on mental health?  My response was that I didn’t want others to have to learn about it the hard way when it affects someone that they love. I didn’t want them to have to lose someone close to them to start to understand that people are struggling. I’ve lost a friend to suicide and I don’t want others to feel that helpless or to have to go through that aftermath.” – Brendan Byrne

Stigma around mental health is everywhere in our rural communities if you know what you are looking for or sometimes not looking at. I have friends that won’t talk about the troubled life they have led, and that drugs and alcohol is what they turn to in order to ease their pain. I have successful friends that allow thoughts of failure to enter their minds and let their operations slip to the point they are about to lose everything because they are afraid to talk to someone about their feelings and receive the help they so desperately need. I have friends that have lost a loved one in a tragic event and because they are viewed as the leader of the family have been told that it is not okay to grieve, it’s not okay to feel pain, it’s not okay to show emotion because they must be strong for the family. Is there stigma? Yes. Can we break it down, yes by loving each other and recognizing we all hurt sometimes and need a helping hand.”– Nathan Brown

One exception to this was Sandi Knight, who explained that she is fortunate to be involved in a variety of groups and organizations where mental health is openly discussed.

For me, they are safe places to share stories and resources. Speakers have been brought in to meetings, agriculture events and conferences on the subject of mental health. This opens up conversations and creates an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their story.”     – Sandi Knight

The experiences our interviewees exemplify the need for a changing discourse surrounding mental health in agricultural communities. Additionally, these stories make it evident that there need to be more avenues for support made available to farmers.

 

The Importance of Mental Wellness Breaks

In agricultural communities, there is a major focus on productivity. While it is important to remain productive in order for your business to thrive, hyper-productivity can lead to burnout, physical exhaustion, mental exhaustion and can exacerbate mental health issues. 

Overworking yourself can do a lot more harm than good. If you begin experiencing burnout or exhaustion from being overworked, it can become essentially impossible to remain productive and get work done.   

So how do we combat these issues? It can seem like a daunting task when we have so much to do and we feel like we don’t have time to take breaks. However, taking a break could be the difference between succumbing to the effects of burnout and exhaustion and being able to remain productive in the work we need to do. Breaks don’t need to be long. Taking short mental wellness-focused breaks throughout the day can be enough to avoid or combat burnout. 

Here are some mental wellness breaks to try that can help improve your overall mental wellness and combat burnout: 

  • Try mindfulness and breathing exercises: You can do these anywhere, for as long as you need, and as many times as you need throughout the day. 
    • Mindfulness exercises can be extremely simple. Focus on your surroundings. Observe and take in what is around you. Taking this moment to refocus your mind can help when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed 
    • Breathing exercises can also be extremely simple. Conscious breathing is an easy way to ground yourself and take a moment to check in. 
  • Go for a walk: Getting out of your work environment can help to reset your mind so you’re able to be more productive. If we stay in the same place doing the same thing all day, the redundancy can become burnout inducing. Going for a walk, and especially getting out in nature, is a great way to take a wellness break.
  • Call a friend or family member: Sometimes all it takes is reaching out to someone to talk about your day, their day, or nothing at all really, to avoid burnout. Connecting with others is a great way to stabilize ourselves in times of stress. You can share with them how you’re feeling or simply chat! This might also give them a chance for a wellness break. 
  • Take time to enjoy your lunch/coffee breaks: This might seem a bit unnecessary to include. But so often when life gets busy, we forget to actually enjoy the things that fuel us. Really focus on what you’re eating. Ask yourself “what do I like about this meal?” “what flavours are in this?” “how does this meal make me feel?” Taking this time for reflection is actually a very quick and easy mindfulness activity!
  • Stretch!: If we are doing physically laborious work, our bodies can become overworked and tired. Take time throughout the day to stretch your muscles. This wellness break is not only great for your mental health, but your physical health as well. Our mental and physical health are deeply connected, so why not help both at once!

If we’re overworked and experiencing burnout, work can seem like it’s too much to take on. Taking mental wellness breaks can help you be more productive and can have great long-term effects on your overall mental health and wellbeing!  

 

Farm Supermoms

Coping with stress and mental health challenges

Farm supermoms. This name is fitting because the various roles and responsibilities these women take on require them to possess superhero-like qualities. Being a farm mom can be extremely taxing and often involves these women wearing many hats throughout the day. Being a mom in and of itself is a full-time job, irrespective of farming responsibilities. Farm moms often spend their days being the chef for the entire family, running around bringing their children to various sporting activities, as well as volunteering, grocery shopping, housekeeping and some working part-time jobs on top of everything. Not to mention helping out with farming tasks. We asked 5 farm supermoms to explain their diverse roles and how they cope with stress and mental health challenges. This is what they said…

Lizanne
Lizanne is a full-time mom, as well as a chef to about a dozen people; ensuring the shack is always filled with snacks, drinks, and baked goods, making coffee for the day, as well as feeding everyone a hot dinner. Lizanne also has taken on othe

r roles such as volunteering, grocery shopping, housekeeping, and working part-time.
Lizanne copes with the stress of everyday living by reaching out to her ‘gang of Supermoms’. She gives herself a couple of hours some mornings to go for a coffee with the other moms, where they have the opportunity to vent and destress. She explains that this is a great way to recharge her batteries and realize she is not alone in her struggles. Lizanne’s mother-in-

law and husband are also amazing supporters. She described how thankful she is for the help and support of her mother-in-law, but also admits that asking for help is a challenge for her. Her husband is a huge help around the house and with the kids during most of the year. However when farming season hits, she feels like she becomes a single mother. Although this is challenging, she copes by reminding herself that harvest season does not last forever and that it is important to just take life day by day.

Krista
Krista’s roles have varied throughout the years. There were times where she was at the barn non-stop and other times where she didn’t go to the barn for days or weeks. She and her husband have three older kids (13, 10 & 8) as well as two younger kids (3 & 1). Krista’s roles as a supermom not only include barn work, she also spends time driving the kids around, cooking, cleaning and changing dirty diapers. Since her last pregnancy, Krista stepped back from barn work and  directed her focus to her mom duties and homeschooling her three oldest kids.
Krista has experienced postpartum depression (PPD) after the birth of her first, third and fourth child. The first time Krista experienced this, she had no idea what was happening to her and wasn’t aware of the fact that PPD is very common. She felt ashamed and ultimately suffered in silence. By the fourth child, Krista felt more equipped to deal with it.

Alyssa
Alyssa and her husband have two children (2 ½ & 13). She reports that she will “do anything that is needed or asked of me. I will hold a gate, sort cattle, make lunches, run for parts, keep the bookwork, or feed the animals”. Alyssa also enjoys gardening and plans to expand her garden this spring. She started a social media page @raisingkidsandcrops as a creative outlet for herself. She has realized the need to share her family’s farming story with people outside of agriculture.
Alyssa personally struggles with her mental health, it is a daily battle to keep her anxiety under control. Alyssa does several things to help her cope with the anxiety she experiences, such as exercise, daily anxiety medication and CBD supplements. Her advice to those looking for ways to cope with their mental health issues is to find something that works for you, because what works for one person may not work for another.

Tiffany
Tiffany and her husband have three children. Her third child, Natalie, was born with a genetic mutation, which resulted in a diagnosis of Dravet Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. Tiffany is the primary caregiver of Natalie, which leaves little time for hobbies. Natalie requires multiple medications a day and needs constant supervision because her epilepsy is drug resistant and is not completely controlled. She has multiple types of seizures and she has at least one type of seizure everyday. Tiffany brings Natalie along for sheep chores daily and she picks up jobs that allows Natalie to tag along. Tiffany explains that most of what she does revolves around the needs of her daughter. However, she loves advocating for the agricultural industry and often does this in her spare time though her Instagram @prairiepretty or her blog www.prairiepretty.com.
Tiffany has been reaching out for help for a while now. She expresses concerns with our government-run mental health system, as it takes a long time to process needs and requests. When she applied for respite, it took Community Services Living a year and a half to finish processing her application and begin the interview process. This is an issue Tiffany is passionate about. It is important to bring public awareness to this issue and ensure those in rural areas get the support they require.

Katie
Katie has two young boys, ages 6 and 8. She explains that being a mom is the most important role she has at the moment and notes that her and her husband are “raising the next generation and there is no job more important in the world.” Along with working hard, they want their children to know it’s ok to take a break, a vacation, or some down time in whatever capacity you can. She explained that their career and lifestyle doesn’t always make doing that easy, but it’s necessary. Along with being a mom, Katie also helps in nearly all aspects of the farm, from operating equipment to quality control and so much in between. She also manages their website, social media, and some record keeping.
Katie finds that one of her biggest challenges is the pressure she puts on herself to do it all and to ask for help when she needs it. She explains that moms are programmed to believe and accept that they should be able to do it all, but the reality is it can leave them feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and stressed.

An important message to take away from these farm supermoms is that asking for help can be tough, but when you do, you’ll realize that there are so many people behind you that are more than happy to lend a hand. From being full-time moms, to taking care of their farms, these women have truly earned their super-status.

5 Tips for Men’s Mental Health

 

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Mental health is a significant concern among rural men, although it remains a largely silent crisis. 

Rural men are more likely to attempt and die from suicide than urban men, and this likelihood goes up with increased isolation and rurality. Men often suffer in silence and are less likely to seek help for their mental health issues in fear of being judged. It is important to address the current issue and advocate for the mental health of rural men. 

Here are a couple tips for mental wellness and strategies for positive coping mechanisms, specifically for this population. 

[1] Journaling. Journaling is not only for women. In fact, back in the day, writing in a journal was a ‘manly’ thing to do. All the great explorers, writers and thinkers routinely wrote in a journal. That being said, journaling does not require you to be the next Ernest Hemingway. 

The purpose of journaling is to physically write your thoughts, emotions and experiences on paper. Journaling is about you and you make the rules and define your own process. Writing is a great alternative for men who do not feel comfortable talking to a stranger. Particularly for men who have been brought up to be stoic, and hide their feelings; writing a simple entry once in a while can help you manage stress and improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.  

For more benefits of journaling for men check out:  Journals For Men: 8 Reasons Every Man Needs A Journal 

[2] Get moving. Exercise provides you with some much needed YOU time. It has been shown to improve mental health in that it improves mood, and can reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Exercise also helps prevent chronic disease, which is associated with a worsening of mental wellness. Did you know that the majority of rural US men fail to meet physical activity guidelines and are at risk for chronic diseases? So, get moving and you will not only improve your physical health but your mental wellbeing as well! 

[3] Sleep. Although getting enough Z’s may be harder than hunting down a 400lb White Tailed Deer, it is extremely important for your mental health. There is a significant relationship between mental health and sleep. Having a good night’s sleep on a regular basis can help you feel more energetic throughout the day, improve your ability to cope with daily stressors, and reduce the likelihood of feeling stressed and worried. 

For more information about how sleep relates to mental health check out:  Sleep and Mental Health

[4] You don’t have to tough it out on your own. Men are often expected to be strong, self-reliant, and stoic. These roles and expectations placed on men can be extremely harmful. It enforces the idea that men should not speak openly about their emotions, which results in internalizing problems, and will often make things worse. It is important to recognize that talking about your emotions and mental health does not make you less ‘manly’. 

Whether it is your partner, friend or a counsellor, it is important to learn how to speak up and ask for help when you are suffering from mental health issues. You don’t have to go through it alone!

[5] Find positive coping mechanisms. Everyday life can get pretty hectic and busy at times. Be sure to find positive coping mechanisms that work for you. This can include finding activities you enjoy such as going for a walk outside, reading, exercising, or spending time with friends and family. 

Negative coping mechanisms include using alcohol and drugs in order to cope. Many people drink alcohol, or using recreational drugs is a way to have fun or relax, but many can find themselves abusing these substances, and using them as an unhealthy coping mechanism. Be mindful of your behaviours and try to work positive coping mechanisms into your life to improve your overall mental health. 

For more information about coping mechanisms check out  Coping Mechanisms: Dealing with Life’s Disappointments in a Healthy Way.

 

Goat Yoga is Great for Your Mental Health – We’re Not KIDding Around

 

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You might be looking at the title of this article and thinking to yourself, “hilarious pun, but what is goat yoga?” Well, goat yoga is exactly what it sounds like: yoga with goats. While this might seem like a hokey fad, there is actually quite a bit of evidence to support the benefits of goat yoga for your mental health and overall wellness. 

So let’s break it down. For most of us, spending time with animals is a super easy and quick boost of serotonin. According to GoatYoga.net, these are some of the mental health benefits of animal assisted therapy:

  • Just petting animals releases a relaxation response
    • Humans interacting with animals have found that petting the animal promoted the release of serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin- all hormones that can play a part in elevating moods
  • Lowers anxiety and helps people relax
  • Provides comfort
  • Reduces loneliness
  • Increases mental stimulation
    • Can provide an escape or happy distraction
  • Can act as catalysts in the therapy process
    • May help break the ice
    • May reduce anxiety

Combine this with the known physical and mental health benefits of yoga, such as stretching, mindfulness, cardiovascular health, reduced back pain, relaxation and meditation, and you have a sure-fire recipe for feeling great. 

Now you might be thinking to yourself “what exactly happens during goat yoga? Am I doing yoga, or are the goats?” Another great question. Seeing as it would be hard to explain the concept of yoga to a goat, it is you who practices the yoga. The goats simply roam around the room, sometimes jumping on the backs of unsuspecting yogis, while they enhance the overall yoga experience and provide a great deal of entertainment. This video gives you the inside scoop about what a goat yoga session looks like and can provide you with more information about this unique form of yoga practice. 

Whether you’re new to yoga or an experienced yoga practitioner, goat yoga is a fun way to move your body while interacting with some adorable barnyard animals. Goat out there and try it out for yourself! 

 

Rural Families: Taking Care of Yourself Before Others

 

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We tend to put the needs of others before our own, including the needs of our children, family members and friends. This is especially true of parents. Both mothers and fathers in rural communities often have a lot of responsibility, including taking care of their children, paying the bills, caring for crops and livestock, and planning for retirement. These stressors can place a large emotional toll on rural families. 

In taking care of all the responsibilities and putting the needs of their children before their own, parents in rural communities may unintentionally neglect to take care of themselves. Both mothers and fathers carry a large burden, but they do so in different ways. 

The man of the household is often responsible for making an income for the family and doing much of the physical labor around the farm and household. Men often feel as though they need to be tough. There is a stigma towards men feeling and expressing their emotions. This stigma is not only held by society, but it’s also held by individuals who are stigmatized – this is called self-stigmatization

When a man experiences self-stigma, he holds the belief that he is not allowed to cry, that he must be “a man” and fix his problems on his own. Masculine ideals of stoicism and self-reliance fuel men’s reluctance to seek professional help for fear of being seen as weak. In fact, 40% of producers across Canada reported that they would feel uneasy about seeking professional help due to what people may think. As a result, seeking help for mental health related issues is often extremely uncommon and mental illness often goes untreated. 

Fathers take on the responsibility of their spouse and children. They strive to be a rock for their family members and feel the need to be self reliant. In doing so, they suppress their own emotions and needs. In Canada, suicide rates are highest among rural men.. It is extremely important that rural men understand that in order to care for their family, they must take care of themselves first. This involves identifying stigmas and masculine ideas that are harming these individuals. It is okay to cry, to talk about mental health, and to seek professional help. 

On the other hand, women in rural communities often bear a lot of demanding responsibilities, particularly around the house and with their children. Women in rural areas may have additional stressors, such as restricted social contacts, less opportunity to participate in paid employment, and less access to social services compared to women living in urban areas. 

In order to take care of their family members, women in rural areas must first take care of themselves.. That is, it is important to prioritize self-care. Self-care activities may include social outings with friends, journaling, meditation, physical activity or other activities that the individual enjoys.

So many people try to help and please the people around them while placing their own health and wellbeing on the back burner. Particularly for rural families, their lives can possess additional stressors and stigma surrounding mental health. It is extremely important to remember that mental health is a priority, and we can not help others if we do not take care of ourselves first. To truly help another we need to be strong, healthy, and mentally balanced. Take care of yourself, encourage others to do so as well, and please try to foster the belief that it is okay to seek help when you are struggling.

5 Tips for Combatting Burnout for Farmers

 

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Do you feel like you are running on empty? 

Are you irritable or angry? 

Do you dread having to do work on the farm? 

Do you feel like you are in this never-ending cycle of stress? 

If so, you might be experiencing burnout.

So, what is burnout? According to Psychology Today, “Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.” This is actually very common in farmers. In a study on Farmer Burnout in Canada with over 1000 participants, it was found that 44% of farmers were experiencing burnout at some level while 12% of farmers were categorized as burnt out. 

Why is burnout important to address? 

It not only affects the mental health of farmers, but it negatively affects their families, farm productivity, and the wellbeing of their livestock as well. 

Now that we know what burnout is and why we need to track it, how do we combat it? 

We have to be able to create a healthy balance of all aspects of our lives which includes work, romantic relationships, parenting, and our physical and mental health. This means we have to regularly take care of our mental and physical wellbeing in order to be productive and take care of others. The key word here is regularly.

Use the 5 tips below to make a plan on how you will take care of yourself.  

  • Make a list of activities you enjoy.

This could be anything from doodling, reading the newspaper or a novel, doing a puzzle, building something, or even taking naps. There is no one size fits all approach to relaxation, so you may have to get creative. These should not feel like chore! Think of something that gives you a break and leaves you feeling rested and energized.

  • Make a list of all the things that get in the way.

It is easy to tell yourself every excuse in the book when it comes to doing something to take care of yourself. There is always going to be something to tackle on the to-do list or some issue that prevents you from doing the things that you want. So, write down all of the issues, then brainstorm some solutions to work around them. This way, doing the things you want doesn’t feel impossible.

  • Share your plan with others.

Sharing your plan with friends or family is a great way to be held accountable. Maybe you want to set aside 30 minutes a day to read a book. Those around you can encourage you or check-in with you which can motivate you to pick up that book.

  • Make your plan visible.

When we see our plan written out, it will remind us to take care of ourselves. Write it on a piece of paper and put it on your nightstand, or stick it on your fridge. You could even write it into your calendar, or set alarms so that way, it is scheduled into your day.

  • Revise your plan.

You might discover that something you thought you would enjoy, does not actually bring you a whole lot of relaxation. Or, something that once worked for you is no longer fulfilling in the same way. That is okay! Creating and recreating your wellness plan is a process of trial and error as you grow, and it will help you learn about yourself.

To invest time into your mental, physical, and emotional health means that you will be able to better take care of your family, your livestock, and your farm.