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. 

 

Interview with Jason Medows from AgStateofMind

 

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About Jason

Jason Medows’ story begins in a small rural town in Missouri. He is the youngest of 5 children but was basically raised as an only child. Three of his older siblings were moved out and married before he was even born, and the fourth had lived at home while attending college until Jason was 11 years old. In 2002, Jason had graduated high school and pursued pharmacy at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy. He states this is where he realized how important his life on the farm was to him.

“I think that’s the real time where I understood what rural life meant to me because I took it for granted. It was taken away from me.”

In fact, after Jason had graduated from pharmacy school, he moved back to the farm and started working at the local hospital. It was there that he met his wife Keri, who had just graduated from nursing school. Jason and Keri married a year and a half later and now raise 4 boys together. 

Struggling with Anxiety

While in college, Jason began to struggle with anxiety. It seemed to be a complete 180 from the life that he was used to. On top of adjusting to city life, college was incredibly stressful and demanding, and he was isolated from friends and family – he was struggling to cope. Jason grew up in an environment where it was common to bottle up and hide one’s struggles from others. He turned to alcohol as a means to hide his feelings and shared that he was well on his way to becoming an alcoholic.

“I married my wife after pharmacy school, and I quit drinking. It was good that I quit drinking, but at the same time, all that anxiety was still there and I had to face it. I didn’t know how to face it and it freaked me out.”

Though Jason had stopped drinking, his anxiety began to pour out in different ways, which caused a huge strain on his wife and their marriage. Initially, he struggled with self-stigma. He had internalized the belief from his upbringing that he must put on a strong front and suppress his anxiety. However, she encouraged him to seek professional help, which led to him seeing several counsellors. Although the counsellors were helpful, Jason states that it was once he took ownership of himself, that he began to get better.

Dealing with Anxiety

Currently, Jason has discovered ways to manage his anxiety in a healthy and productive way. 

So, what helps?

  1. Taking antidepressants.

Even though Jason is a pharmacist, he still struggled with the thought of having to take medication. There was shame and self-perceived stigma around this initially, but he realized that it helped him feel like his normal regular self. He compared it to taking medication for a physical issue: “You wouldn’t fault someone for taking their blood pressure medicine to prevent them from having a heart attack, right? Same is true for this.”

  1. Exercising more frequently.

For Jason, physical exercise goes hand-in-hand with taking antidepressants in order to help keep him mentally and physically healthy.

  1. Journaling.
  2. Talking to a friend.

Having a support system or friends to talk to can help validate feelings and experiences so it doesn’t feel as overwhelming.

“Everyone has their own individualized approach that is highly customizable,” says Jason.

Creating a self-care plan is unique to an individual. What works for one may not necessarily work for another. It could take some time to perfect – and that is okay!

Ag State of Mind Podcast

Jason also hosts a podcast that he started just over a year ago called Ag State of Mind which is tailored towards breaking stigma in agriculture. In the beginning, there was worry surrounding finding guests on his podcast, however, he quickly realized that everyone has a story to share. His podcast touches on various topics including mental health, financial planning, physical health, and more. 

He takes a unique 3-pronged approach which allows him to take a holistic approach to mental health in agriculture:

  1. Healthcare approach

Being a healthcare provider, he has some medical knowledge surrounding the topics he discusses.

  1. Agricultural approach.

Jason currently runs a cow calf operation. In addition, he was brought up and worked on a farm, so he understands the stressors that individuals and families in agricultural and rural areas face.

  1. Lived experience.

Jason has had his own lived experiences with mental health and anxiety. He is able to openly share his obstacles and identify how he has overcome them. 

Jason’s Message

“You have nothing to be ashamed about. There’s no reason to hide yourself and what you’re going through. There’s no award for being least vulnerable and most tough. You can be tough and still have problems. Part of being tough and resilient is reaching out and getting help. You can’t do it without being vulnerable. You don’t just necessarily help yourself, you help others too when you share your story. This issue is bigger than you. We all have mental health.”