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21 Aug, 2020

Building Resilience to Tackle Stress

Richard Burke, one of Ireland’s leading specialists in personal and organisational stress, highlights the questions farmers need to ask themselves, to identify the sources of their stress and methods to reduce this stress.

I was in the midlands a few months ago, running a workshop for a discussion group. It was designed to tackle stress and was sponsored by the IFA Skill-net, comments Richard.

One of the first questions I asked the group was whether anyone was ever out of action due to stress. The reaction around the table was interesting. Everyone looked at everyone else for a couple of beats before one brave farmer admitted that he had lost time because of stress. What intrigued me was the fear around giving this answer. Why was it that this group, who had hired me to address this very issue, were reluctant to give me this most basic of information? What was immediately apparent was that this was a conversation they were uncomfortable to have not only with me, but also amongst themselves. One man said jokingly that ‘pressure is for tyres boy’ followed by raucous laughter which broke the tension I had created.

I have never experienced any workplace where stress is because of a single problem. It is always a stew of business and personal issues, and it turned out to be no different in farming. They needed help to identify the individual ingredients in this stew.

So how do you separate out those ingredients? Is the farm and the environment responsible, or are you? If you take the analogy of an orange. If you squeeze the orange, you get orange juice. If you squeeze a lemon, you get lemon juice. And if I work for you and you squeeze me, you get Richard juice. The point being that a person’s reactions to being squeezed will vary from person to person. Some will thrive on it and others will begin to crumble quietly under the strain. In other words, there are work issues and personal issues.

Ask yourself these questions about your own farm.

• Are there increasing and conflicting demands on your time?

• How much control do you have over the way you do your job?

• How much support do you have from other people?

• Do you ever ask for help or are you stubborn and see that as a weakness?

• How much time do you spend on your own?

• Are you the strong and silent type?

It is in the answers to these questions and others that you will identify the sources of your stress.

So that's the squeezer, what about the squeez-ee? Everyone has a natural stress threshold and a learnt stress threshold which comes from life and work experiences. In reality, and this might be a hard one to swallow initially, but all stress is self-induced. Most of us believe that we have no control over our stress response or feelings. This is simply not the case. Take the example of any politician getting abuse from protestors. You don’t see any juice. Why? Because he has learned to separate himself from the drama and protect his own emotions. Like him or loathe him, his reactions are under his own control rather than a slave to the environment in which he finds himself.

So, imagine the situation where you have been trained to manage your own personal response. So now, not only are you happy healthy and hard at work, but when you go into your family, you are happy healthy and there too.

As a gift to you, I have made an audio recording to teach you how to control your reactions when you are being squeezed particularly during this pandemic. Listen to it in bed a handful of times over the next few weeks and it will teach you how to reduce your stress and get back into a decent sleeping pattern. youtu.be/IRzGVNOJNlI

If you would like to read our full Irish Farm Report click here