Volatile markets, unpredictable weather and social isolation are a few of the reasons top farm operators have high levels of stress. To run a successful business, it’s critical farm CEOs know how to manage their stress and its causes.
“Farm and ranch families often experience pressure, conflict and uncertainty, especially during harvesting and planting,” says Sean Brotherson, North Dakota State University Extension family science specialist.
Sometimes this stress can manifest itself even more in CEOs because top leaders often see themselves as self-reliant and “tough enough” to keep their problems to themselves, says Peter Martin of KCOE ISOM.
“Maybe you’re trying to weather the storm and keep what you’ve built. Or you’re expanding your operation and facing new risks. You’re reluctant to discuss your concerns with an employee, who may not see the whole picture or is afraid to speak frankly,” he says. “But at some point, we all need a confidant, someone with whom we can discuss ideas prospects or fears, even on a personal level.”
Lack of communicating these kinds of stresses can be dangerous, Brotherson says.
“If feelings of frustration and helplessness build up, they can lead to intense family problems involving spouses or partners, children, parents and other relatives,” he says. “If left unresolved, these feelings can lead to costly accidents, poor decisions, strained relationships, health concerns and risks, including suicide.”
Sharing concerns and stresses with others can not only help you relieve stress, but Brotherson says those who you confide in can help you see other perspectives and new ideas to make better decisions.
“Identify others who understand your situation, or who you feel able to trust and seek to talk and share with them,” he advises.
Connect with a trusted friend or advisor. This is a simple approach but often the most effective, Martin says. “Connecting with someone you trust, who understands you and knows what you’re going through can be a huge relief,” he says. “This can easily be an informal get-together or even regular text messages and phone calls. The best farm CEOs I work with all have someone in this capacity.”
Join a peer group. Martin also recommends peer advisory groups which have become more popular in the last decade. “Groups like Ag Progress, Vistage or Young Presidents Organization, which are all about bringing together CEOs, can be helpful in helping you learn, share and grow,” he says. “These are peers who have faced similar situations, who can relate to your role and ask the relevant questions. Peers groups involving leaders from outside your industry can be particularly worthwhile because their diverse perspectives can open your eyes to solutions you might not have considered.”
Create an advisory board of directors. Consider creating an advisory board for your farm. “This is a complicated and time-intensive method that involves finding the right people, coordinating meetings and creating strong agendas,” he says. “Often, the process starts off with great intentions but fizzles out fast.” This approach takes a lot of effort and energy, according to Martin. For that reason, he only recommends this option if the previous two options have also been leveraged.
Find a counselor. Just as you would connect with the neighbor to access a piece of equipment or help on your operation, you should seek to connect with informal or informal resources, help in managing stress or provide support, Brotherson says. “If you as an individual fill a need to access physical or mental health supports or services, connect with or refer someone to a local health care provider,” he says. “Most rural communities have access to a health care provider and healthcare providers typically deal with a wide range of health issues whether physical, or mental or emotional health, and can help you take next steps in attending to your health.” He also recommends contacting a clergy member, medical professional, social worker or local law enforcement.
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