Taking a Breath; Being pro-active about mental health just good, old-fashioned horse sense, says Ag for Life

By Tim Kalinowski


With spring seeding getting set to gear up, Luree Williamson, CEO of Agriculture for Life, wants to remind farmers about safety and mental health.

“As we head into spring everyone is anxious to get back to work,” she says. “They are excited about another year, and maybe still a little depressed from what we had last year. When we talk to the farming community at this time of year, it is always a reminder of some of those same tips as we head in. Things like making sure equipment is safely operating, and everything is functioning. And you are sort of in the right mindset to get back to work.”

Mental health is of particular concern to farmers in general, says Williamson, but especially after the challenging 2019 year many faced throughout Alberta.

“We know statistically farmers generally are more susceptible than the general population to chronic stress,” she explains. “We know there is a lot of demands and variables they encounter within their work. That can lead to both physical and mental illness.”

“It has been wonderful over the past couple of years that we have been starting to talk openly about mental health and the importance of supporting the farming community,” Williamson adds. “Because when we do go to work, in any role or industry, if your head isn’t clear and you are feeling stressed, and you have some anxiety, the chances of incidents of injury can increase.”

Williamson says a key lesson for farmers is to try to live in the moment instead of dwelling too much on the challenges ahead. She has a few tips on how they might achieve that. First, she says, it’s important to stay in contact with other people.

“There is lots of tips around mental health, and how to get yourself to where you are feeling in a good position to move forward,” she explains. “Some of them are around social connection— it’s making sure you have face-to-face time with other people. There is something about connecting with other humans that is very important when it comes to our mental state. Make sure you have someone you can talk with; someone who will listen and be that friend that you need.”

Exercise is also important, she says.

“Staying active. It is important we have regular exercise or activity where you can relieve some stress and work out some anxiety.”

A good night’s sleep can also do wonders for your mental state, says Williamson.

“We want to make sure we are getting enough sleep. And you need to take some time to relax, which most people don’t do nowadays because we have such busy schedules. But it is important we take some time for ourselves.”

Take breaks to ground yourself, she says— not all the work has to be done at once.

“Not everyone is into yoga and meditation,” she jokes; “so sometimes it’s more about taking a deep breath and doing something like taking 10 minutes off for lunch. Don’t eat on the go; take time off to have a quiet lunch (and reset).”

Williamson also suggests when a farmer is feeling extremely stressed and daunted by the challenges ahead it might be better to take a social media holiday.

“I know there is a lot of research being done in the area of social media and mental health, and the amount of screen time we have whether it be kids or adults,” she explains. “I think it is really important that people remember social media is a communications tool. You can use it, and it can also be abused. There is a lot of negativity, and you have to feel okay to un-follow people. You don’t have to follow everyone, and if there is a friend who is maybe a bit more negative who sends a request to be a friend you don’t have to accept it.”

She agrees social media can also be a positive tool at times, but points out it is no substitute for face-to-face social interactions with family or friends.

“If you are going to be on social media make sure you are following what keeps you interested and what keeps you positive— but I do believe we have to find that balance between the negativity you might see on social media and what you see in real life.”

And finally, Williamson says it is important to be aware while driving your vehicles down rural roads and busy highways, not to get lost in your thoughts or worries when you are behind the wheel for your sake and others.

“(In spring) we forget the care we had last fall, and we often become complacent. At Ag for Life we always say: ‘Safety is how you start the day.’ We don’t get up obviously to go out and get injured, but we want to make sure we have done our risk-assessment, we have put our due diligence in, and we’re making sure we are working safe.”

Williamson realizes its easier said than done for busy farmers to maintain a good work and life balance, but she believes the more a farmer strives for one the greater the chance he or she will accomplish it.

“It is important we are well-balanced in our farming community, and that our farmers have support,” she states. “But they also have to be doing that self-assessment on themselves to make sure they do feel they are ready to get back to work.”

Open source photo courtesy of Pixabay
Nothing but blue skies. Mental health remains a challenge for farmers, says Ag for Life CEO Luree Williamson, and it’s up to the agricultural community to self-check and take steps to reduce stress and ground themselves before and during the challenging spring seeding season ahead.