Anyone who’s spent any time around farmers knows that they are strong, independent and courageous, often in the face of overwhelming odds. Year after year, farmers and ranchers deal with a wide range of issues over which they have no control, including droughts, floods and storms, market disruption from trade disputes, labor shortages, low commodity prices … and the list goes on. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic multiplied the impact of all of these issues and added to the already high-stress levels farmers are carrying.
Despite these continuing pressures that build throughout the year, we look forward to the holidays as a time to unwind, relax and spend time with family and friends. There’s a certain comfort in tradition, seeing loved ones again and being around the table to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal or Christmas celebration together. But the holidays will look different for many of us this year, with smaller family gatherings, and in many cases, no family gatherings or virtual get-togethers instead, due to the impacts of the pandemic.
While we may not be physically close to the people we care about this year, we can still share connections and look out for each other. There are a lot of things we can do to help others who may be experiencing feelings of isolation, loss or loneliness this time of year. It’s also important to recognize those feelings in ourselves and to understand that sometimes it’s OK not to be OK. Here are some ways we can refocus our thoughts and have a positive impact on those around us.
Take time to be thankful. It may be hard to see it sometimes, but there’s always something to be thankful for. When it feels like everything is going wrong, take time to consciously focus on the things that are going right. You may be having a particularly bad day, and when that happens it’s human nature to focus on the one negative thing that is gnawing at you. Turn it around by focusing on all the good things in your life, the things you’re grateful for and you can make a positive change.
Kindle the spirit of the holidays by helping others. I remember reading a story about a man who was helping others in his community who had lost their homes to raging wildfires in the West. While he was out helping with disaster assistance, his own house burned down. The next day he was back out there … still helping his neighbors. When asked why, he said, “Because they still need help.” No matter what we are going through, there are always others who are hurting. It can be uplifting to focus on others and try to find ways to heal their pain.
Recognize signs of trouble in people you care about, and be there for them. You may notice that a neighbor’s farm suddenly doesn’t look as kept up as it usually does, or their livestock don’t seem to be cared for as well as usual. Many of the typical warning signs of stress involve changes in routines, like friends not meeting at the coffee shop or the feed mill, or not being in church. But with the pandemic putting a stop to a lot of these activities, the warning signs may be harder to spot now. Think about keeping in touch by scheduling a phone call or video call with the people you care about on a regular basis. If they miss a call, check in with them. It’s surprising how much this can mean to friends or family members who may be experiencing physical separation as a result of the pandemic. And, maybe when this is all over, you will have started a new tradition and forged new connections.
No matter what we may be going through, it’s good to let our friends and loved ones know we care, and there’s hope. Just being there for someone we care about may make all the difference this holiday season.
For more information about minimizing the stress that accompanies the holidays, see the practical tips from the Mayo Clinic at bit.ly/mayostresstips. To learn how to spot the warning signs of stress, start a conversation with someone you care about, manage farm stress, get help, and more, visit FarmStateOfMind.org.
Column originally appeared in the December|January 2020-2021 Rural Route. Roy Atkinson is director of communications at the American Farm Bureau Federation.