Continuous stress is not good for the human body and can affect both physical and emotional well-being. Agricultural-related stress can be caused by many different factors and its symptoms can be manifested in several ways.

In a recent webinar titled “Wellness in Tough Times” by University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension Educators Brandy VanDeWalle and Glennis McClure, the pair took a closer look at rural stress and the negative effects it has on rural residents. They also offered tips to dealing with stress and additional resources for those who need it.


Stress is the human response to any change perceived as a challenge or a threat, according to VanDeWalle.

Stress can be good or bad, with good stress called eustress. This can help energize someone for an upcoming task, such as spring planting, while bad stress is called distress and continuous distress is not good, she said.

Some people handle stress better than others. Those who are the glass-half-full type of people tend to handle stress better than generally less positive people, she said.

Prolonged stress can result in serious physical and emotional problems, VanDeWalle said.

McClure said many items can cause stress in agriculture. Weather challenges, crop and livestock production risks, machinery breakdowns, debt loads, volatile markets, multiple-generation farms and ranches, long days with lack of sleep and government regulations can all contribute to ag-related stress.

“Two or more of these stresses can cause problems,” McClure said. “And we saw some pretty major weather stress earlier this spring.”

McClure said this stress can affect one’s body, mind and actions.

When stress lingers for long periods of time, the hormone cortisol is produced by our bodies. The effects of cortisol on the body can be seen with higher levels of blood cholesterol or high blood pressure, which can lead to serious health problems, she said.

Under stress, one’s mind cannot concentrate as well and can be prone to displays of anger. Actions can include undereating or overeating, withdrawing from normal activities and use of drugs and alcohol.

Everyone reacts to stress differently, McClure said.


VanDeWalle said there are, however, several different ways rural residents can handle stress in agriculture.

Among the ways is building gaps into your day to ensure you have time for a mental break and take some time off. VanDeWalle acknowledged those involved in agriculture might not always follow these suggestions, but just getting away even for a few minutes is good for coping with stress.

“It could be something as simple as grilling out with friends,” VanDeWalle said.

Other ways to deal with stress includes being assertive and learning to say “no” for various events, include time to build on the “feel good” endorphins, visit someone, or maybe even journal to be able to talk through what you are going through, she said.

VanDeWalle said she recommends a variety of stress-reducing activities and actions such as eating a well-balanced diet, including breakfast, exercising a half hour a day or every other day, getting enough sleep and accepting that stress is part of life. Other recommendations are to clearly define home and work responsibilities, manage time efficiently, set realistic goals, learn to relax and separate work and family time.

Cultivating a productive mindset can help deal with stress, especially in agriculture, McClure said.


Another aspect in dealing with stress in agriculture is assisting others in distress, according to McClure. With the extreme weather seen all over the state last month, more people could be dealing with distress than usual.

Being able to recognize signs of distress and understanding the warning signs are extremely important, she said.

For example, if you think you know people who are in distress, express your concerns and ask them about their situation. This will involve active listening, McClure said. Ask them about their plans, and if you see warning signs, treat suicidal talk or behavior as serious and take immediate action.

“Don’t ignore anything when it comes to suicide,” McClure said.

Do not leave the person alone — a trip to a local hospital or health facility may be necessary, she emphasized.

Someone in extreme stress needs to be dealt with immediately and there are many resources available. These include:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-(800)-273-TALK (8255)

Nebraska Family Helpline


Nebraska Rural Response Hotline


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration


Nebraska Farm Mediation

(402) 471-4876…

University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) Systems of Care Regions…

Confidential Online Mental Health Screening…

In addition “handouts” are available from the UNL webinar and are available at https://go.unl/….

Russ Quinn can be reached at

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Source: Russ Quinn, DTN