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Published October 21, 2013, 10:29 AM

Dealing with the stress

The blizzard that hammered the western Dakotas is a catastrophe, but ranchers and farmers shouldn’t dwell on the negative, according to Roger Williams, an expert on farm stress.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

The blizzard that hammered the western Dakotas is a catastrophe, but ranchers and farmers shouldn’t dwell on the negative, according to Roger Williams, an expert on farm stress.

“Don’t catastrophize,” William says. “Try to catch yourself every time you use negative self-talk. It comes automatically in a crisis like this. Say, ‘Stop.’ And make it more positive self-talk.”

Williams is a teacher, consultant and University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension professor emeritus. Some of his written material on coping with farm stress is used by state extension services across the country.

Agweek asked Williams — who says he’s seen images of the blizzard’s devastation and read accounts of the damage it’s done — for suggestions on how people affected by the blizzard should deal with it emotionally.

Too often, agriculturalists in a crisis blame themselves or second-guess their prior actions, Williams says.

For instance, a rancher might think, “‘I’m going to lose my ranch that’s been in the family for three or four or five generations; how could I have been so stupid?’ Make it positive self-talk (instead),” Williams says.

“Accept the situation. Recognize that’s it happened and that it’s part of farming and ranching. Say things like, ‘I’ve been farming or ranching for 30 years. I’ve gotten through difficult situations, I can get through this.’ Take it as a challenge, then act with courage to turn things around,” he says.

He encourages farmers and ranchers to reach out to help other producers. “There’s something incredibly empowering about that,” he says.

Farmers and ranchers have a tendency, in times of stress, to “cut themselves off from other people. It’s important to stay connected. Don’t let yourself get isolated. Isolation can be one of the very worst things when we’re in a crisis,” he says.

It’s also important to exercise to reduce anxiety and to eat and drink properly, he says.

Most important, though, producers need to “avoid the negative self-talk. Use positive self-talk,” he says.

Resources for help

Both North Dakota and South Dakota offer telephone help lines for rural residents struggling with stress. The toll-free numbers are:

North Dakota — (800) 472-2911.

South Dakota — (800) 664-1349.

Another resource is www.mentalhealthamerica.net, a website operated by Mental Health America (formerly known as the Mental Health Association of America).

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