To deal with stress, 'walk together' and 'hunker down'

Webinar presentation offered farmers insights and tools to develop mental resilience and coping strategies to use during the pandemic.

Going on an evening walk is the kind of healthy activity that can help relieve stress. Erica Dischino / Forum News Service

Livestock producers and industry workers are facing an unprecedented amount of stress and anxiety from the pandemic. In response, the Iowa Pork Industry Center recently hosted a webinar focused on farmers who are in crisis from the impact of COVID-19.

The webinar, called Resilience in the ERA of COVID-19, featured remarks by David Brown, behavioral health specialist at Iowa State University Extension, and Cameron Schmitt, veterinarian with Pipestone Veterinary Services in Iowa. The presentation offered farmers insights and tools to develop mental resilience and coping strategies to use during the pandemic.

"As you all know, the stress isn't just around how to manage the pigs," said Jason Ross, director of the Iowa Pork Industry Center and host of the webinar. "There's a lot of other stress right now. Some that we can control and some we cannot."

He said they reached out to Brown and Schmitt to go over the things they can do to make the difficult time easier to swallow.

Resilience is built through four key strategies: self-care, social support, purpose and embracing positive thoughts.


Brown began the presentation by asking participants what they were doing for their own self-care. Some responses were evening walks with their spouse, a Zoom prayer group and group texts with other producers where both humor and tips were shared.

According to Brown, excellent self-care includes deep sleep for seven to nine hours a night, active and healthy activities, avoiding alcohol and illicit drugs, spiritual practices, and mindfulness/deep breathing exercises.

Build the base

Schmitt said when farmers look at the markets and processing situations, they see a big hill ahead, so it's important to "take note of what you have for assets in your network". That's not just from a financial regard, he said, but could be your priest, veterinarian or neighbor.

"Take note of those, and it's OK to visit with them now and say I'm going through a rough time, and can I reach out to you over the next several months," Schmitt said. "Build that network so you have that network, especially when we don't know what's going to happen in the coming months."

Brown said it's OK and recommended to talk about feelings of stress with others, and if you find that's not enough, make an appointment with your general care provider. He said to be up front at that appointment about your mental health concerns, otherwise it could just end with you getting a physical.

"We're all going through this right now, but reach out to friends in the industry and colleagues to visit, talk and share experiences with," said Schmitt. "Walk together."

Brown said the purpose aspect is all about finding your own vision, and mission in life.

He said the best way to do that is by helping others in need, whether that be strangers or your friends and family. Another good way to do this is to write out some goals for you life, and what you're doing to achieve them.


Brown said it's also very important to "be more than a farmer", and have plenty of hobbies to occupy your time when you're not farming.

"This provides an opportunity for individuals to disengage by getting off the farm," said Brown.

Embrace positivity and hunker down

During these tough times, Brown said it's important to keep things in perspective.

"We may have the tendency to assume the worst about things, or assume the world is out to get us," he said. "We can easily slip into that type of thinking given everything that producers have faced over the past few years."

He said it's crucial to remember that what's happening now is not a predictor of how the future will go.

"We can't really change the situation we're in now due to COVID-19," said Brown. "But you can change how you respond and how you understand it."

Schmitt said as producers enter the fight they've been mentally preparing for, whether that's tough markets or having to euthanize a group of pigs, it's good to have a "hunker-down" mentality.

"It's a time when you want to limit large decision making in the immediate and short-term," Schmitt said. "Get through the fight, hunker down and be a hedgehog to get through the challenge."


Many producers are experiencing grief right now, with a lot of loss to grieve over. Brown said his concern about that is that grief sometimes turns into depression if it's not dealt with.

Grief can also come from farmers having to depopulate their own pigs, said Ross.

"We need to continue doing everything in our power to make sure that producers and caretakers aren't having to euthanize their own pigs," said Ross. "There are technical resources out there, and you can reach out to Extension staff at any of the universities that you work with."

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