Farming and ranching can be stressful occupations, and that stress can have a significant effect on a person or a family. There are numerous uncontrollable factors, such as a livestock disease outbreak. Stress is a physical response to perceived life-threatening events. In an evolutionary sense, it allows us to determine whether we should stop and fight or flee from an external threat.

A farm family

Photo Source: USDA ERS

During the foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks in Great Britain in 2001, families that had raised animals for generations lost their herds and flocks to depopulation and witnessed the burning of carcasses. The emotional and economic toll to the owners was vast. Veterinarians and animal health workers who euthanized animals were also affected by the mass destruction.

Our brains do not recognize the difference between psychological or physical threats, and therefore our bodies respond in the same fashion to something we perceive as negative, overwhelming, or threatening, irrespective of the real risk to physical well-being. Each person reacts differently to stress, but some common symptoms of chronic stress include changes in a person’s sleep patterns, fluctuation in a person’s weight, fatigue, restlessness, and physical health conditions such as headaches, ulcers, or high blood pressure. Besides the physical effects, stress can also hinder interpersonal relationships at work and home.

Chronic and uncontrolled stress can be detrimental to your health and interpersonal relationships. It might not be possible to get rid of the things causing stress in your life, but there are things you can do to help manage the stress.

Simple Ways to Decrease Stress

  • Exercise

    Many farmers feel that the physical labor that they do on the farm is enough, but having a regular exercise or stretching program provides a break in your daily routine, benefits your overall health, and provides a constructive way to relieve excess energy. Strive to exercise three times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes.

  • Caffeine

    Reduce or eliminate caffeine from your diet. By eliminating this stimulant, a person may have reduced headaches, increased relaxation, improved sleep, a calmer mood—and more energy.

  • Humor

    The old adage “laughter is the best medicine” isn’t inaccurate—laughter might help to reduce your stress, so explore ways (social groups, books, and so on) to add some laughter to your life.

  • Talking

    Having a strong network of friends and family can help provide necessary support during stressful times.  Make sure that you have a couple of people to whom you can vent your problems to help reduce built up stress.

  • Relaxation Techniques

    There are simple relaxation techniques that can help you clear your mind and reduce tension. Techniques include deep breathing and taking mini-breaks during the day.

  • Sleep

    If you are not getting enough sleep at night to be refreshed in the morning and energetic enough for the day, then you may need to consider a midday power nap.

  • Nutrition

    Make sure that you are eating balanced meals throughout the day.

  • Breaks

    Take some time from the stressful situation by going for a walk, spending some time alone, working on a hobby, meditating, and so on.

Getting Help

There are times when things get too difficult, and you might need professional help. Professional help can include your family physician or health care provider, a mental health professional, or a support group. Listed below are some signs that indicate that you should seek professional help:

  • Depression.
  • Changed sleeping patterns.
  • Abusive behavior.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Consideration of changes in your marital status.
  • Inability to express positive feelings.
  • Excessive alcohol intake.
  • Feelings of guilt, isolation, panic, or being overwhelmed.
Content Source
Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN). Animal Agrosecurity and Emergency Management. Retrieved from

How to Choose a Counselor

Most counselors receive new clients when people already in counseling recommend them to friends. If a friend has had a positive experience with counseling, that’s a good place to start. Although personal recommendations are valuable, don’t give up if you don’t like the recommended counselor or if you’re the first of your friends to seek professional help.

If a personal referral is not available or doesn’t work out, scout out the other counseling possibilities in your area.

When considering a professional, check out his or her training and affiliations with professional organizations. This will guarantee certain minimum standards: completion of a degree in a relevant field, two or three years of supervised counseling experience, and continuing education requirements.

When you decide on someone, make an appointment. At that first session, discuss what you expect from counseling and find out what the professional can offer. If counseling is not  doing what you want it to do, say so. Good counselors will refer you to someone else if their approach or personality doesn’t work for you.

Remember that seeking outside help is a sign of strength. It takes courage to admit things aren’t going well and to reach out for help.

When stress levels are high and you realize you can’t resolve some of the problems on your own, when your life feels out of control, or when you’ve tried reading or talking to others but can’t seem to turn things around, it is time to seek professional help

Content Source
Weigel, Randy and Penny, Hattie. Agricultural Producers and Stress. University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service. Retrieved from

Crisis Communication

Be prepared to communicate to employees, the farm family, service providers and others about a livestock disease outbreak.