Good stress, bad stress, how to avoid stress

I just read an article from Texas A&M about stress — you know, that force in our lives that, regardless of how good we might feel, pops up every once in a while to remind us that we are not as in charge as we thought we were.

Happens every time a deadline catches me with stories still to be written, pictures still to be shot and copy still to be edited. Like today.

But sometimes that's positive stress. It gets me moving, gets what passes for creative juices flowing in my brain and makes my fingers fly over the keyboard, pounding out rare words of wisdom. Well, that's the theory, anyhow.

Then there is bad stress. Problems pop up that are way beyond my control. Children driving cars, a baby sick in the wee hours of the morning, pink slips slid under the door the day you learn your homeowners insurance just went up.

I always imagined doctors probably had the most stressful jobs around. If they make mistakes, their clients stand to lose more than a bit of skin off their noses. Air traffic controllers, I've heard, also place high on the list and understandably so. If they screw up, planes fall from the sky.

But I'd put farm families up there as well. I can't think of too many things more stressful than waking in the middle of the night to the sounds of high wind and hail and realizing that the million-dollar investment in cotton seed that had just poked out of the ground is being turned into slaw.

Appropriate action might include screaming into the storm since sleep would be pretty much out of the question.

Watching crops and rangeland dry up after weeks of relentless heat and dry weather also comes to mind as a key stress factor.

I would imagine that farm families, especially over the past two decades, have suffered more than their fair share of stress. They've been battered by weather, beleaguered by low prices and bedeviled by government programs that come just short of providing adequate assistance.

Most times, folks get over stressful situations. Sometimes they don't, if the stresses remain unresolved. And bad stress that just hangs on can lead to serious health problems, says Carol Rice, Texas Cooperative Extension health specialist. She recommends watching for signs such as:

Emotional: Irritability or aggressiveness, fear or anxiousness, unstable emotions, impulsiveness, fatigue and inability to concentrate.

Behavioral: Too much use of alcohol, tobacco or drugs; increased TV watching; too much sleep or not enough; too much eating or not enough; nervous motions such as foot tapping; and sexual problems.

Physical: Racing heart, trembling, teeth grinding, excessive perspiration, digestive problems, stiff neck or shoulder muscles, tension headaches, allergy or asthma attacks, frequent colds or low-grade infections and skin problems such as hives.

So what's the solution? Rice says folks can't solve all the world's problems, and the world has quite a few at the moment, but most of us can take some control over what stresses us personally.

Physical activity helps. That may be what keeps farmers sane. At least when they get hailed out they have the option of crawling back on the tractor and replanting. They sometimes can haul water to thirsty cattle or they can sell off the herd. Either of those options comes with some financial loss but being a part of a solution has to ease the feelings of helplessness that feed stress and moves it into depression.

Rice also recommends a break. “Taking time for yourself can help relieve stress and refresh you so you can accomplish more,” she says.

And talking about the problem may at least get it off your chest, out in the open where, in the light of day, perhaps it's not quite as ugly as it seemed. And, who knows, someone may offer a solution.

Don't hide. Rice says social support makes a big difference. Family, friends, a minister, the guys at the café sipping coffee and telling lies in the morning may all serve as relief valves. Isolation, Rice says, becomes an enemy. And stay away from negative people; they drain you.

“ACCENTUATE the positive,” as the old song goes. Stop thinking negatively, Rice says. She says crying might help, too, but I don't like to think about farmers crying, so don't tell me about it.

The point is, agriculture, as well as our nation and our world, has been hit with too many calamities in the past few years. We live in troubling times, but that doesn't mean we succumb to the doomsayers and Chicken Littles' of the world. The sky may in fact look dark, but I see scant evidence that it's falling.

Have a nice day.

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