Grain farmers Jennifer and Michael Doelman are making self-care a priority in 2020. Years of hard work, sleepless nights caring for young children, and a stressful farm succession process have left the Renfrew, Ont. couple suffering from burnout.
The couple love their work but have been stretched too thin giving to farm, family and community. If they don’t make time for self-care, they won’t be able to keep being productive, says Jennifer. “We’re out of options. There’s nothing left in the fuel tank.”
It’s a goal within reach of almost every farm family.
With the high levels of stress involved in farming, especially this year, many farm families are looking for ways to carve out time for self-care.
It’s a wise move. In addition to helping maintain physical and mental well-being, self-care pays off by making you more productive, say Lorna Callbeck Cross and Cassie Josephson, the mother-daughter duo behind People Things Consulting. The pair deliver Red Cross Psychological First Aid courses and workshops across the country from their base in Saskatoon.
Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health. It helps us manage stress and protects us from burnout. It looks different for different people, says Josephson, but can include healthy eating, exercise, getting enough sleep, socializing with friends, and leisure activities or hobbies.
For Arthur, Ont. goat farmer and cheesemaker, Katie Normet, a weekly horseback riding lesson and regular massage appointments help her cope with the demands of farming. “It’s amazing how, when priorities like these are set in stone with no room to compromise, the time and money are there. Equally amazing is how much more efficient and productive I am when practising self-care,” she reports.
While self-care may sound like a modern buzzword, in fact, people have been practising it for generations, even though they didn’t say it in just that way.
Case in point, says Callbeck Cross, is her dad, a retired rancher/farmer, who watched Hockey Night in Canada and Toronto Blue Jays games as a form of self-care. Fishing, golfing and tinkering are other traditional forms of self-care.
What’s important is to find the right activities for you, emphasizes Callbeck Cross. “If golf isn’t your thing, don’t do it,” she says.
Part of the problem for many farmers is that they have never developed hobbies and don’t know where to begin. Callbeck Cross will challenge self-care workshop participants in this situation to think about what they liked to do when they were younger. What kinds of activities did their families do? Taking some time for self-reflection can kick-start the process, she says.
Self-awareness and self-reflection are critical to finding balance, agrees Doelman. You have to ask yourself, “What are your needs right now? How much rest, how much socialization, etc.?”
Doelman has found that what worked when she was in her 20s doesn’t work now as she approaches 40 and has young children. Being around people all day at work, she likes to spend her time away from work with her children. She also recognizes that what helps her recharge is different from her husband who is more introverted and needs more quiet time.
Last Christmas, the Doelmans found a creative way to explore new interests. Instead of exchanging gifts, they booked a babysitter and went to their local bookstore, purchasing books on topics that caught their attention. They’ve enjoyed reading about potential new hobbies and interests: psychology for Doelman and wine-making and hydroponics for her husband.
Doelman says the fastest way for her to recharge is to listen to her intuition and take the time to do what brings joy. She finds spending time in nature and being around positive people is helpful but she cautions against “numbing yourself with TV and alcohol.” That, she says, is “putting it on pause; it’s not a break.”
Yoga also helps Doelman “calm her monkey brain” but she acknowledges that with her full schedule it can be difficult for her to get to a class. Instead, she follows along with online yoga videos because she can do that almost anywhere there is Wi-Fi, even in a hotel room.
Although it isn’t easy, each day the Doelmans aim to do one activity together and one for themselves. “It might only be 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there,” she says.
“It doesn’t need to be hours… 10 minutes here and there can make a difference,” agrees Callbeck Cross, citing an example from her own life. When she was a single mom and working full-time, her children learned to leave her in peace for 15 minutes while she had a cup of tea. This simple self-care practice really made a difference in her ability to cope with the stress, she says.
Being more intentional with your time can help you find the space to schedule healthy activities into your day, says Manitoba farm family coach Elaine Froese. Her suggestions: embrace simple ways to intentionally self-renew, enlist family members to share the load, adopt energy boosters, and decrease the demands on your time by dropping non-essential jobs.
Sarah Gregg, author of Find Your Flow, agrees. “The one piece of advice I have is to use your time with intention. This involves being ruthless with your priorities, firm on your boundaries and avoiding multi-tasking (which reduces productivity by up to 40 per cent) and interruptions (one study showed it takes an average of 25 minutes to recover), writes Gregg in an email.
Our electronic devices are one of our biggest distractions, asserts Gregg. You may be wasting more time than you realize mindlessly scrolling through social media and newsfeeds. When you want to be more intentional with your time, she recommends setting your phone on airplane mode.
Sometimes taking time for self-care can be perceived as lazy or selfish, but Froese is quick to reject that misconception. Just as flight attendants warn us to put on our own oxygen masks before trying to help others, we need to look after ourselves first, she says.
If others are trying to make you feel guilty for taking some time for yourself, Froese has some blunt advice. “I usually say you get the behaviour you accept. Why would you want to accept someone shaming you into an action that you do not choose freely on your own?”
Signs that you’re stressed out
One of the dangers is that we may not even realize our need to take more time for self-care, says Cassie Josephson of People Things Consulting in Saskatchewan. Many people don’t recognize the symptoms of excessive levels of stress, she says, referring to the fable of the frog in hot water by way of analogy. If the frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put into cool water and then the water temperature is slowly increased to boiling, it will not notice the danger and be cooked.
Although everyone reacts to stress differently, when stress levels are high, you may experience a loss of appetite, irritability, panic attacks, muscle tension, moodiness, trouble sleeping, circling thoughts, low energy, fatigue, headaches, poor memory and poor concentration.
One way to gauge your stress level is to take a stress inventory like the one offered through the Canadian Mental Health Association.
- Red Cross Online Psychological First Aid (self-care) course
- Yoga with Adriene has many videos available on YouTube
- Meditation apps like Calm or Headspace
- The Anxiety Podcast by Tim JP Collins
- Emotional First Aid, book by Guy Winch
- The Little Book of Hygge — The Danish Way to Live Well, book by Meik Wiking