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Digging Deep: Building our resilience

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

I’m writing this blog looking out of my window and counting the puddles in the field. Whilst Europe faces a heatwave, here in Cumbria we are more likely to need Noah and an ark than we are sun cream!


To say it is pouring down is an understatement! I did though get to experience some of the European sunshine in early July when I visited France for a conference. I was there to talk about resilience in farmers. With this typical English weather, resilience is something that we farmers all need!

By resilience I mean how we ‘bounce back’ from the things in life that cause us to feel stress. It’s about how we keep going, how we adapt when things go wrong and how we deal with our problems. We have all had experiences in needing to be flexible in dealing with what life throws at us. Not only to the weather, but to lots of the problems that we face both on the farm and in our lives generally. Finances, animal disease, crop failures, family problems and labour shortages can all test us and we all, at times, need to find ways to persevere when life gets tough.

In my presentation in France, I discussed how resilience is a complex topic. I wasn’t exaggerating! A quick internet search can bring up a raft of advice on how we can build our resilience and deal with stress better. The problem is though, a lot of the guidance that you’ll find online doesn’t always recognise how unique our farming lifestyle is.

Just as the concept of resilience is complex, so is farming.

Advice doesn’t always consider the overlap we, as farming families, experience between home and work. It doesn’t recognise the hours we put in and the lack of free time we can experience, and the suggestions don’t always appreciate the complicated nature of our family networks.

I particularly like that a lot of the advice suggests getting out and enjoying nature. That might not exactly relieve stress for farmers whose stress levels are possibly being increased by nature in the first place!

It is also important to recognise that when considering how to increase resilience, one size does not fit all. Different factors can affect how resilient a person is. For example, a person’s sense of humour, how optimistic a person is in life and how positive their outlook is may affect how they cope. In addition, what might increase one person’s resilience may not be suitable for someone else, it’s all about finding what works best for you. For many, relaxation and meditation may be fantastic in building their resilience, but if my husband was to arrive home to find me offering him a yoga mat and asking him to practice mindfulness, he would think he’d arrived at the wrong house!

As part of my studies, I’m hoping to understand how we can build our ability to handle stress in ways which will suit farmers. I’ll also be looking at how resilience may differ between different sectors of our agricultural community. For example, I’d like to understand whether the ways to increase resilience in young farmers differs from older farmers. Whilst I don’t have the results of these studies to write about here just yet, previous studies show that people with higher levels of resilience have higher levels of mental well-being. So, it is important that we try to increase our ability to cope. There are some great resources out there for anyone who wishes to consider how they can make some small steps to help themselves. Some of the useful tips and advice from others include:

Keeping on top of the basics is important. Eating well and getting enough sleep might sound like common sense, but when we are busy these necessities can be easily neglected. We recognise the importance of keeping our stock well fed and our machinery well maintained. What we need to start doing better is accepting that the most important part of any farm is its people: acknowledge that, you deserve good care too.

  • It makes good sense to keep as healthy as we can, so trying to build in some exercise is another good tool too. Making time for ourselves can be a challenge to many in farming. Remember it is important not to feel guilty for taking time off and away from the farm.

  • In my last blog, I talked about how important it was for us to keep talking. Having people around us and who can provide us with support is an important part of dealing with stress. Our friends, families and colleagues can provide us with both a supportive ear and a lending hand. It’s critical that we have an adequate social network available to us.

  • We know that many of the stresses we face in farming are beyond our control. However, something we may be able to manage is how we react to the problem. Sometimes taking a step back from the issue can help. If we try to see a problem from a different person’s point of view it can show us a different solution. Putting an issue into perspective, seeing it in the grand scheme of things, may also help. Having some time away from the issue or sleeping on it can be useful too.

  • Making a list of jobs still to do can help you feel in control and might show you how to break down large jobs into smaller, more manageable tasks. A list to show what you've already completed can be good too, to show you how much you have already achieved.

  • It can be difficult to either recognise or admit to signs of stress when they are affecting us. Being self-aware and learning to communicate better is something that we can all improve upon. Being willing to seek help when we recognise that we need it, is vital.

What is clear is that one size won’t fit all when it comes to increasing our ability to cope. But we do need to find a way to increase our resilience – we can’t remove all the stresses from farming, so instead we must learn how to deal with it better. As one example of further reading, Farmwell have some great tips and are designed with the busy and complex lives of farmers in mind.

My talk in France also centred around the relationship that we have found between resilience, well-being, and loneliness. I’m looking forward to describing my research in a future blog. I’ll also be describing soon how you can get involved. So don’t forget to check back soon. For now, I’ll hope that when you are reading this the weather has improved!

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