Work, life balance vital for managing stress

Stress is a fact of life but should not be a way of life, says David Posen.

“We’re not built to have an ongoing chronic stress level. We’re built to have the stress reaction kick in when we need it and then to turn off when we don’t need it. We have to learn how to turn it off,” said the medical doctor during the annual Canadian Young Farmers’ Forum (CFYY) earlier this year.

Farmers from across Canada between ages 18 and 40 convened in Saskatoon for the five-day event, which the Saskatchewan Young Ag-Entrepreneurs co-hosted with the CYFF.

Based in Oakville, Ont., and with more than 30 years experience, Posen is a former family physician who specializes in stress and lifestyle counselling, as well as psychotherapy. He is also the author of five books.

“What’s one problem that every doctor shares with patients and the answer is stress,” he said to his millennial generation audience.

He said stress is “the non-specific response of the body to any demand made upon it,” which was defined by Dr. Hans Selye, a pioneer endocrinologist and the first to demonstrate the existence of biological stress.

Selye coined sources of stress as being triggers or “stressors” that effect behaviour.

People tend to identify stress as factors such as bad weather, a drought, flooding or government policies, but it is actually the body’s response to something external.

“Basically, stress is what goes on in us in response to all of those things. It’s not out there somewhere. It’s the body’s response to adversity, any kind of threat or whatever,” said Posen.

Whether threatening or non-threatening, classic stress factors induce a series of reactions in the body such as a faster heart rate, higher blood pressure, faster breathing, tensed muscles and dilated pupils.

“Your metabolism rate speeds up, your senses are heightened, your blood sugar goes up, the fats in your blood increase, including cholesterol; all to give you quick energy to fight or run away from danger,” he said.

However, it can develop into chronic stress, which can have detrimental physical and emotional side effects.

“It also leads to things like insulin resistance. If you have chronic stress for too long, the insulin in your body stops being effective. It can lead to weight problems and even Type 2 diabetes. It also suppresses your immune system. It also effects mental health and mood. The big three are anxiety, depression and burnout,” he said.

Posen said farmers and those in agricultural occupations are particularly susceptible to stressful situations because they lack control in many areas of their business lives.

“In the occupation that you folks work in, stress is pretty much a daily occurrence in many ways because of factors you can’t control … like the weather, the economy and commodity prices and so on,” he said.

However, he said people have more control over their stressful feelings than they realize.

“Control and stress are like two elevators on one cable. When one is up, the others almost down,” he said.

“If you’re working in an occupation where there are a lot of things you don’t control, you can feel at the mercy of just whatever’s happening and bounce around like that. If you want to lower your stress level, find ways of increasing your feeling of control.”

Resilience is the key he said referring to three pillars of resilience people can use to regain control:

  • Attitude — the way to think about things
  • energy — how to get, restore and manage energy
  • balance and stability — how to stay balanced when things are throwing you off

To manage stress, Posen said people must learn to separate business life from personal life, which creates counterbalance.

“So, then the question will be, who are you other than a farmer, your relationships, your activities, your passions and interests.”

However, farming is an all-encompassing occupation where personal and work life are deeply intermingled. It’s a challenge for farmers to find buffers and ways of physically and mentally putting some distance from the job.

He said the millennial generation of farmers has a better grasp on the work-life balance compared to their baby boomer parents and grandparents.

“I think partly because or maybe largely because they have watched their parents’ generation stress themselves out being overly busy, always worrying, sitting up at night, looking at the books and stuff like that, and not having a counterbalance,” he said.

“And I think they’re (millennials) basically saying, ‘I don’t want to buy into that. I want to have work that’s meaningful to me and I want to have as much control over my life as possible. But I do not want my work to be my life.’ ”

“It’s a message that boomers who are still in the workforce can learn from. It’s really interesting because both generations can learn from each other.”

Mental health issues are becoming more top of mind in the agriculture industry, said Danielle Lee, CYFF chair.

She said one of the main goals of putting it on the forum’s agenda was to help foster social connections and support systems for farmers.

At 33, Lee sees her millennial generation more apt to accept and handle stress more openly rather than stigmatize and suppress it.

“Stress is part of everyone’s life but bringing it up at things like this meeting allows people to realize that it might be something little, but it might get into something bigger if they keep allowing it to happen,” she said.

“It also allows them to talk to another person if they feel like it’s maybe not something they can talk to family or close friends. Maybe it’s someone across the country that they can reach out to.

“People are finding that their friend down the road or in another province is facing the same issues as them and they can learn from that and maybe hopefully help that.”

If you do nothing else:

  • Identify and acknowledge your symptoms of stress.
  • Monitor your stress and pace yourself.
  • Manage your thoughts. Use reframing.
  • Take timely time-outs.
  • Get the sleep you need.
  • Keep your work and your self in perspective.
  • Do something for yourself every day.

Source: David Posen


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