Stress Management for Ag Professionals
About 20 people participated in the Stress Management for Ag Professionals Seminar, sponsored by Vermont AgrAbility and Rural and Ag VocRehab at the University of Vermont Davis Center; identifying stressful feelings and situations, learning self-help techniques, and practicing stress relieving exercises.
Eric C. Nichols, Ph.D, Licensed Psychologist and Retired Extension Faculty Emeritus, facilitated a three-hour seminar for Extension ag professionals, and agricultural lenders focusing on: the challenges outreach specialists encounter working in stressful situations, self-care when work is taxing, discussion of specific case studies, identifying and addressing stress, depression, and potential suicidal intentions among customers, and practicing communication tools and relaxation exercises.
Some of the primary concerns of working with customers are:
- Where to meet; at their home/farm or in the office when stress is a concern.
- How to bring up difficult topics, such as, farm transition, changing business goals, family issues.
- How far to “push” a difficult discussion and stay focused on the key goals and topics in challenging conversations.
- How to make referrals to other programs and agencies that can help.
- How to help empower customers to take charge of their situations.
These questions stimulated a vibrant and well informed discussion among the group regarding what has been successful, support and encouragement to keep returning to the actual important issues, and working with the customer to help them develop their own solution given the best information available. With quiet expertise and practiced listening Dr. Nichols guided the group to use effective listening, reading between the lines to find the pertinent information and questions, and to bring calm concern and strategies to each meeting and dialog with customers.
Addressing self care when work is taxing included:
- Taking work home and “turning off the brain”
- Overwhelmed with demands on the job and at home
- Taking “down time” and time for healthy habits
- Setting personal limits
- Dealing with emotional reactions
It seemed simpler to list the personal stresses and challenges than to identify solutions. Dr. Nichols talked at length about the effects of stress on the body, mind, and relationships. Referencing the work of Martin Seligman and Jon Kabat-Zinn, about how people respond to stress and benefit from relaxation and stress management. The group discussed tricks and techniques they already use, learned from each other and the experts what more can be done. Following the work of Herbert Benson in Timeless Healing, Dr. Nichols led the group in a relaxation exercise. After the entire local fire department had passed by the building with full sirens and horns, a long deep peaceful period of silence surrounded the room and stress dissolved into relaxing quiet and deep breathing. The group recognized the simplicity and helpfulness of this exercise that can be done almost anywhere; in a private moment in a car (parked), at the office, on a plane, or at home – alone or in a group. It’s a matter of taking the time to step out of the moment to relax and regain perspective. Becoming refocused and energized to continue on with work and bringing our best into each in spite of the stress of others involved.
The seminar concluded with a meaningful conversation about identifying and responding to suicidal language or threats and a conversation about the actual words to say in emotional situations. As the participants moved on for their day many pleasantries, agreements to work more cooperatively, and recognitions of the excellent work that is being done were heard around the room.
Some comments from the seminar evaluation are: Watch out for No. 1; take care of me so I can be more effective in helping others, stress affects everyone, big decisions take a long time to make, Dr. Nichols is a very affective speaker. His teaching style allows one to absorb his very useful information; information that will remain with you for a very long time, and We all need to remember our colleagues are some of our most valuable resources; referrals help bring more assistance to our clients and also work to build closer working relationships with our peers.
More Stress Management for Ag Professionals workshops coming in January in Newport, St Albans, Middlebury, and Randolph. Call UVM Extension, Melissa Newland, for more information – 800-545-8920.