Farmers are strong individuals, but everyone has their limits.

It’s important for those dealing with the stress of farm operations to know how to maintain a healthy mental attitude, according to Leanne Porter, training coordinator at FarmFirst.

FarmFirst is a Vermont-based nonprofit organization formed to provide farmers and their families with support, resources and information to reduce stress.

FarmFirst is assisting the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) in developing the MassGrownWellness program. The program is designed to address the specific mental health and wellness needs of the Massachusetts ag community and its supporters. Web-based resources, online and in-person peer-based training and outreach to the Bay State’s agricultural community are provided free of charge to all Massachusetts farmers.

FarmFirst recently created a peer network in Vermont where farmers can reach out to one another in times of stress. That network is serving as a model for MDAR. In these networks, “farmers get to flock together, so to speak,” Porter explained.

Easy ways to de-escalate

Andrea Grayson

Dr. Andrea Grayson, assistant professor at the University of Vermont, explained that it’s not enough to want to have less stress, it’s important to have a method of doing it. “What stands between you and your ideal health? My guess is that it is either one, information; two, a system; and/or three, support. Most people ‘know’ what they should be doing but lack the system and support to make lasting change.”

Among the tools the MassGrownWellness program would like to see farmers utilize are a series of de-escalation strategies when things get heated between employers, employees, co-workers, customers and suppliers. The steps are listed below:

Focus on managing your own emotional response. When someone is talking to you in a heated way, it’s easy to escalate yourself. Try to stay calm and positive.

Take a deep breath. One way to do that is to take a few deep breaths. When stressed, our breathing often becomes shallow and rapid. This increases agitation.

Listen more than you talk. Allow the other person to vent. Sometimes in these situations all a person needs is to vent and get it all out. Listening can be just what they need. Always remember you do not need to listen if someone is being disrespectful to you.

Show empathy. Sympathy means feeling sorry for the person; empathy means that you respect their experience (even if you don’t agree with it).

Identify and define the problem. When a person’s emotions are escalated and they’re frustrated, it’s often hard for them to stay on point. When they calm down, try to relay the problem back to them in a succinct way.

Try not to take it personally. If a person is raising their voice and sounding agitated, remember they are unlikely to be upset with you as a person, but instead are upset about a situation.

Avoid the need to be right or fix it right away. Advice and suggestions should come after listening, understanding and clarifying. Don’t interrupt a frustrated person with your ideas or personal experiences.

Take a break. If things do not seem to be calming down you may decide to ask the person to take a break, take a walk or rest, and then reconnect.

If meeting in person, be aware of your body language and vary your distance apart, as appropriate. Avoid crossing your arms, clenching your fists or throwing your hands up in frustration. Be certain you are on the same physical level – don’t stand if they are sitting, for instance. Creating some extra physical space can be helpful. Lean or step back.

Use positive language when ending the interaction. Relay back any solutions or positive statements that were made to end on a positive note, if possible.

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by Enrico Villamaino