Identifying and Coping with Drought-Related Stress on the Farm or Ranch

Disasters create stress in our lives. For farmers/ranchers and people in agricultural industries, drought adds to other stresses already experienced by farm / ranch families.

Studies show that stress may be even greater for young farmers/ranchers, farmers/ranchers holding a second off-farm/ranch job and women in farm/ranch families.

Drought stress may be different than stress in other disasters because a drought is an extended event and does not have a single moment of impact. The anxiety builds over time and becomes chronic, making it less noticeable to ourselves and those around us. The drought may not be viewed as seriously as a tornado because the damage is not as visible and its impact is worst for already stressed farm/ranch families and communities.

What Can We Do About Stress?

Stress unrecognized is often referred to as the silent killer. It is the number one variable that affects our emotional, mental and physical health. Experiencing the effects of stress and taking ownership over our feelings associated with stress will empower us to find peace in the midst of the stressful situation rather than the stressful situation slowly taking pieces of you, i.e., your happiness, appetite or the many other facets of your mental, physical and emotional health. When we are proactive at facing the challenges each day, the stronger we will be in the face of other difficult circumstances that life will inevitably throw our way. Focusing on our own strengths and partnering with our community supports, we can take steps to grow ourselves and our families by:

  • Acknowledging feelings and talking them out. We have feelings for a reason, they serve as our barometer, measuring our internal pressure. Family, friends and neighbors can be helpful listeners and may share some of the same worries. Participating in church or spiritual renewal activities can also be sources of comfort and assistance in difficult times.
  • Paying attention to health, nutritious diet and adequate sleep is important. Engaging in recreation or a favorite hobby, getting away for a few hours with close friends, reading a good book, volunteering to help others, and finding time to laugh can give your mind and body respite from the constant relationship we have developed with stress and worry.
  • Nurturing personal relationships should be a priority. Couples should make time to be alone, to talk and to have fun. Families should re-establish important rituals such as mealtimes and holiday celebrations. Listening to and reassuring children who may need additional support is significant in dealing with the stressful situation and critical for continued healthy development.

The good news is that, with time, we will bounce back and return to what is normal for us and our families. Keep in mind, it may be a "new normal," but it will be a normal that serves our well-being.

When Should We Seek Help?

If stress, anxiety, depression or physical problems continue for more than a few weeks or if someone is having feelings of extreme hopelessness or extreme anger, is talking about suicide or is violent, it is important to seek help immediately. Contact a physician or community mental health center as soon as possible.

Sources of Assistance

For information on community mental health services in Nebraska see:

Family Stressors

Worries Shared by Most Families
  • Death in the family
  • Divorce or separation
  • Major illness or disability
  • Aging parents who need care
  • Worries about owing money
  • Few vacations
  • Changing economic conditions

Additional Stressors Identified by Farm/Ranch Families*

  • Rising expenses and low prices
  • Concerns about farm/ranch finances
  • Machinery breakdown
  • Prolonged bad weather or natural disaster
  • Weather-related crop loss
  • Delays in planting and/or harvest
  • Time pressures and long work hours
  • Farm viability

 *Walker and Walker, 1987 and 2003 USDA Small Farm Digest. Missouri Department of Mental Health

Common Signs of Stress

Farmers, ranchers, and their families should remind themselves that these are common stress reactions, the natural byproducts of both internal and external circumstances. It is important to recognize that these are normal "stress" responses to an unusual situation.

  • Irritability and anger
  • Feelings of anxiety amd worry
  • Headaches or gastrointestinal complaints
  • Increased risk-taking behavior
  • Changes in eating and sleep habits
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Forgetfulness
  • Fatigue
  • Sense of helplessness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Avoidance or denial
  • Sadness