The Human Element: Weathering Tough Times in Drought

By Linda Boeckner, Extension Nutrition Specialist
Kathy Bosch, former Extension Family Life Specialist
Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel, Community and Economic Development Specialist

Multiple weather factors, water shortages, and the rising costs of production all take a toll. You may face difficult decisions such as whether you can survive farming for one more year. Factors outside your control, like the weather or water shortage, may make coping difficult. It may seem like there is no way out.

However, even when issues are beyond our immediate control, we can help ourselves and others cope more effectively. Although knowing this information doesn't "fix" the problem, it can empower us and give us a sense of hope.

Reduce Stress

Conditions over which you have no control can be a source of worry and concern. When these conditions continue over time, such as the current drought conditions, stress levels may climb. Learn to recognize symptoms of stress and depression in yourself and in other family members. Changes in sleeping and eating habits, being overly anxious, irritable and short-tempered, or withdrawing from usually pleasurable activities can all be signals that stress has taken its toll. Even children in a family can pick up on high stress levels and develop their own reactions to it. If this is happening, decide to seek guidance from a pastor, mental health counselor, school counselor, or other health professional.

Work Together as a Family

When stressful conditions cause doubts, discussion or decisions about selling the farm or business, remember that your family is something to preserve and hold dear. During crisis times, family and friends are the people who can help us see hope and a reason to look toward the future. Without family and friends, our world would look bleak. Having this important source of social support enhances our well-being, including our physical and psychological health.

Since we are by nature social beings and need connectedness with others, it is healthy, as well as important, to nurture relationships with family and friends. Avoid keeping secrets or purposefully withholding information from your spouse or partner. Your significant relationship should not be neglected but rather given priority during difficult times. When appropriate, involve your children in discussion to help them understand the family's situation. As problems arise, schedule time to deal with them. Weigh the costs and benefits and try to arrive at a mutually agreeable plan. Make plans together by setting some measurable goals. Decide what you'd like to do in a year, five years, and maybe even 20 years from now. Try not to place blame on one person and avoid being judgmental. Families who survive a crisis recognize the value of each family member and remind each other how much they are needed and loved/

Take Care of Yourself

During these tough times it is even more important not to ignore some basic self care and health habits. As much as possible plan regular meal times with a variety of foods to offset some of the negative stressful impacts and allow your body to fight illness. On hot summer days guard against dehydration by drinking water and other fluids throughout the day. Even though you may be quite busy getting all of the work done, allow yourself periodic rests during the day and schedule adequate sleep time. Do not use alcohol or other drugs to relieve your stress.

Manage Money Carefully

When facing tough times it may seem as though managing resources is a lost cause. Credit cards or overdue notes may tend to pile up. For some, sticking bills in a drawer or not talking about them seems like the best way to deal with debt. However, you need to get a handle on farm and family living expenses, regardless of whether you are experiencing financial hardship, Having separate accounts for the farm/business and family is a helpful management tool that can prevent frustration and blaming.

Often times it is the family living expenses that take the hardest hit when spending must be curtailed. Home mortgages, rent, utilities, and loan payments are usually a large portion of the family living bills. In addition money is needed for daily living expenses such as groceries, household supplies, personal care, clothing and transportation. Make a list of the most important expenses and then develop a spending plan that can work. Postpone buying larger items until income is more certain. It is helpful to honestly discuss options with your partner to make sure basic needs are being met and alternatives for generating income are considered.

Find Someone to Talk To

Our emotional and mental well-being is just as important as our physical health, but during stressful times, we tend to notice only urgent physical symptoms, if even those. It is critical, however, to attend to your emotional health as it influences every action and decision you make. Family and friends usually provide emotional support, information and advice, as well as physical or material assistance. However, in times of severe stress, family and friends may not be able to offer the depth of help necessary. Mental health counselors, health workers, ministers, extension educators, and other professionals are trained to assist with problem issues and make appropriate referrals. Many people benefit by discussing confidential issues with a trusted professional at some point in their lives. Talking about problems doesn't make them go away, but it does help to voice concerns, deal with emotions, and examine various options.

Develop a Plan

For many agricultural producers, it is all too easy to have a negative "knee jerk" reaction to the weather. It is human nature to think the worst without really taking an objective assessment of what resources might be available. It is easy to get stuck in the mind set that resources are strictly financial. Resources can mean many things.

The first step might be identifying the different types of assets at your disposal, looking beyond the obvious common financial resources. Resources include skills, interests, talents, past volunteer and work experiences, your physical location and environment, connections to other people, and of course, family and friends. From that inventory, start to develop a plan based on several "what if" scenarios. Think about short-term and long-term needs, both from a family and business perspective. Be honest with yourself and your family. Working through this process will give you a clearer picture of your situation and possibly open up some options. At the very least, it will allow you to be more objective and explore all alternatives.

Get Out and Have Fun

Give yourself permission to take a break from the busyness of your life. Entertainment can come in small and inexpensive packages but still give a boost to your day. Get ideas from family members or friends about pleasurable activities and make plans to do some of them. It could be a picnic in the park, a hike in the hills, reading, listening to music, or spending time with a favorite hobby. If you feel you can't spend an entire day having fun, carve out a couple of hours for a special break. A healthy mental break can also come from humor and laughter, so find a humorous book or a zany movie to get a special kind of lift.