Sarah Donaldson

In recent months farmers have been presented with many pending changes and legislative changes. While we are by nature a fairly resilient bunch who have shown we can adapt and evolve our farming practices, some are naturally feeling daunted by yet more change and potentially more pressure. So what helps us to cope well and stay well when there are more challenges and change ahead?

Some people thrive on change and challenge, some are more cautious and resistant to change.

Neither is wrong, they are just different. The advantage to the first mindset is that there may be an openness to new approaches and often they can see opportunities from the change ahead.

While those who find change more challenging may need longer to mentally ready themselves. They often tend to be the ones who seek more information about what this change will mean and weigh the pros and cons, which can be very useful to navigate the change.

Therefore it is helpful to understand and accept that often these tendencies and differences exist within our family, team or community group. Both perspectives can offer benefits to move forward but recognise that it is normal for many to feel apprehensive about change, especially if we are not sure what this will look like. With time most of us will adjust and accommodate new challenges.

However, sometimes we find ourselves going down a worry channel of “what ifs” if we are not sure what this change is going to look like. This is a potentially unhelpful thinking trap as we tend to gravitate towards negative outcomes which may never happen or even if they do, worrying about them still doesn’t help, just makes us feel wound up. For example: what is the point of making improvements if we keep having to make more and more. We are never going to get ahead.

A key skill that keeps us resilient is utilising helpful thinking strategies. This means catching an unhelpful thought that might drag us down emotionally and instead trying to replace it with a more balanced or helpful (note: not necessarily positive) thought.

Our thinking is directly correlated with our emotional state, if we tell ourselves “we’ve got this” in some type of message, we tend to feel more in control and less distressed, eg: “we’ve made a good start with the improvements and when and as we can we will keep chipping away at more, we’ll get there eventually”.

Another valuable strategy is to focus on the aspects of daily life or the pending change that you can influence or control. Feeling like we still hold the reins in our life stops that feeling of being overwhelmed.

Make a plan and prioritise what will make a difference about your situation – making a submission, changing a fencing plan, having a meeting with your bank or employer.

Include in this plan what you can do to keep feeling well (see below for proven ways to do this in daily life). Even if we are presented with pressures outside of our control we can still focus on healthy behaviours like what we eat, getting some type of exercise, getting to bed on time, talking to others and getting support when we need it, taking breaks, even if they are mini ones in our day etc.

You can use some key proven actions that keep people mentally well and healthy. These are called the Five Ways to Wellbeing. These include: staying connected to others, staying active, giving to others, new learning and taking notice (These actions not only keep us well but also help restore us when we are under pressure). I recently heard a term from an Australian psychologist who specialises in supporting people after disasters refer to “pleasure and leisure’ as the anecdote to stress, a way to calm and recharge our body. Check out more about the Five Ways to Wellbeing from Farmstrong. uploads/2019/07/Five-ways-to-wellbeing- FINAL.pdf

  • Sarah Donaldson is a clinical psychologist (specialising in rural mental health).