For farmers, we understand the nature of threats. Coyotes and other predators can decimate our livestock numbers. Drought and other inclement weather wreaks havoc on our gardens. And, please, let’s not even discuss the damages that fire can do. But there is another threat that looms in the background that many of us don’t really think about. Whether we like it or not, whether we want to accept it, or pretend it can’t happen to us, there is one threat that can hit us between the eyes when we aren’t looking. It’s called…
The biggest problem with burnout is that it threatens our way of life – our very survival. We feed our families off of our land. We sell the extras to purchase what we cannot grow. We share with our neighbors, and with others that struggle to make ends meet. It is who we are, what we do, and why we live.
The good news is that we can actually protect ourselves from this unseen threat. It takes a little bit of ingenuity, and a strong sense of its impending arrival. Once we have figured that out, it takes just a few things to send it packing.
1) Know the Signs – are you tired, to the point of exhaustion? I don’t mean that you just didn’t sleep well last night, and are tired. I mean, total and complete physical, emotional exhaustion. Are there days when you just cannot face another pitchfork, hoe or new sprout of pigweed? Is there less joy in the day-to-day tasks? Has a feeling of exasperation been slowly, but steadily growing every day for a while? Burnout usually comes from doing the same thing, every day, and having the feeling you are nothing more than a hamster on a wheel, with no escape in sight. These are just some of the signs and symptoms of classical Burnout. Depression, anxiety, and lack of appetite are a few more.
2) Change your mind – No. I don’t mean moving to the city. Most farming chores are the same: feed and water the animals; clean out stalls, coops, and other areas of bedding; weed the garden; fix the fence; I could keep listing things we do most days, but there just isn’t enough room in this post. We still have to feed and care for our animals daily, but maybe it’s time to work on a new project – one we have been longing to do, but have put off due to time restraints. If that isn’t possible, then change your outlook on what you are doing. Step back and view your progress. Make a list of everything you have accomplished. Try something new and different. Plot a new garden layout for next year. Just taking the time to think of your farm in an alternate way could make a world of difference.
2) Mind your dietary manners – nothing can drag your body down quicker than not eating properly. When your body starts to sink, it will take your mind, energy and heart with it. Wean yourself off of junk foods, sodas and sweets, and replace them with healthy snacks and meals. You will be amazed at how much more energy you have, and with it, a better mental outlook on life. (Confession – this is one I really need to work on! Junk food is just so easy to grab and go, and takes so much less time than cooking a full meal, when I really need to be outside working as long as I can!)
3) Take a Walk – Sometimes I just have to regroup. The best way I have found is to lean my hoe against the garden fence and take off walking down the road. I have a three mile loop I like to make, that takes me between wooded areas, through a cemetery, next to a church, and back again. I have an opportunity to revel in sun-dappled shade, petting the neighbor’s dogs (and giving them treats!), and just allowing my mind to rest. It takes about forty-five minutes to walk the circuit, but by the time I get back, I am ready both physically and mentally to get back to work.
4) Make a Break for it – There are days, though, that just a walk will not cure what ails me. I need a break from the farm, to think about something else, to see the world from a different perspective. I need a taste of ‘freedom from the ordinary’. It is times like this that the Country Boy and I take off to whatever place strikes our fancy. Well, at least the fancy that we can afford –time and money-wise. As a farmer, we cannot monetarily afford an extended vacation to a mountain cabin, nor can we be away from the farm for that length of time. But we can afford to head out to an auction, a flea market, or just run errands in a different location. We may not purchase anything at the auction or flea market, but the items we see help us to look at things a different way. “Hey, Randy. Did you see this? It makes me think of our barn storage. Do you think we could…” “Julie, Baby. Look at this. You know, I have always wanted to try my hand at raising pheasants.” It isn’t so much about actually buying a new breed of bird. It is more about a fresh perspective, and re-igniting our love and excitement of living on a farm. We have even been known to run errands in a different (but close by) city, just for the change of scenery. By the time we get home, our whole attitudes are better, and we are ready to get back to work.
5) Reach for the Stars – Don’t lose sight of your goals and dreams. Make a list of everything you want to accomplish. Type it up, and put it in a place where you will see it every day. As you complete one project, put a gold star beside it. Go so far as to make it color-coded: Gold for ‘Done!’ Silver for ‘Completed, just with a few changes’. Red for ‘Saving money for this one’, Green for ‘Next in line’. Or whatever categories work for you. Just give yourself credit for what you have done, and know what is coming up next, so you can look forward to reaching your next goal.
6) Pray – There is nothing in life that can re-arrange your attitude and way of thinking than prayer. When I have gone as far as I can; when I have no energy, no desire, and have lost faith in my abilities to reach the goals and dream we have for our farm, I head straight down to the pond and the prayer bench. I still my heart and thoughts, and then pour it all out to the One who knows. The time spent getting my frustrations, confusion and regrets off my chest, and then time spent just quietly listening, refreshes me like no other thing I can do. The feelings may not have completely gone away, but I have at least drained the swamp of the emotions that have built up, and I can think more clearly.
Living on a farm, I face threats every day, but I know I am fully prepared for most contingencies. All I need is a prayer bench, a pair of tennis shoes, a few stars, a .22 rifle and a heart that loves my life. With that kind of ammunition, I can stave off most any threat that comes close. Now…if I can only get rid of pigweed in my garden that easily, I think I will have it made!