Farmers learn ways to manage stress Farmers in northeast South Dakota beleaguered by flooded farm land and now low commodity prices got some pointers in stress reduction from a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, now a psychologist and rural family therapist practicing in central Oregon.
George Shackelford, Prine-ville, OR, a therapist with Lutheran Family Services, was a guest speaker at a Farmers Forum, "Positioning Your Operation for the 21st Century," organized by County Extension Offices in northeast South Dakota. He was forced to practice stress management while a prisoner of war for seven and a half months.
Shackelford described how stress plays out in the stone-age human bodies designed to take on the saber-toothed tiger, but now taking on the long-term stresses inherent in civilization and change.
Our stone-age ancestors would sit with a club waiting for dinner to come along, and then club it. Or if a saber-toothed tiger came along, pre-historic man had to prepare to decide whether to attack that tiger or defend.
"The body prepared with a very powerful hormone called adrenaline," said Shackelford. "The pupils dilate, the adrenaline is pumping, the brain is pumping, the arteries are filling up, we're getting ready to slug or fight.
"But then the saber-toothed tiger looks at us and says: That's not much. So he walks away, and all things come down.
"That's not the kind of stress we're putting on our bodies any more," he continued. "The kind of stress we're putting on is sleepless nights. And the paper tiger is out there, somewhere in Washington, D.C., or somewhere else, to blame in this world.
"(We have) people to blame, paper tigers. You can't get to them, they keep making decisions that affect us as farmers, ranchers and growers."
This triggers the "fight or flight" syndrome, said Shackelford. "If we adhere too long to the stress, the body can't take it.
"Unfortunately, (bodies) begin to break down under too prolonged stress. This is where medications have to come in or stress management techniques that we never have used before."
Shackelford said he doesn't know a lot about the farm crisis, nor did he know much about the crisis in which 1,000 people were laid off in Seattle by Microsoft.
"But I do know a lot about the people who face the farm crisis. And I have a great deal of respect, because who's going to feed the world? The American farmer. That's why I spend a lot of time in the rural areas helping rural people."
People can learn to "un-stress" themselves.
"Taking care of ourselves allows us to get some pretty creative ideas to deal with the kinds of situations we have," he said.
Shackelford, a fly fisherman, has a trick to manage his own stress. He wears a belt with images of trout on it. "If I get a little stressed, sometimes I reach down and touch those trout, and take myself somewhere else real quick, and that takes me back to something that I enjoy."
He told of a rancher he knows who sets aside five or 10 minutes every noon after dinner to take a nap, and awakens refreshed after each nap.
"Humor is one of the greatest fighters of that really bad hormone, adrenaline," said Shackelford. Humor releases endorphins. He laced his talk with a number of jokes and invited the audience to tell a few.
"You folks laughing at my jokes are releasing immense amounts of endorphins."
Shackelford suggests several options for stress reduction:
* Alter your life by removing the source of stress. As with an argument, "go outside, walk around the house, get yourself away from the stress, just for a moment, so you can get that stress level back where it needs to be."
He knew a pastor that rode a three-wheeler wherever he went to remove himself from stress or to release stress a little. He also knows a farmer who gets in his tractor cab and drives around to think and relax.
* Aerobic exercises get your heart going � walking, swimm-ing, running. Shackelford and his wife walk to "get the blood pumping."
* Accept the situation by equipping yourself to physically and mentally deal with stress. Physical health is very important. Eat a proper diet, get physical exercise and have regular health checkups.
Shackelford lamented that often in tough economic times, the first thing farm families sacrifice is their health insurance.
"Take a few minutes each day to charge up your batteries, getting a clear look at your life's priorities and goals," he continued.
* Social health. "Sometimes when stress is so high, we tend to lose good friendships, because we forget about people. Maybe a quick phone call to a good high school buddy. Talk is very therapeutic, it makes you feel good, you douse your anger, it makes it easier to deal with stress.
* Laughter. "Tell a good joke. Laughter fights stress. A laugh is the shortest distance between two people. You relax, especially when we laugh together. Laughter heals. Laughter activities the chemistry of the will to live and increases our capacity to fight diseases. Laughter relaxes the body. Problems associated with high blood pressure, strokes, arthritis, ulcers, heart disease, sometimes are reduced."
Shackelford told of an elderly woman who went to her minister to arrange her funeral because she had three months to live. She said she wanted to be buried in her best dress with her Bible in one hand and a fork in the other. When asked why the fork, the woman replied: At all the church socials and dinners, when clearing the table, at the end, the servers would say, "Keep your fork, the best is still ahead: dessert."
Shackelford reminded his farm audience to "keep your fork."