Coping with disaster stress
Since May, cow by cow and acre by acre, drought has stolen pieces of Karen Haralson's livelihood.
By July, the Pope County, Ark., cattle producer had to sell half her herd. A seemingly unending stretch of hot, rainless days turned her pastures to dust and tinder, rendering them unable to support cattle.
"It's looking like I'll have to sell more cows," she said. Even with offers to sell hay to her at $45 a bale, "I don't have anything to pay them with."
Despite the strain, hope is everything. "I jump up every day and pretend there's nothing wrong," Haralson said. "I know it's going to rain. It's just a matter of when. It always has. It's just a question of if it will be soon enough."
Factors beyond our control
For some, being in a business almost completely dependent on an uncontrollable factor--weather--is just part of being in agriculture.
"Farmers have always had a lot of stress and are a very resilient group of folks," said Keith
Perkins, Lonoke County Extension agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
Brent Griffin, Prairie County Extension staff chair for the Division of Agriculture in row crop country, said that "stress from our growers is evident, but something that's not spoken about openly."
"It is stressful. The creek's dry, the ponds are going dry and I've got part of my cattle that are having to be watered out of a faucet with city water," said Don Rodgers, president of the Crawford County Cattlemen's Association.
Since drought took root in the Arkansas River Valley a year ago, Rodgers has had to whittle away his herd through the sales barns.
"I've been trying to build a herd of red Angus, and when you're having to sell the cows you've been working on for 10 years, it's rough," he said. "I'm 73 years old. You hate to start over at this age."
Rodgers said he hoped to leave a legacy for his children and grandchildren. "I have a son who's getting ready to retire in California, and he's going to come back and take over the farm and I'm trying to get it in good shape for him to make a living, but he may have to start from scratch."
Whether stress affects us positively or negatively depends on our resources, said James Marshall, associate professor for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
"All of us experience stress of one kind or another," Marshall said. "It's an inevitable part of life.
Some stressors stretch us and challenge us to do better--whether studying for a test or training toward a physical goal, while other stressors may overwhelm us, such as the loss of a loved one, home or job."
He cites the toll stress can take:
--22 percent of employees say they miss more than six days of work a year due to stress (ComPsych Corporation, StressPulseSM Survey (2010).
--64 percent of employees come to work one to four days a year when they're too stressed to be effective (ComPsych Corporation, StressPulseSM Survey (2010).
--75 to 90 percent of all physician visits are for stress-related complaints (American Psychological Association).
--Stress is linked to six of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide (American Psychological Association).
Marshall said knowing one's resources can make a difference in turning even the largest challenge into a blessing.
"We all have both internal and external resources that we can call upon to help us deal with life's stresses," he said. Internal resources can include things like faith, hope and optimism; while external resources may include things like helpful friends, strong family or a supportive minister.
According to the American Psychological Association's 2009 "Stress in America" report, Southerners were more likely than adults in other regions to pray as a way to cope with stress. Southerners were more likely to see the economy as a significant source of stress than people in other regions.
"When we face unexpected challenges, it's common to panic--we think that we won't survive," Marshall said. "Choosing to think differently about the situation can make a big difference."
Research shows that people who suffer terrible traumas often find positive meaning in the experience, he said. "As a result of the trauma, people often change their priorities, caring less about unimportant things and caring more about small but important things."
Rodgers' experience and optimism are allowing him to take this dire situation in stride.
"You have to be optimistic or you'd go crazy," Rodgers said. "As long as there's life there's hope, and as long as there's hope, there's life."
Information on dealing with stress can be found at www.arfamilies.org/family_life/stress/managing_stress.pdf.
For more information on coping with drought, visit Arkansas Drought Resources at http://arkansasdroughtresourcecenter.wordpress.com or the shortlink, http://wp.me/2zudK, or contact your county Extension office.
For further reading about the statistics above, visit www.compsych.com/press-room/press-releases-2010/353-nov-22-2010 or www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-effects.aspx.