By Randy R. Weigel
University of Wyoming.
Roger holds down a job in town to supplement income from the family ranch.
He is up before everyone else in the house on most days, and his schedule and lack of adequate sleep often have him feeling as if he does morning chores in a stupor. Although he is able to recognize stress signals, Roger sometimes feels powerless to address them. "There just isn't any extra time in my day," he says.
Roger's statement about lack of time probably is all too familiar. Many ag producers can relate to the feeling that there is no extra time in the day. What needs to be considered is the time that stress eats away from each task--feeding the livestock takes an hour when you are alert; it takes 90 minutes when you are battling stress and fatigue.
Practicing relaxation may seem like a waste of time for many ranchers and farmers. But, in the overall scheme of things, the benefits will make you more effective throughout each day. So, listen to your body's signals, and take some action to reduce stress through relaxation techniques.
The following techniques can be used at specific break times during the day, as well as in stressful situations. Keep in mind, a successful relaxation technique should be enjoyable and easy, but that it may take time to perfect.
Meditation is more than concentrating on a concept; it is the process by which you gain mastery over your reaction to external information (stimuli). Successful meditation involves a temporary shut down of the information processing mechanisms of the brain. The result is known as the relaxation response.
Use the following process to achieve the relaxation response. Sit quietly and in a comfortable position. Shut your eyes. Relax all muscles, beginning at your feet and moving up to your face. Begin to breathe through your nose, becoming more and more aware of your breathing. As you breathe, say the word "one" silently to yourself. Breathe "one" in, "one" out and so on. Your breathing should be easy and natural. Continue the process for 10 minutes. Don't worry about achieving a deep level of relaxation. Rather, use a passive attitude to permit relaxation to occur at its own pace.
Everyone can elicit the relaxation response. Meditation as a form of relaxation is recommended by the American Heart Association as a means of reducing stress, which is thought to be a risk factor in heart disease, cancer and other illnesses.
Progressive muscle relaxation involves a series of sequential physical exercises. Beginning with the lower extremities of the body, the first muscle group is tensed for seven seconds and then completely relaxed for 20 to 60 seconds. The tension-release pattern is repeated in the original group and then in different muscle groups, moving upward toward the head.
Try to touch your ears with your shoulders. Hold the position for a count of four. Let your shoulders drop, and then rotate each shoulder separately toward the rear. Rotate each shoulder five to 10 times. Then do both shoulders together.
Normal breathing usually is an unconscious act. Diaphragmatic breathing, in contrast, requires a conscious decision to focus your attention on this basic physiological function. As you slowly breathe in, let your stomach expand. Think of it as a balloon filling with air. As you exhale, let the air out of your "balloon" slowly. Place your hands on your stomach; you should feel it raise and lower as you breathe.
Diaphragmatic breathing requires concentration. You can minimize external distractions. When you notice distracting thoughts, allow them to pass and then refocus your attention on breathing. To reduce stress, at any time or place during the day, occasionally take three to seven full breaths of air. Remember to relax while doing this.
Sometimes, the best idea is to get away from the stressful problem and take time for a quick trip, a book or a game. "Stand there and suffer" is a form of self-punishment and not a way to solve the problem. Recover and come back to deal with the difficulty when you are better prepared.
One of the most common stresses ag producers face is balancing work and personal life, so it just makes sense to spend vacation time away from the ranch or farm to gain the maximum level of rest. Several times during the year, spend a weekend or even a day visiting a new place.
An intrinsically rewarding activity is one that you enjoy for its own sake. A hobby is a good example, but other activities can be less structured. Taking a drive, listening to music or going to a movie are other simple ideas. Try doing things that you do because you want to, not because you have to, on a regular basis. This is particularly important when you feel stressed.
Sit comfortably for 15 to 20 minutes with your eyes closed. Create a restful mental picture, perhaps of a favorite mountain stream. You might be fishing from the bank on a warm afternoon. Imagine a leaf that drifts slowly along on the water before it passes out of sight. Repeat this scene several times. It will help you practice letting thoughts, like leaves, come and go without getting "stuck."
There are many other relaxation techniques. Each person should develop an activity that suits them and that gives them the best rest and recovery, whether it is prayer, listening to relaxation tapes, yoga, massage or one of the techniques listed here.
People vary in their reactions to relaxation techniques. Some ranchers or farmers feel very relaxed soon after trying the exercises outlined above. Other ag producers may notice little change in their stress level, especially the first few times. You may feel like giving up if this happens, but don't cheat yourself. Keep trying a variety of techniques until you find one that works for you.