COVID-19 Compounds Ag Stress

COVID-19 Adds to Ag Stress This Season

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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OMAHA (DTN) -- Needless to say, there are many stressors in the world right now. Combine the COVID-19 concerns with numerous other agricultural stresses and many in ag might be feeling the weight of the current situation.

The key is to take care of yourself, according to experts. Many people associate the words "mental health" with something negative, but in reality, it is a positive thing.


In a webinar on rural stress sponsored by the Nebraska Cattlemen on March 17, Susan Harris-Broomfield, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension educator specializing in rural health, wellness and safety, spoke about how stress affects the body and ways to cope with agricultural-related stress. The additional COVID-19 stress certainly makes a tough situation for many farmers even worse, she said.

Among the warning signs of chronic stress that can lead to suicide is often isolation from others, something everyone is being forced to do right now. Other signs can include talking about suicide, alcohol and drug use, giving away prized possessions, saying goodbyes and mood changes.

The question is, how do people under stress in ag keep from feeling even more isolated during these times of social distancing? Harris-Broomfield said this is going to be a challenge because engaging with other people in person will not be an option for the near future.

There are many different things people can do to stay connected with others, she said.

"I think being outside really helps and is totally fine," Harris-Broomfield said. "Chat with people, just stay 6 feet away; but it is still safe to be outside."

While our cellphones are often thought of as creating less socialization, this technology might actually help us feel connected during this forced isolation. Using social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter and apps such as Skype, Facetime, Instagram and Snapchat can help someone who is isolated feel more connected to others even though we can't meet face to face.

"Anything to take away the stress," she said. "I would even email or call people you haven't talked to a while."


Stress is a need or demand that people confront that is perceived as burdensome or threating and can lead to physical or mental health problems. Everyone reacts to stress differently, according to Harris-Broomfield.

The human brain reacts to stress by using one of two regions of the brain, she said. One is the frontal lobe, which plays a role in governing logical responses. The other area is the amygdala, the section of the brain that processes emotions, emotional behavior and motivation.

Everyone responds to stress differently, Harris-Broomfield said. Some might be using the frontal lobe and respond logically to stress, such as thinking about ways to stop the stress. Others might respond with the amygdala area, which might lead to anger, crying or yelling.

Harris-Broomfield said the difference in how people's brains respond will dictate how they cope with stress.

Some might handle stressful situations by getting better sleep and/or nutrition and more activities, she said. Others might feel better talking with people in a social network or even mental health professionals. Still others might just take time to themselves.


Chronic stress can have negative, lasting effects on the human body, Harris-Broomfield said.

Cortisol is the body's main stress hormone, which works with certain parts of the brain to control your mood. Increased levels of cortisol can lead to anxiety, depression, headaches, heart disease, digestive problems, weight gain and trouble sleeping, she said.

Signs of chronic stress can include isolation, loss of interest, trouble making decisions, negative thinking, increased drinking or drug use, no desire to exercise, poor hygiene and other health issues.

"When talking to someone under chronic stress, you need to really listen to them," Harris-Broomfield said. "Empathic listening is not easy but needs to occur."

Harris-Broomfield suggested that, after talking to a person suffering from chronic stress, you should follow up with them. Even sending a quick text asking how they are can show that you care, she said.

Harris-Broomfield said people under chronic stress sometimes consider suicide, which is the tenth-leading cause of death in the state of Nebraska. If you encounter someone considering suicide, there are two main points to remember.

One would be to use the words "Are you having thoughts of suicide?" Don't ask if they are going to harm themselves because in many cases they would say "no," as they want to kill themselves, not hurt themselves, she said.

You will need to watch the tone of your voice so you don't seem to be judging them, as someone would be less willing to open up to a judgmental person, she said. In addition, asking about suicide does not plant the idea in their head as many people think is the case.

And if the person says "yes" to the question, then the second point would be to not leave this person alone. If they ask to keep a suicide plan a secret, do not agree to this. Often, calling someone will be necessary at this point.


There are several resources available to someone considering taking their own life in Nebraska, Harris-Broomfield said. These include:

-- National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255

-- Nebraska Rural Response Hotline: 1-800-464-0258

Nebraska Extension has a rural wellness website dedicated to the general health of the rural residents. The site is at:…

The Nebraska Cattlemen Stress Webinar can be viewed at:…

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Russ Quinn