Recognizing the Signs to Seek Help

Written By: Leah Chester-Davis, Robin Tutor-Marcom, Scott Lee

In our previous blog in our 5-part series, we shared Dr. Michael Hester’s MEDS list – meditation, exercise, diet, sleep – along with having a support network and finding meaning in everyday life as ways to practice self-care and improve your well-being

Being intentional about self-care can go a long way toward maintaining emotional equilibrium but stressors that seem to be inherent in farming can sometimes knock us for a loop.

Dr. Hester shared signs to take seriously when it comes to your own health or that of a family member, friend, or neighbor.

“The emotional system is made up of five feelings: mad, sad, scared, glad, or guilt. When all of those get to be too much, it’s time to seek help,” he says.

When a person is angry all the time, or they are sad all the time or scared all the time or they can’t feel glad or happy about anything or they feel guilty all the time; those are signs.

"If they are always feeling like they are not measuring up to everything they have to do, that’s guilt. It’s feeling responsible for everything all the time. When that gets out of whack, when that gets to be too much, that’s a sign people need some help to deal with it," he continued.

Other signs are not being able to sleep, drinking or eating too much, never taking time to do anything for you. “That’s a sign that stress is eating you alive. If you can’t stop worrying, you’re anxious all the time, you can’t function very well, you’re not thinking very clearly, you’re not able to make good decisions, those are all stress indicators and warrant seeking help.

Dr. Hester says it’s not a sign of weakness to seek help. He notes that there are counselors within a 30 to 45-minute drive of nearly everybody in North Carolina.

Another resource is the N.C. Agromedicine Institute has programs for individuals and groups.

“Communicating with your family is essential,” says Dr. Robin Tutor-Marcom, director of the Institute. “That first step is so important. If you are not comfortable talking with your family, who is a trusted person you could talk to? Maybe it’s a minister, a best friend, a loan officer, an Extension agent.  Talk with someone; that is step number 1. Find that trusted individual.”

Step away. As far-fetched as that may sound, Dr. Tutor-Marcom says when farmers work 24/7 and they are consumed by the farm their positive reserves get depleted. What happens then? “They start withdrawing. They don’t go to church. They don’t go to their kid's ballgames. They don’t go to the dance recital. They don’t go home for Thanksgiving dinner because they’ve got work to do. Or they are worried and they don’t want anybody to know.”

Seek a positive experience. Even if it’s for an afternoon or a day every week, give yourself permission to step away and do something positive to renew yourself. And that means something not related to the farm.  “It doesn’t mean going to town to get parts!” says Dr. Tutor-Marcom. “One farmer I know takes an afternoon a week and drives around the farm on a golf cart with his grandchildren. That’s his relief. It’s like opening the valve on a pressure cooker. Everybody has got to have some release.”

Rest and take care. Take 30 minutes and go for a walk, go to the gym or play basketball with the kids or grandkids. The physical activity is a good stress reliever and good for physical health, says Tutor-Marcom, who shares that the Agromedicine Institute’s “Fit to Farm” program teaches farmers exercise and nutrition tips. While rest and sleep are important, taking care such as watching what foods and drinks we consume can make a difference too. “Are we drinking Mountain Dew and sweet tea, the nectar of life in North Carolina, or do we realize we may need to throw a bottle of water in there sometime!” she says.

“We cannot change the weather, we cannot change the farm market and the other things that cause farm stress,” says Tutor-Marcom, “but our goal is to give farmers and their families the tools they need to be better able to cope with the stress.

To learn more about specific programs tailored to individuals and groups visit N.C. Agromedicine Institute at or call 252-744-1008. See parts 1 – 3 in our series on “Your Farm’s Greatest Resource.” Part 5 includes more resources.