The pickup on your baler broke — for the third time this week. Heavy rains are predicted and you've got hundreds of acres of hay to harvest. The balance in your checkbook is near zero.

Custom harvesters have all faced pressure situations similar to those. While stress is part of everybody's life, farm work can be especially stressful, says Roy Ramsey.

Fortunately, there are ways to combat the problem, says Ramsey, a Fort Gibson, OK, custom harvester and professional counselor.

“Positive stress can help us to concentrate and perform at our peak levels,” he says. “Then after our challenges have been met, we can sit back, relax and enjoy our accomplishments. Negative stress causes us to stay geared up, so we don't take time to relax — even after we've met our challenges.

“We need a certain amount of stress in our lives to make us feel fulfilled or excited. However, it's important to keep the amount of stress in our lives at a reasonable level,” says Ramsey. “Long-term stress can cause severe physical and emotional damage.”

Research has shown that stress can trigger a plethora of health problems, including high blood pressure, muscle cramps, ulcers and headaches. Stress also suppresses the immune system, making a person more likely to get sick.

Some people can handle stressful situations better than others.

“For some, harvesting is a terribly stressful time — dealing with employees, customers, weather, equipment breakdowns. For others, harvest is a very enjoyable time. Both groups might be experiencing the same things, but they approach things differently.”

While the symptoms of stress overload are numerous and varied, they generally fall into four categories:

Physical: fatigue, headaches, insomnia, muscle aches and stiffness, heart palpitations, chest pains, abdominal cramps, nausea, cold extremities, sweating and frequent colds.

Mental: forgetting appointments, deadlines or dates; decreased concentration; indecisiveness; confusion; and loss of sense of humor.

Emotional: moodiness, enhanced feelings of inadequacy, nervousness, depression, anger, frustration, constant worry, fear, sudden outbursts of temper or hostility, excessive daydreaming about getting away from it all, paranoia or mistrust of family and friends.

Behavioral: fidgeting; over- or undereating; overuse of sugar, cigarettes, medication or alcohol; excessive caffeine consumption; crying; yelling; swearing; or reversal of normal behaviors.

Stress overload can be unhealthy, but there are some ways to reduce it, says Ramsey. He offers these suggestions:

  • Recognize and identify the things in your life that cause stress. Then look for solutions to those stressful situations.

  • Use your sense of humor and look at the fun side of life. “If you've got an employee who's getting angry, use some humor to diffuse the situation.”

  • Be flexible. “Don't be locked into thinking, ‘we have to do it my way every time.’”

  • Practice time management. Don't overload your schedule.

  • Get enough sleep. On rainy days, catch up on your rest.

  • Prior to harvest, get your equipment in tip-top shape. Breakdowns are a major source of stress.

  • Deal with personnel conflicts. “If you have an employee who's extremely negative and creating problems, consider termination.”

  • Try not to worry about things you can't change, such as the weather.

  • Network with other custom harvesters. “By staying in touch with other harvesters, you can share your frustrations. Also, another harvester might be able to lend you a part if you have a breakdown over the weekend or to help you complete a job.”

Concludes Ramsey: “If you feel overwhelmed and unable to deal with stress on your own, see your medical doctor for a checkup to rule out any physical problems. If none are found, consider seeing a professional counselor.”