Responding to stress: connecting rural communities with resources to recognize and manage stress

Contact: Trisha Wagner, 715-896-1609,

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Feeling stressed? You’re not alone. A recent Gallup poll found that 55 percent of Americans said they had experienced stress during a lot of the day. The farming community is not immune to stress; ongoing economic conditions in agriculture are taking a toll on farm families and their rural communities according to Trisha Wagner, Farm Management Program Outreach Director, University of Wisconsin-Madison-Extension.

“Understanding stress and how chronic stress impacts all aspects of life and then learning how to manage stress are essential for one’s health and our rural communities,” said Wagner.

Extension resources, available online at, help farmers, families, businesses and communities remain resilient by learning how to manage stress by recognizing and working to positively address, not avoid, the causes of stress. Resources include planning tools to make sound decisions and create a road-map for the future.

“Stress can negatively affect health, sleep, relationships and communication with others,” said John Shutske, Extension ag safety specialist at UW-Madison. “Probably the most crucial impact is the way in which chronic stress, developed through the combination of duration and intensity, impacts decision making.”

Thinking carefully about a situation and clearly understanding it, so you can decide what to do, is a first step to addressing the stress caused by uncertainty, and it puts you on the path to take control of decisions.

Resilient families view crisis as a shared challenge, instead of having each person be a “tough, rugged individual,” getting through hard times. They believe that by joining together with family members and others who are important to the family, they can strengthen their ability to meet challenges. It is also important that people stay connected to the resources, friends, neighbors, and support systems in their community; those can include your church, schools, ag service providers and experts.

“Sometimes people can’t recognize signs of stress in themselves; others might sense something is wrong but may not know how to bring it up,” said Joy Kirkpatrick, Extension farm succession specialist at UW-Madison. “Start the conversation by talking with family and friends about stress and the changes that might need to happen.”

If any person expresses the signs and symptoms of extreme stress and talks about harming themselves or ending their life, it is important to provide help and support. The most important resource for support anywhere in the U.S. is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, accessible for English-speaking people at 800-273-8255 or in Spanish at 888-628-9454. See for more information. Those working in rural communities and providing services and support to farmers and their families should also consider completing a course in “Mental Health First Aid” or “QPR,” a suicide prevention program that has been shown to save lives.