The word stress is probably overused, but clearly there is stress in the economy, the livestock sector and the pork industry today. While the pork industry has decades of research on reducing stress for pigs, understanding and reducing personal stress and that of employees often takes a back seat.

As I have worked with clients through this turbulent period, four points have been crucial to understanding feelings and behaviors. Let’s look at each one.

Predictable response pattern to loss

Decades of research and observation have shown us that people have a predictable pattern of responding to a loss. The first three stages are 1) shock and denial, 2) anger, 3) detachment and depression. In dealing with loss or stress, two additional points are important:

  • Recognize that you are simply being human when these feelings surface after a major loss. Recognizing this does not prevent you from experiencing the stages of loss; rather it helps you understand how and what you are feeling. 
  • It’s also crucial to understand that during these stages you often have diminished decision-making capacity.  It is important to seek help and not procrastinate on decisions that must be made. It may even be advisable to postpone decisions if possible.

Understanding anger

Anger is both an emotion and a behavior.   As an emotion, anger is very personal; it is primarily internal and mostly affects you. As a behavior, the impact is primarily external — affecting others. 

All emotions, including anger, involve experience and action. The experience part is anger as emotion — again a normal part of being a human.  The action response is the behavior part of anger. The decisions you make will determine the consequences of your anger and your continuing emotional responses.

In general, two behavioral choices surface when you are angry:

  • Instinctual behavior: You can simply react, thus ignoring the decision opportunity by expressing or acting on anger’s emotional side. Regret often follows such instinctual responses.
  • Thoughtful behavior: You can think through the situation, choose the decision opportunity and proactively discover the root causes of the anger. 

Although it can be difficult with emotions running high, always choose the thoughtful response.  This involves carefully discovering the real or root causes of our anger. Unfortunately, the causes are typically hidden or may not be obvious.  For example, you may have been tempted to kick a pig that was not moving but later discovered that it was hurt or sick.  In this example, your instinctual response was the impulse to kick the pig; your thoughtful behavior was to investigate and discover what was really wrong.

Be empathic

When you interact with others who are down, it’s easy to be overly sympathetic and evolve into a “pity party” where everyone ends up feeling worse.  While  it’s important to show empathy (that you understand how the person is feeling), it’s equally important to offer hope by being encouraging and perhaps offering solutions. How you show empathy depends on which  stage of loss the person is in; for example:

  • During the shock and denial phase, decision-making needs often go unrecognized. If failing to address an issue or make a decision could be detrimental, being empathic means gently (but forcefully) helping the person overcome the denial.
  • In the anger stage, the emotional drain leaves little energy for decision-making. You will be empathic by helping the person understand and move past his or her anger, and by helping make thoughtful decisions.    
  • It is difficult to find the energy to make decisions in the depression-and-detachment phase. Empathy here means being encouraging and helpful.

Focus on what you can control

It’s easy to get discouraged, even angry, by focusing on things that are important to you but that you cannot control (weather, prices and such).  While recognizing the importance of those items, focus your energy on what you can control.

You can’t control the weather, but you can track and manage the situation with forward planning and flexibility. You can’t control prices, but you can refocus energy on risk management, hedging or other practices to minimize losses.

There’s nothing stress-free about agriculture, but recent years have tested everyone’s abilities. It’s important to understand and address your feelings and reactions, as well as those of the people around you.