Here are some steps to help you control the stress in your life.

Market volatility, financial strains and personal relationships all put stress on your life. But burning the candle at both ends won’t help you accomplish more; it will only add to the burden and enhance problems.

Production agriculture ranks among the United States’ most stressful professions. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health examined 130 occupations and found that laborers and farm owners have the highest death rate from stress-related conditions, such as heart and artery disease, high blood pressure, ulcers and nervous disorders. Another stress-related problem is increased accidents.

Stress triggers automatic changes in body chemistry, heart rate and blood pressure. Some physical symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Increased illness
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Changes in sleep habits

Stress also affects your behavior and relationships with others.

Not all stress, however, is negative. Under the right conditions, stress serves as a motivator to keep you productive. The key is to keep stress under control rather than in control of your life. Before stress takes over your life, there are some steps to keep you in control.

Change thought process
Jan Thompson, leader of Work/Life/Health issues at Ohio State University extension, concedes that telling you how to control stress is easier said than done. It takes work since you must change your thought process as well as how you deal with issues.

“Often when people feel stressed, they want to do something right away,” says Thompson. “But that’s often the wrong thing to do because you haven’t thought through what you need to do.”

To change how you think, first determine your values; then base priorities on those values. Remember, identify values that you can control.

For example, profitability may be a value and a high priority. However, if hog prices are down or corn prices are up, you have to realize that part of the priority is out of your control. On the other hand, you can control inputs and costs, which affect profitability. So focus on what you can control.

Carol Kramer, consumer economics specialist at Purdue University, suggests writing down your worries on a blank piece of paper. Underneath each concern, list all the reasons it worries you. Next, determine if it poses real danger or are you unduly worried. Cross out unrealistic dangers.

Underneath the worries that remain write a specific, practical action you can take. Then work to carry out the action.

“Worry occupies your mind, makes you stressed and keeps you from doing something else that’s productive,” says Thompson. Concentrate on the opposite of worry ù which is usually more positive. Since you can only think of one thing at a time, more positive thoughts help clear your head.

When you change how you think, the outcome is usually more constructive, says Thompson.

Prepare for various outcomes
While some things are out of your control, like the weather or markets, there are some tools that can prepare you for the ups and downs.

Run different scenarios through your mind and determine how you would respond to those events. This rehearsal can help you plan and better cope with stress. This exercise works for a host of business needs, from developing marketing and business plans to hiring or firing employees.

Modeling programs can help you run the kind of “what if” scenarios that can help direct long-term decisions. They can illustrate how improving farrowing rates by a couple percentage points, reducing feed wastage by 10 percent or weaning an extra 0.5 pig per sow annually can improve your profitability.

Improve time management
Some stress is caused by wasted time looking for things or not delegating. By organizing your time and procedures, you can eliminate some stress.

Keep a day planner for appointments, business cards or addresses. Then when you need a phone number or appointment reminder, it’s there.

Also, delegate tasks to others instead of saying, “I’ll just do it myself.”

Slow down
How often have you rushed around to get something done only to be saddled with more problems and hurdles? There is always lots to do, and there always will be. Think about how the pressure you place on yourself or workers to get things done affects the outcome.

For example, things are running behind schedule and there are chores yet to do, so you decide to help in the breeding barn. You lend a hand with the artificial insemination, and bark a few orders. In a few weeks more than the normal number of sows appear unbred; in 114 days, there are fewer litters in the crate.

The breeding barn is no place to rush or show stress. Upset the routine and in the end, you’ll pay the price.

Letting stress preoccupy your mind can lead to casualties around your business whether they surface in the form of production problems or physical accidents. Slow down and take the time to do things correctly and safely.

Positive self talk
Are you an optimist or pessimist? Research at Ohio State University evaluated caregivers who care for patients with dementia ù a stressful situation indeed. Those who were pessimistic had more health problems than caregivers who tended to be optimistic. Those folks had no change in health during the study.

It is difficult to go from being a pessimist to an optimist, especially when you are stressed. But stopping negative thinking helps clear your mind to focus on the issues that you can control, and helps you make changes for the better.

Still, sometimes you may be too close to a problem to find a solution. That’s when an outsider can help assess your situation more objectively, says Kramer.

Also, consider professional advice if your personal or business problems seem too much for you to handle.

Burning the candle at both ends may seem like one way to get things done and to keep your mind off the stress you face. However, in the end, unless you deal with your stress, it will end up burning you out.

Kim Watson is a freelance writer from Olathe, Kan.

How Do You Handle Stress?

Here’s a short evaluation to help determine your attitude and ability to handle stress. Respond to each statement quickly and instinctively do not analyze it. Your first response is usually the most accurate. Rate each response with the following descriptions:

1 = I never feel this way 2 = I occasionally feel this way 3 = I frequently feel this way 4 = I always feel this way

1. I like to be in control at all times.

2. I like things to be fair.

3. I have a hard time saying “no” without feeling guilty.

4. I like things to be perfect.

5. I have high expectations for myself.

6. I worry about what other people think.

7. If I want something done right, I feel I should do it myself.

8. I feel guilty easily.

9. I do not like to fail.

10. I feel people should listen better.

11. I don’t like to cause conflict.

12. People don’t appreciate all that I do.

13. I’m not sure where I want to be in life.

14. There is not enough time in my day.

15. I don’t really feel rested.

Ways to Reduce the effects of Stress

Here are some tips from Iowa State University researchers for de-stressing your life. They may seem simple, but they can help.

1. Find a good listener to talk to.

2. Take a time-out. Work on a hobby, exercise, read or go to a movie.

3. Think positive thoughts. Look for the good in things and set realistic expectations.

4. Enjoy some humor.

5. Eat a balanced diet.

6. Avoid alcohol and drugs.

7. Talk to your spouse and children to help them understand what you’re facing and how you feel.