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Self-care is mental health maintenance

It doesn't have to be extravagant or costly to be effective.

The term self-care may bring visions of expensive, self-indulgent shopping trips or hour-long massages at a fancy spa, but it doesn't have to be extravagant or costly to be effective. Self-care is proactively taking care of yourself, and that can be done in five or 10 minutes a day, with no cost at all. 

Self-care can help reduce stress and positively affect mental health, both of which are benefits that most farmers and ranchers and their families need. The busiest people (again, farmers and ranchers) are the ones who benefit the most from self-care, but they may also think they don't have time for it. Fortunately, self-care can fit into anyone's day.

Did you pull into the co-op parking lot 10 minutes before they open? Self-care time. Rest your eyes, call a loved one, or look at cute animal photos online. Do you have a five-minute trek to the barn and back every day? Turn that walk into self-care by noticing the beauty around you, picking a few wildflowers, or actively counting your blessings. Pray if that's your thing. What about that half-hour drive to pick up parts? You can practice self-care while you drive by listening to a favorite playlist or podcast.

Different mental health experts offer hundreds of ideas for self-care. Here are a few that can easily be implemented into the lives of busy farmers and ranchers and their families:

  • Friends and family: Spending time with loved ones is the number one determinant of happiness, so take time each day to connect in a meaningful way with the people who mean the most to you. Maybe this translates to dinner around the table, a weekly phone call to your favorite aunt, or a fun text exchange with your college kid.
  • Sleep well: Sleep is so important to overall physical and mental health. If you aren't getting enough sleep, try to determine why and find a solution. If needed, see a doctor. It's that important.
  • Get moving: Exercise can reduce stress, improve mood, and help with sleep. Farmers and ranchers generally move more than people in more sedentary occupations, so think about your chores and reframe them in your mind as exercise. Stacking hay bales is weight training. Chasing escaped cows is cardio. Find more ideas for fitness on the farm below.
  • Do what you love: Does reading provide a much-needed mental escape for you, or does knitting relieve stress? Keep your book or yarn with you, and you can have a self-care break when time opens up. Waiting for your turn at the doctor's office? Read instead of scrolling mindlessly on your phone. Hanging out in the parking lot while your kid is at practice? Knit a scarf!
  • Practice gratitude: This can be done anytime, whether you're driving the tractor, making dinner, or building fence. Simply thinking of people and things you're thankful for can have a positive impact on mood. It can also help you feel better about tasks you might not love. Doing the dishes isn't fun, so shift your perspective and think about how thankful you are that your family has plenty to eat. 
  • Spend time in nature: Farmers and ranchers do this every day, but that doesn't mean they always pay attention to it. Mindfulness is the key here. Take a minute to really soak up your surroundings and how they affect all of your senses. Breathe deeply and enjoy the smell of freshly cut hay. Take a few seconds to stop and acknowledge that beautiful sunset as you feed cattle. Appreciate how soft your horse's muzzle is.  
  • Have a laugh: Laughter may not be the best medicine, but it's right up there. Watch a funny show or read a humorous book. If you'll be spending a lot of time in the tractor or on the road, listen to a funny podcast or audiobook.
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