NORTH MANKATO — During his presentation on how farmers can and must take better care of ourselves, Dr. Amit Sood said addressing high stress levels begins in the initial moments of our days.
Sood founded the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Resilient Mind program and has authored books on stress management, background which made him a fitting speaker for a local series centered around agricultural resiliency. The Region Nine Development Council organized the Friday event at South Central College in partnership with the college, the state Department of Agriculture and Minnesota State University.
Noting how farmers are navigating stressful financial and technological environments, Sood drew a clear distinction between the matters in and out of their control. An individual farmer can’t do much about economic policies and grain prices, he said, but they can change how these uncontrollable factors impact them.
“Resilience isn’t that we won’t experience adversity,” he said. “It’s that we’ll recover faster.”
But behavior we all fall into, like excessive mind wandering, poses challenges. Technology constantly at our fingertips only exacerbates the issue, contributing to brain fatigue.
Sood framed this as a biological problem with how brains function rather than individual failings. He gave the example of a farmer from Iowa who was obsessed with grain future investments.
After the man’s family found him sleeping in his tractor, doctors linked excessive mind wandering to his high stress levels. Intentionally feeding the brain rest, uplifting emotions and motivation are ways to reduce the stress levels.
And there’s no better time to start than in the first two minutes of the day, Sood said. He called it morning gratitude practice, essentially spending those first two minutes thinking about the people you’re grateful for, whether they be family, coworkers or deceased loved ones.
Gratitude practice doesn’t have to be limited to the morning. Sood said he does it before meetings because starting out with a baseline of positive thoughts regarding the people you know you’ll see in a given day tends to promote more positive interactions.
Switching to home life, he said the first 30 seconds after you enter your door are crucial. Little things like focusing on your spouse’s eyes could lead to those uplifting moments the brain craves.
Sood said ultimately the brain is a conflicted organ with different centers within it dictating what you focus on in a given moment. Exhibiting gratitude, compassion, acceptance, meaning or forgiveness can all help positively reframe the brain.
So while you can’t eliminate all causes of stress, like fluctuating grain prices, Sood said investing minutes every day on mindfulness is shown to make a difference in stress levels.
“This is not something you can quit,” he said. “You have to do a little bit, five minutes of investment.”
Tom and Kathy Wilking, who operated a hog farm between Mankato and Nicollet, said they appreciated the event's focus on farmer mental health. The two are well aware of the industry’s stressors.
They wanted to farm until they were 70, but Tom’s aneurysm in 2015 ended those hopes. Kathy said running their hog and crop farm wasn’t easy even before the medical scare.
“He was working in town full time and farming full time,” she said. “I was working off the farm part time and farming because that’s what you have to do to make a living.”
They rent their land to a younger farmer now, but Kathy said she worries about the stressors piling up for the younger generation, too.
“We know for younger farmers it’s just so tough,” she said. “Sometimes that affects your health.”
Sood’s talk was the fourth of six in Region Nine’s speaker series. The events coincide with the organization’s 30-day comment period for its South Central Minnesota Agriculture Resiliency Plan, a funded project aimed at connecting the local agriculture community with more resources.
The final two events in the Agriculture Resiliency Series will be Feb. 26 at South Central College and Feb. 27 at the St. Peter Food Co-op.