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Building personal resilience: staying happy and healthy

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Looking after wellbeing and mental fitness is essential for dealing with stress and running a strong business, but what is resilience and how do you build it? The next few pages are packed with experience, advice and resources.

Taking time to appreciate things around you, such as nature, is important to personal wellbeing.
Taking time to appreciate things around you, such as nature, is important to personal wellbeing.

Jude McCann, chief executive or Northern Irish farming charity Rural Support, says: “Resilience is not just the ability to bounce back to where we were after experiencing stress. It is the ability to bounce forward from it.”


We will all experience shocks and disruptions in our lives and everyone has different thresholds in mental health and what causes stress in one person might not in another, he explains.


“Farming is particularly prone to shocks. It could be a TB outbreak one year, low prices another, and then something else unforeseen.


“When that mounting pressure builds, depression can set in and it becomes very hard to deal with these issues.”


Taking steps to build and maintain resilience is not always about big things, he adds.


“It could be something as simple as inviting friends round every Friday for fish and chips so you surround yourself with positive people.”

Jude McCann
Jude McCann

He says: “It is about concentrating on things we can have an impact on, rather than those that are out of our control.”


For some people, taking time to put things into perspective could be as simple as having a cup of tea, going away for the weekend or an evening with family. Taking time to appreciate things around you, such as nature, is also important.


If things get too much, it is important people put their hands up and ask for help, says Mr McCann.


This could include employing a business consultant, accountant or seeing a therapist.


“Resilience is a life-long thing you have to work at; you don’t just reach it and that is it. Some people will be resilient in some parts of their life, but things can easily change with circumstances.”


This means we should make the most of the good times by building up financial and emotional cushions to help us through tougher moments.

Top 10 tips to combat stress

  1. Be active: Exercise will not make your stress disappear, but it will reduce some of the emotional intensity that you are feeling and clear your thoughts.
  2. Take control: There is a solution to any problem. If you remain passive, thinking ‘I can’t do anything about my problem’, your stress will get worse. That feeling of loss of control is one of the main causes of stress and lack of wellbeing.
  3. Connect with people: A good support network of colleagues, friends and family you can talk to will help ease your troubles, find solutions to problems and see things differently.
  4. Have some ‘me time’: We often work long hours and do not spend enough time doing things we really enjoy, but we all need to socialise, relax and exercise.
  5. Challenge yourself: Learn something new, such as a new language or sport. Learning helps make you more emotionally resilient, arming you with knowledge and making you feel energised to do things, rather than passive things, such as watching TV all the time.
  6. Avoid unhealthy habits: The worst thing you can do is turn to alcohol, smoking or caffeine as a way of coping. In the long-term, it will not solve your problems and could ultimately create new ones. Tackle the cause of your stress.
  7. Help other people: Evidence shows people who help others, through activities such as volunteering or community work, become more resilient. Helping people who are in situations worse than your own will help put your problems into perspective. If you do not have time to volunteer, try to do someone a small favour every day.
  8. Work smarter, not harder: Working smarter means prioritising tasks, concentrating on things which will make a difference. Leave the least important tasks to last and accept that your to-do list will never be finished.
  9. Try to be positive: Look for the positives in life and things you are grateful for. At the end of each day, write down three things that went well or for which you are grateful.
  10. Accept the things you cannot change: Changing a difficult situation is not always possible. Try to concentrate on the things you do have control over and accept the ones you cannot change.

Stress and depression – signs to look for

Be alert to symptoms in yourself and others around you. To know what to look out for, farming mental health charity YANA has compiled the following list:

  • Low mood – sadness, frequently tearful or unable to cry
  • Anxiety – worrying obsessively or worrying out of proportion to the problem
  • Changes in appetite – loss of appetite or increased appetite
  • Disturbed sleeping patterns
  • Lack of energy/feeling tired
  • Reliance on alcohol
  • Lack of interest in family and friends
  • Unable to enjoy hobbies as before
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Confused thinking, poor concentration and difficulty in making decisions
  • Negative thoughts
  • A change in personality, such as unusual aggression

YANA can be contacted on its helpline 0300 323 0400, or for more information, go to

Case study: ‘We need to recognise when to ask for help’

MORE than a decade ago, farm business consultant, David (not his real name) was climbing the ladder as a successful farm manager, when a series of events tipped him over into mental ill-health.


The estate he worked for was turned over to contract farmers and he found himself under huge pressure looking after his staff, who were about to lose their jobs. He then faced a switch into self-employment and took on more work than he could cope with.


A few years later, he faced two serious operations due to physical ill-health, then in quick succession, a divorce and the loss of a parent.


It was too much for anyone to cope with, and he reached what medical professionals call a ‘tipping point’, an accumulation of stressful life events.


He says: “I do not think you go into depression quickly.


It comes from a build-up of things.


I lost enthusiasm for life and for a lot of things.



“I stopped exercising as much, partly because of my physical injury, even though I had been very fit and played sport at a high level.


“I started hiding away and I found it difficult to finish work. I couldn’t concentrate and I bingewatched TV. I procrastinated and started cancelling meetings, which was something I had never done before, but I couldn’t face people. My anxiety increased dramatically and work became overwhelming.”


With support, David sought help and found that talking therapy helped deal with a certain amount of emotion, but he says a strong network of friends, family and colleagues who will listen is critical.


Things have gradually improved, but he still gets depressive periods, so maintaining his wellbeing is paramount.


He was also supported by Focussed Farmers (, which introduced him to meditation. He now uses an app, ‘Head Space’, to do 15 minutes of meditation every morning.


He says: “Meditation trains the mind to be present and not be flitting around all over the place.


“It relaxes and focuses me and stops me revisiting all the crap. It has a stabilising effect, particularly if I am feeling anxious or stressed.”


David tries to be kind to himself, as he says he is often his own worst critic. He knows he cannot avoid stress completely, such as dealing with busy Basic Payment Scheme periods, but instead believes ‘it is about recognising it is a busy period, and not careering onto the next thing straight after’.


He is also trying to take time off more regularly.



Having people around him who are supportive has been hugely important.


He says: “The people around us need to observe how we are behaving. Sometimes we need to be told we are not right.


“I think in the past I might have seen getting help as an affront to my manliness. I do not think that now. We all need to recognise episodes of life where things are getting overwhelming, and we need to ask for help.”


For David’s full story, including how he looks after his wellbeing, visit

Shape Your Farming Future Series

Shape Your Farming Future is a series of informative and practical guides looking in-depth at issues pertinent to farmers when planning for the future.


The four in this series are supported by The Co-Op and look at Succession, Consumer Trends, Skills and Training and Building Resilience.


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