Internal Stressors

Interpersonal conflict, along with role-related stressors, are the most commonly cited internal sources of stress for farmers. For example, Murray (4) examined the experience of stressors in Pennsylvania dairy farmers and found that most farmers stated that family conflict and problems with neighbors and other farmers were stressors. There appeared to be a link between these interpersonal stressors and economic concerns, depression,

Table 22.1. Stressors experienced by farmers.

External stressors

Economic factors (low income or poor cash flow, seasonal variations in income, increases in debt loads and limitations by banks on loan sizes, high interest rates on loans, conditions of market prices, potential or actual loss of the farm) Structure of farming (long work hours, infrequent days off, high work load, seasonal variations in work demands, farming over long period of years, multitask nature of farming)

Physical hazards associated with farming (pesticide exposure, fertilizers, equipment, animals) Health status (e.g., acute injuries, chronic health problems) Lack of medical care and health insurance Unpredictability of weather

Physical environment (terrain, size of farm, types of crops harvested) Resource supplies (e.g., malfunctioning equipment, lack of labor equipment parts and animal chutes) Geographical isolation

Internal stressors

Interpersonal stressors (e.g., interpersonal conflict with family, friends, and neighbors;

divorce; social isolation) Role strains (due to role incongruence, intergenerational transfer of farms, lack of equality and influence in farm activities) Obligation to past, present, and future generations Consideration of possible career change and substance abuse. For some farmers, substance abuse may represent an unhealthy form of emotion-focused coping (see Chapter 10).

Berkowitz and Perkins (14,15) found that marital dissatisfaction and lack of their husband's support were related to increased psychosomatic stress symptoms in married dairy farmer women in New York State. Their findings suggest that effective marital support plays a primary role in reducing stress and promoting health in farmers. Similarly, Weigel and Weigel (16) found that greater perceptions of family satisfaction were related to decreased stress in Iowa farmers.

Weigel and Weigel (17) used factor analyses to identify stressors and coping strategies in two-generation farm families in Iowa. Their first analysis identified the stressor factors of lack of equality (not having an important role in the operation of the farm); lack of teamwork (difficulties family members had in communicating and working together); value differences (between generationals in the family); and competition (the stressors related to combining work and family roles on the farm). Their second analysis identified the coping factors of faith, fun and physical activities, talking with others, and avoidance of problem. Faith represented strategies that were used to cognitively reframe the stressors. Each of these four coping factors represents a form of emotion-focused coping in that they were utilized in the effort to better emotionally and cognitively deal with stressors, rather than to change potentially stressful situations.

As noted by Carruth and Logan (7), some farmer women assume increasing responsibilities both on and off the farm. This allows husbands or sons to hold more lucrative off-the-farm jobs, thus decreasing the economic vulnerability of the family. This type of role shift, however, may lead to greater fatigue for farmer women and increase their susceptibility to stress.

In an early study, Berkowitz and Hedlund (18) explored the influence of role incongruence on stress in 20 farm families in New York State. The authors defined role incongruence as the husband's and wife's incompatible expectations and perceptions of the wife's role. Interview data indicated that high stress levels were evident in 30% of the families. Role incongruence was present in 83% of the families that reported stress, and in 0% of the families without stress. According to the authors, many farmer wives perform major labor and management functions by acting as partners with their husbands in the operation of the farm. Thus, the ability to define mutually compatible roles for the wife as the family moves through its life cycle may be crucial for healthy family functioning.

Some researchers have examined role-related stress that is associated with the intergenerational transfer of farms. The transferring of farms may lead to stress because of a variety of reasons. Intergenerational transfers may involve issues of authority, control, and the dividing of tasks and income. Critical role transitions may include attempts within the family to accommodate the younger generation while phasing out the older generation. Moreover, while the younger generation may strive for self-respect, autonomy, and a fair share of responsibility, the older generation may strive to maintain decision-making responsibilities, emotional and physical territory, and the respect they believe is merited by greater experience. Elements of sibling rivalry and competition may also be evident (19,20).

Hedlund and Berkowitz (19) found that intergenerational transfers were disruptive in 30% of the families they interviewed. Russell et al. (20) examined coping strategies utilized in response to intergenerational transfer stress in farm families in Kansas. A factor analysis identified the coping strategies of individual coping (self-reliance, keeping problems to oneself), discussion, use of professionals/professional consultation, farm management strategies (including membership in farm organizations), and expression of anger. Family members, for example, reported that individual coping was most helpful in combating stress and that expressing anger was least helpful. Although, in comparison to their children, parents reported that the transfer decision was more difficult, they also reported higher psychological well-being than did their children. This suggests that the above coping strategies were relatively more effective for parents.

Heppner et al. (21) examined coping strategies in Missouri farmers who were considering making a change in their careers. Most of these farmers had lost or were in danger of losing their farms through bankruptcy. The authors found that, for both genders, those farmers who were stressed and depressed were more likely to use emotion-focused coping rather than problem-focused coping in reaction to the stress linked to their possible career change.

Finally, Davis-Brown and Salamon (22) noted that the obligation to past, present, and future generations felt by some farmers compounds the stress engendered by other stressors.

Table 22.1 summarizes the internal stressors discussed in this subsection. It seems apparent that emotion-focused coping strategies may be more accessible, if not more effective, than problem-focused coping in dealing with farm-related distress.

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