Farming can be a stressful and isolating profession that demands long hours of work. Because of this, those working in agriculture are susceptible to poor mental wellbeing as highlighted in the recent Mind Your Head campaign. Recent reports have highlighted how big this issue is as figures revealed as many as one agricultural worker a week dies by suicide.
Farmers take pride in their hard work and do not want to ask for help as they see this as an admission of failure. This is where mindfulness can help because this is a cure for depression and anxiety that works best when practiced alone. This is great for farmers as practicing mindfulness means they don’t need to go to anyone to ask for help. Mindfulness teaches farmer how to help themselves. Also, with all those long hours on the farm the farmer has all the time necessary to practice mindfulness which means farmers have the best possible chance of learning this skill.
So, what exactly is mindfulness?
Western mindfulness is often seen as just being a meditation practice that aims to make a person more alert, more aware of thoughts and more able to stay focussed on the present moment. Indeed, those features are certainly an element of the practice, but these are really only the first few steps used to develop better control over thoughts. The reason this is used at the first step is that a person in modern society is so overwhelmed by information (emails, telephones, television etc) that their mind is constantly racing.
This serves to distract the person from what is happening in their mind and body. So the breathwork is used to develop attention so that the person learns to separate unwanted thoughts/information from what is happening moment to moment. A byproduct of this process is that the person feels less anxious and less stressed.
But the Mindfulness practice is the most in depth form of psychological treatment a person can undertake and looks to go to the root causes of a persons psychological issues. The most similar comparison to a western therapy would be psychotherapy which is person centred – as is mindfulness.
So, if a farmer has some deep seated issues that are not farming related, mindfulness can help resolve these problems. However, the deeper treatments can only start after a person has developed a better awareness of the nature of thoughts which is achieved through breathing with attention.
For farmers, who are feeling stressed and lonely the most effective treatment would be to start working with the breath. In this context mindfulness would be used to pay attention to the present moment using, focussing on breathing as the method.
Modern neuroscience discoveries have shown that this ability of mentally ‘checking in’ and paying attention with full focus to the present situation (rather than getting embroiled in internal thoughts) has dramatic effects on the electrical impulses in the brain which directly relate to levels of anxiety.
Scientific research has recently been showing that the practice of mindfulness supported through daily meditation, increases the grey matter in the pre-frontal cortex and improves concentration, focus, increases memory and organisational abilities. In addition to this, the ‘fight or flight’ area of the brain (amygdala) is decreased; resulting in behaviour where more considered reactions can be achieved within daily lives, especially in relation to situations we are faced with when under pressure.
This means that farmers would be better able to face stressful situations or make hard decisions that could change their lives. With increased cognitive functioning it is very likely that farmers would make better business choices that could help grow profits and provide better security for them and their families.
Mindfulness is a practice that can help relieve stress, anxiety and depression as well as improving a persons brain power. However, mindfulness is a practice that must be done regularly, usually in isolation, and is best around nature. It seems that given the nature of a farmers work they are best placed to take advantage of this increasingly popular practice.
Jon Earls runs Mindfulness Yoga classes and Mindfulness courses at Lifeways