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Vacations and recreation are important for farmers
 
August is traditionally a time for vacations. Many European countries “shut down” during August, except for the tourist segment that caters to vacationers.

In the United States, August is losing appeal as the prime month for vacations, except for the U.S. Congress. Congress is out of session until after Labor Day.

The cynical part of me wonders if Congress accomplished anything when in session. We have no farm bill or much other needed legislative action. (Okay, I feel a little better now and can continue what I started.)

Fifty years ago, the school year didn’t begin until September in most areas. Today, school resumes in mid-August or even earlier. Vacations that were scheduled to allow farm children to help their parents with seasonal work now are taken any time of the year.
Farmers, especially those tied to daily chores such as milking cows and caring for animals, are less apt than persons in other occupations to schedule breaks from work. I suppose the farmers’ work ethic can be blamed for many farm people not taking adequate time for recreation and vacations. We feel we have to earn the right to take a break.

We more easily recognize tasks that need to be completed than we recognize our need to restore our bodies and minds. Vacations and recreation are investments in ourselves. If we don’t make and take the time to relax, no one else can do it for us.

We have to view ourselves as worth the time and costs needed to restore ourselves. I learned the hard way of the necessity to take enough time to unwind.

Throughout my thirties and forties, I worked two full-time jobs – as a farmer and professional psychologist. Typically, I arose around 4:30 a.m. and the day didn’t end until 10:30 p.m.

Most weekends involved farm work and similar long days. When it was calving season or I was on call, nighttime rest was interrupted every couple of hours to check the cows or whenever the phone rang.

I didn’t mind the stressful workload and lack of sleep. What I came to learn was probably a life-long mild case of attention deficit hyperactivity actually served me well, except in school. My children enjoyed looking at my old school report cards. The behavior section was usually replete with checkmarks: “lacks self-control,” “easily distracted,” “challenges teachers.”

Working nearly all the time caught up with me, when in a moment of haste, I injured my right foot in a combine auger. Rather than use the broom hanging outside the grain hopper, I used my foot to shove grain into the unloading auger.

In a moment, three toes were cut off and a fourth was left dangling. Fortunately, the steel toe in my work shoe saved my big toe. Most fortuitous is, God was teaching me a lesson: I had neglected taking time to take care of me and my family. I had compromised my own safety and health.

My motives were messed up – I was more concerned about “getting ahead” than doing things for higher purposes. Over the next year, we sold two tracts of land we were struggling to pay for. I allowed two board positions to expire rather than to seek reelection.
We began, as a family, to camp, fish, hunt and play together more. Marilyn and I instituted a daily practice of talking and praying together for a few minutes, which sometimes stretched into a lot more.

I learned to pay more attention to how I felt than to what needed to be accomplished. When I felt the first signs of stress, such as persistent infections, aches, higher-than-normal blood pressure, crankiness and other irritating behaviors my family and trusted friends pointed out, I amended my schedule almost immediately.
I learned to park the tractor or to change my schedule to go fishing. Regular recreation gave me opportunities to meditate and to figure out what was wrong with my motives and my actions.
Most of us need to work smarter rather than harder. We need recuperative time. We make better choices that usually lead to accomplishing what we aim for while having fun. We become easier to live with.

Even though we are in the midst of drought and harvest is approaching sooner than usual, it is important to have our minds and bodies ready, and not just the equipment and storage facilities. Taking a vacation beforehand can be part of our preparation.

When harvesting this fall, it is also important to take breaks to relax, to say a word or two of prayer or do whatever we do to stop from focusing solely on work. We need to be in charge of how we dedicate our time, rather than to allow work demands to take charge of us.

Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D. serves on the adjunct faculty of the University of Iowa, lectures across the United States and abroad and owns a row crop farm in Harlan, Iowa. He is a founding partner of the nonprofit network AgriWellness, Inc., which provides counseling services to farm people.

Send your thoughts and questions to him by email at mike@agriwellness.org – previously published columns are available for a small fee 30 days after they were originally printed, at www.agbehavioralheatlh.com

His recently published book, Excellent Joy: Fishing, Farming, Hunting and Psychology, which recently received the Silver Book of the Year Award from Foreword Reviews in the Nature category, is available at www.icecubepress.com
8/29/2012