It’s all well and good to use ecologically sustainable practices on our organic farms, but it pretty much does no good if we burn out.
Human/psychological/emotional/spiritual sustainability is therefore a key component of building a food system that is in harmony with nature and is well suited to the ongoing needs of the human race in the coming times of change.
The question is: How do we farm in a manner that allows us to remain energetic , enthusiastic and effectively mitigates against fatigue, exhaustion, and burnout?
I would like to offer you the following ideas resulting from examining fatigue, exhaustion, and burnout from an ‘engineering’ perspective.
Farming requires energy. There is the physical energy required in doing farm work. There is also the mental/emotional energy used in managing and coordinating a complex system.
Stress in its purest sense is simply ‘pressure or tension exerted on a material object.
“the distribution of stress is uniform across the bar”.’ When we perceive external stimuli and circumstances, this applies a stress to our inner being. The question is whether we bounce back or whether the stress remains within us in the form of anxiety and physical weariness.
Fatigue in a technical sense is ‘weakness in materials, especially metal, caused by repeated variations of stress. (as in “metal fatigue”).’ Fatigue is the accumulation of weariness or tiredness resulting from hard work, but most noticeably from the tensions or anxieties resulting from the stresses of the management of the farm.
Exhaustion is ‘the action or state of using something up or of being used up completely.
As in “the rapid exhaustion of fossil fuel reserves”.’ Exhaustion occurs when fatigue surpasses our ability to physically and emotionally ‘recharge our batteries’.
Burnout is ‘the failure of an electrical device or component through overheating. As in “an antistall mechanism prevents motor burnout”’ and just like machines, we are susceptible to burnout too. Burnout is a perfectly normal reaction to a situation where we have repeatedly exhausted our inner resources..
So when I take a look at all these, here’s what stands out to me:
1) We have got to be in good shape for farming, both mentally and physically. Just as elite athletes train, so should farmers. In practical
2) We need to mitigate fatigue by releasing the accumulation of stresses and tensions as we go. This means knowing what life-giving activities and routines we have in our tool box, and giving ourselves permission to take the time to actually do them! When we think ‘I don’t have time to do that’… the truth is you don’t have time NOT to do it! (Like thinking ‘I don’t have time to refuel my tractor.’) Again, we need to think both physically and mentally. I invite you to make a list of 50 life-giving activities. This exercise is great for getting our creative juices going and seeing which of these activities we can integrate into our daily lives.
3) Exhaustion is not normal! It is a warning sign, similar to the ‘low fuel’ light in a car. The time has come to shift the farming culture away from thinking that feeling exhausted is a normal part of farming. If exhaustion is a regular experience for you, it’s time to listen to this red flag and make the choices necessary so that you won’t be in the same situation next year.
4) Burnout is not failure. If you are experiencing burnout, there is nothing wrong with you. You are simply having a normal reaction to running on empty. In this day and age, it is now perfectly acceptable to talk about it and reach out for support both from our friends and family, but also from qualified professionals. The problem is never the problem… the problem is always an invitation to take a closer look as some element of our life.
What about you?
- What activities or practises do you find to be rejuvenating and re-energizing? What is one routine you could introduce to your summer schedule that would do you a world of good?
- What 20% of your farm generates 80% of your stress? How might you go about reducing or eliminating some of these element?
- What would is be like to ask for help when you need it? Would it be alright with you if life got a little easier?