As farms have become more mechanised, they have required fewer people to be working within them and many farms these days are a one-man band working the field, flock or dairy unit alone, but many of these farmers who are working in what seems to be an isolated environment are not lonely.
While the farms that have got many employees all fulfilling different roles in the business or a family farming enterprise where there is multi-generational input into the farming operation, it will not be uncommon for the farmer or farmworker to be experiencing feelings of loneliness.
Why this difference? In simple terms, because being alone does not equate to feeling lonely and loneliness is not something that is caused by external or environmental factors – it is a state of mind and very much related to the internal workings of a person at a point in time.
Loneliness is a feeling of disconnect, whether that is social or environmental and for anyone who has ever felt lonely or experienced loneliness for more than a day or so, they will know how difficult the feeling is to bear, in fact the continual feeling can lead to more serious health problems including depression, coronary disease and has also been link to premature death.
The good news is that, as loneliness is connected to our state of mind, we can do something about it and there are actions people can take to move away from their feelings of loneliness and become more connected with their natural and social surroundings, back to a state of good mental health and a feeling of positive wellbeing.
Some of the seemingly obvious tactics for people who are feeling lonely would be to make more social connections, join a social club, get a hobby, call on friends and family more often, get out and about more, but when we understand that loneliness doesn’t stem from being alone socially and it’s actually an internal disconnect we are experiencing, these things may not be the solution to the root cause of the problem and due to the way in which a person is feeling, they may feel daunted by these suggested remedies and even feel worse at the prospect they don’t want to, or feel they can’t engage in those seemingly everyday activities.
Loneliness is a risk factor for further health problems and even death. J. David Creswell at Carnegie Mellon University ran a study in 2012 looking at the effect on older adults when they took part in an eight-week mindfulness based meditation programme and how it affected feelings of loneliness.
As well as reducing loneliness, the research found that inflammation in the body reduced as C-reactive protein (CRP) levels declined, a commonly used marker for inflammatory disease and researchers also discovered that there was a reduction in the expression of pro-inflammatory genes, which are linked with cancers, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
For those reading this article who may have had the thought that they cannot remember the last time they were alone and would give anything to have just a few moments alone, mental training may also be something for you. Mental training offers huge benefits to people who are in a good place of mental health and is a toolbox essential for taking good mental health to great.
Perhaps you have a discussion group, a farming social network or an area meeting where a few of you may try this out together, when people take on this practice as a group, they not only learn from each other, but support each other to give it their all for at least eight weeks and find out what it personally brings to them.
It might just be the way to get that person involved that you’re concerned about but can’t seem to get through to with the more ‘obvious’ suggestions.
If mindfulness and mental exercise doesn’t appeal but you are experiencing feelings of loneliness or any other negative thoughts or feelings, the Farming Community Network has a fantastic community of people to signpost you in the direction of support to make a change to that.
I have been working with farmers and people in the agricultural community since 2017, promoting the many benefits of mindfulness and mental training and offer a variety of ways to get involved to try out these practices.
Recognising there is a problem is the first step in fixing it and for anyone who is feeling prolonged periods of loneliness and disconnect, visit www.focussedfarmers.com and get in touch with me to see how you can try this training. Once people have taken charge of those feelings and they are not so dominant, the other external factors will not only be more appealing but proactively chosen.
Holly Beckett is co-founder of Focussed Farmers. She is a 2015 Nuffield scholar and fourth generation of a Midland’s farming family, and gained sponsorship from The Frank Parkinson Agricultural Trust to pilot the introduction of the latest developments in psychology within the agricultural sector. To find out more visit www.focussedfarmers.com
This article forms part of our series during Mental Health Awareness Week. Read our other articles Loneliness in the workplace and 2.6 million ‘hidden workforce’ need to time for themselves
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