Top 5 tips to cultivate better mental health

Farmer mental health has been in the spotlight. And deservedly so, after a survey revealed a staggering one in three farmers say their mental health is in decline. Farmer Louise O’Neill from Denmark in Western Australia was there when her husband hit rock bottom out in the paddock. This moment inspired her to start Farm Life Fitness, creating a space to improve physical and emotional wellbeing and her work saw her win the AgriFutures 2022 WA Rural Women’s Award.

Whether you’re on a farm or live in an inner-city high rise, we can all take something away from Louise’s story and her top 5 pressure-free tips to boost our mental health.

Louise juggles farm life, family and a business and is helping others find the balance. Image: Jodie Berry.

Louise’s story

The seed of Farm Life Fitness (FLF) was initially planted when I saw first-hand how hard farming could be. My husband Warren was all work, work, work at the beginning of the relationship—but to him, it wasn’t strange. All his farming friends were doing it. His dad had done it before him, so why stop? The more I started to see how pervasive this mindset was, the more I wanted to help.  

The work overload finally came to a head when what should have been one of the happiest times for us became one of the most emotionally draining and stressful.

We were about to welcome our first son Earth-side, we were in the middle of seeding, and our machinery suffered a devastating breakdown.

Warren did too… right there in the paddock. He hit rock bottom and didn’t know where to go or what to do to fix things. If seeing your husband reach that point doesn’t inspire you to make a change, I don’t know what will. That image of him and me in that paddock, feeling lost, burnout, helpless, and crying on our knees will probably stay with me forever. 

Farm work can be hard work but it doesn’t mean it’s 24/7.

I knew I needed to put that hard-earned lesson to good use, to turn it into something positive. And I feel that by creating FLF and holding space for others to connect, talk and seek advice, about emotional and physical wellbeing I am doing that.

I don’t want our boys growing up thinking that farming is a 24/7 job – no other job requires this, so farming shouldn’t be any different. Instead, I want them to grow up knowing the value of work, truly appreciating what and who is around them, and knowing that their mental and physical health is the most important thing in their life.

Louise’s on-farm “gym” is undoubtedly stunning. Image + main image: Rosie Henderson.

Louise’s top tips for boosting mental health

For anyone wanting to boost their mental health without putting too much pressure and time in at the beginning:

  1. Move for mental health. It doesn’t have to be 30 minutes every day, it doesn’t have to be a huge workout. It can be simply going for a walk and getting the muscles moving. If you only have 10 minutes, I assure you there is a lot that can be achieved!
  2. Breathe. Take some big breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth – SLOWLY. When we are stressed or overwhelmed it can throw out our nervous and hormonal system. Breathing can set it right again.
  3. Have a circuit breaker. Try to get off farm occasionally and really notice that you actually are off farm. If you have to go into town to collect parts, then allow yourself 20 extra minutes to grab a cuppa and sit with it and enjoy it.
  4. Start to put together and emotional first aid toolbox. Whatever works for you and calms you, you want to know what or where it is straight away. It could be a piece of music, a photo, a person, a place. Whatever it is, put all the information or tools in one place (perhaps in your phone) so that when overwhelm hits you have the interventions on hand, and you don’t need to think about it.
  5. You have time. Let’s assume there are 8-10 hours in a typical working day. All the things above will only take you 5-10 minutes. You CAN find that time in your day. Gain a bit of perspective and ask yourself if taking 5-10 minutes is really going to negatively impact your day and put you behind. Chances are if you’re honest you’ll find it won’t negatively impact you, but it will definitely help.

*If this article you has brought up feeling and you need to seek support, call Lifeline 13 11 14 for 24 hour free counselling in Australia or visit beyondblue.org.au. If your life is in immediate danger, call 000.

The Farm Life Fitness story as told through the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award.

Louise O'Neill

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