Tuesday, 11 February 2020

The nuts and bolts of change


Hummingly, internationally recognised resilience and wellbeing trainers, recently deployed their unique “Resilience Genie” tool with Ravensdown staff. They share their set of methods that empower people to deal with stress, uncertainty and pressure.

Through the generations, farming has always involved change and evolution. But today’s farmers are facing change at a pace and with pressure that can be tough to get your head around. Change brings the s-word – stress. We’ve been working with people in the agriculture sector, helping them understand how to meet the demands of a changing world and a large part of the picture is learning about stress – the good, the bad, and how to manage it well. Essentially, it’s about how to work and be well when facing change – for you, your work on the farm and your family. 

We’ve lost count of how many times we’ve had blokes tell us, “Yeah well, I don’t get stressed”, only to have someone from their team or their family cock an eyebrow, telling us otherwise. Stress, not managed well, messes with your work, your body, your relationships, your decisions and your outlook. It’s something we need to take as seriously as other safety issues on the farm because the consequences can be just as severe. Everyone experiences stress. But stress isn’t always a bad thing.

Why is change stressful?

It all goes back to our human biology. And it’s about survival. Our body will go on high alert and pump us with stress hormones when it comes across things in our world that are NUTS – that is anything: 


New – if we haven’t faced it before, we’re unsure of our chances of a good outcome and that makes our body edgy.

Uncertain – anything uncertain signals potential danger because we don’t know which way things will go.

Threat – our body goes on high alert when we feel a threat to how we’re seen by others, to the way things have always been done, to our identity.

Sense of control – when things feel outside our control, our body lets us know there’s potential for danger.

When we think about the changes in the agricultural sector, we hit many of the NUTS stress factors. This means there are good reasons why we, or others around us, might be feeling the pressure. 

Tips to work and be well

Stress and performance are linked – both on the farm and how things go for us in our lives at home. Psychologists have run experiments to demonstrate this link.

When stress is too low we tend to perform poorly – we need to care enough and have something at stake to help us focus and perform. So, a bit of stress is a good thing, as we can see in the green area at the top of the graph (see below) where some stress leads us to perform. With the right amount of stress we step up to the plate, get stuff done, learn new things, tackle a challenge, stretch ourselves and feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. Many of the challenges we are now facing in farming can take us into this space – forcing us to innovate, to problem solve, to learn and to grow.

But what happens when the stress levels get too high or the pressure is on for too long? That’s when our performance takes a dive, both with our work on the farm and in our life in general. We begin to forget things, we struggle to solve problems that we’d usually sort easily, we make poor decisions, we lose perspective, we lose sleep, we’re more prone to accidents, our health suffers, we get short with those we work with and those we care about. Stress at these levels, especially when it goes on for a long time and doesn’t let up, has serious impacts and consequences.

5 tips to cope through change

1. Get curious and start to pay attention
It’s amazing how far we can get through life without knowing our own stress profile. Get curious about what you look and feel like when stress is helping you to perform well – when you’re in the green zone. And get to know what you look and feel like when stress is getting too much. Remember we all get stressed – this just makes us human. Do you know your own signs for when stress is getting too much (for example: headaches, making mistakes, snappiness)? Stress will show up in different ways for different people. If you’re part of a team, do you know what positive and negative stress looks like in each other?

2. Take note when other people point it out
When stress is getting too much or has gone on too long, we are often blind to it in ourselves. We find it easier to recognise in others – we see that someone really needs to take a break before things really ‘go south’, but there’s just no telling them. It’s the same for most people. Next time someone shows concern for you and your natural tendency is to fob them off, really think twice because they may be seeing something that stress hormones have made you blind to in that moment.

3. Find ways to wind down
Some stress (of the right amount) isn’t a bad thing, but we’re not designed to operate this way for long periods. Recovery time is important – just as the All Blacks would tell us as part of their strategy for performing under pressure. When stress is high our body feels under threat and is amped up. It’s important to find ways to slow your body down. Can you carve out some down time between peak times? Do you have somewhere quiet you can head even for half an hour? Can you find moments to take some deep breaths to still your body? One of the most important things you can do is keep up or get back to the things you enjoy. Make some wind-down time part of each day.

4. Stay connected
When the going gets tough, research shows that it’s our friends, work mates and family who are our best sources of support. But when the pressure is on, we often pull away from those around us – because we are too busy, too tired, don’t have the energy or patience, or for a million other reasons. When the pressure is on, this is the time we most need to stay connected to our mates and our family. Do your bit to stay connected.

5. The big five
1. Connect
2. Give
3. Take notice
4. Keep learning
5. Be active

Find out more at

*If you are concerned about yourself or someone else contact your doctor, the Rural Support Trust (0800 787 254) or the ‘Need to Talk’ helpline on 1737 (text or phone 24/7).