Want to Improve your Moo-d? Try Mindfulness
How much time do you think about the care of your cows? Research has found that the health and happiness of your cows are connected to the quality and quantity of milk production. The technology you use, the bedding, the grooming, the feeding, the comfort of the barn, and even the naming of your cows influences their well-being. Now, how often do you think about caring for yourself? Finding the right strategies and supports for your wellness will improve your moo-d, health, and productivity.
In addition to caring for your body with adequate rest, food, and water, you need to practice caring for your mind. Mindfulness is a simple, effective practice that has been connected to significant benefits, such as:
- Decreased worry
- Increased focus
- Boosted immunity
- Improved relationships
- More flexible and effective problem-solving
- Enhanced management of emotions (less reactive!)
Mindfulness is a state of non-judgementally paying attention to the present moment. As dairy farmers, you’re often inundated with stress and factors that are not in your control. This can cause you to get caught up in thoughts about what you ‘should’ have done in the past or anticipate what could go wrong in the future. Some of this process is helpful, as it allows you to learn from past mistakes or plan to prevent or manage common problems. However, often you might find yourself ruminating in a way that makes you feel guilty, overwhelmed, or stuck.
It’s not just the worries that cause harm. Did you know that research has found that people spend 47% of their time mindlessly distracted by their thoughts? You might notice this happen when you’re sitting at the table eating dinner and thinking about the price of commodities or about the chores that need to be done before bed. Mindless activities, such as scrolling on the phone, are often a ‘go-to’ coping mechanism to reduce stress through distraction. While some of this is temporarily helpful, it needs to be balanced with activities that allow you to fully engage in the here and now to achieve the benefits above.
3 Ways to Practice
Time is one of your most precious commodities, so you likely want effective and efficient strategies. Research has found that the benefits of mindfulness can be experienced in as little as 10 to 15 minutes a day. When practicing mindfulness, your mind will likely wander. Instead of following those thoughts, you will notice them and then bring your attention back to the moment, your breath, or your body.
- Mindful moments. This is the easiest to practice and is done while performing daily tasks, such as brushing your teeth, having a shower, walking to the barn, or eating a meal. Often when we’re engaged in our chores or activities we’re thinking about other things. Mindful moments encourage you to fully focus on the sensations of the task (sights, sounds, tastes, smells). You will be surprised how much more enjoyable that hot shower at the end of a long day can be when you’re fully present!
- Mindful meditation. Meditation is the practice of focusing all your attention on an object (e.g., a candle flame), a thought or sound (e.g., ‘om’), or most commonly your breath. It can also be practiced using a body scan where you intentionally notice the feeling and state of each body part, starting with your feet and up to your head. Meditation is like a muscle; it takes training and conditioning to improve it. If meditation is new to you, start with 1 to 3 minutes and work your way up to longer periods. There are many useful apps that can guide you through this practice.
- Mindful movement. The work our bodies do day in and day out in farming can often be overlooked. Take time to mindfully focus on your body as you engage in activities that allow you to strengthen, stretch, and move. Choose an activity that you enjoy (rather than dread), such as weight training, running, walking, cycling, boxing, yoga, and/or doing CrossFit, Zumba, or another fitness class (online or in person). The key is to be fully present when engaging in these activities, so you can strengthen your body and mind.
Mindfulness practices can trigger resistance as it is uncomfortable to sit with and be fully aware of what you’re thinking, feeling, and doing, particularly when you notice pain and suffering. Cultivate compassion towards yourself in this practice; it is not easy and it takes time. However, mindfulness's short-term and long-term benefits will add to your mental, emotional and physical well-being. Care for yourself as you care for your cows.
Carrie Pollard, MSW RSW is an experienced psychotherapist, wife of a grain farmer, mother of five, and co-founder of the National Farmer Mental Health Alliance.