By Deanne Meyer, Ph.D., Livestock Waste Management Specialist Dept. of Animal Science, UC Davis and UC ANR

Dairy markets have seen some highs and lows this year. From international markets to domestic supply chain issues 2020 has been surreal. Labor issues and COVID-19 concerns add to the stressors. Combined, these incur incredible stress on an already fragile industry.

Know you’re not alone. Throughout our state there are great concerns voiced about the challenges of the dairy business. It appears that anxiety and depression, two key signs of extended stress, have taken hold within the industry. Stress help is available. Whether it’s your family member, your neighbor, employee or even yourself, it is important to get support to those that may need it. Signs of stress include: high levels of fatigue, sleep deprivation, anxiety and/or depression. Typical stressors include insufficient time to get everything done, loan payment challenges or bad weather impacting crop growth. This year we have the added catastrophic fires resulting in poor air quality, additional health impacts and gloomy conditions.

The California Dairy Quality Assurance Program hosted Dr. Robert Fetsch last summer for a webinar on mental health. The one hour and 27-minute webinar is available for your viewing. It is highly recommended for anyone and everyone working on dairies or working with dairy producers. Also on the same web page is a link to a list of county mental health contacts and other helpful documents for identifying if and how to support someone experiencing farm work related anxiety or depression. Please use this valuable information if needed.

Help you first! It’s ok and important to take time for yourself. There are many opportunities to improve our outlook. Several documents and other resources highlight simple methods to help ease stress. Some people meditate to calm their mind. According to healthline, an easy three- to five- minute exercise is to sit up in a chair with feet flat on the floor and breath slowly and deeply. This helps to oxygenate blood, center the body and clears the mind.  Exercise or other physical activity  is helpful to release feel-good endorphins and take our minds off our worries even if just for a little bit. These may seem like the last thing anyone wants to do when they’re stressed. Believe it or not, they come highly recommended and once a pattern is established they have been documented to help improve mood and reduce anxiety. Sufficient sleep, eating a healthy diet and consuming less alcohol or caffeine are other stress management techniques. There are times when it’s important to see a primary care physician if medications are useful or to seek help from a counselor. Gratefully, these professionals are trained and available to assist as needed.

A friend shared a statement from her father. Whenever she’d share information about something that wasn’t quite right his response was “You have the power to fix that”. You, your family or your employees do not need to suffer in silence. Each individual has the power to improve their mental health outlook and interactions with those around them. We want all of us to share blue skies and family celebrations in 2021.