When times are tough

When times are tough

Written by: Marg McKay

Counsellor and Community Representative – Victoria, Rural Aid

 

The past few years have been such a challenge for our farming communities that it’s difficult to get your head around. From years of drought to bushfires to unprecedented floods and it’s no surprise that I have heard many a farmer ask, “Why do I bother?”. The answer is that farming is who you are, it is part of your DNA. It’s what makes you get up at the crack of dawn and witness the start of another day and it is what brings you home as the sun sets, tired and exhausted ready to do it all again tomorrow.

Of course, you could sell up, move to town and get a regular nine-to-five job, but would that bring you happiness? No-one said farming would be easy. There are the good times and these are what we need to focus on when times are tough. And at the moment, things couldn’t get much tougher for rural communities and our farmers who put the food on our tables.

My favourite book is an Australian classic titled “A Fortunate Life” by A.B.Facey. It is the story of an ordinary Australian man who lived an extraordinary life. Albert Facey lived a simple life with honesty, compassion and courage. The same characteristics that I see in so many of our farmers today. He was a parentless boy who started work at the age of eight in the rough West Australian frontier. He struggled as a rural worker, survived the gore of Gallipoli, the loss of his farm in the depression, the death of his son in World War II and the death of his beloved wife after sixty devoted years of marriage – yet he felt that his life was fortunate.

Focussing on your strengths can be difficult during tough times.

It doesn’t matter if it is a pandemic, personal issues or a natural disaster, everyone faces tough times. Staying positive during these challenges can make all the difference.

Here are 10 things you can do to get through tough times:

Understand what you can and can’t control.
You can’t control what’s going on, but you can control your actions. When the challenges seem like too much, focus on what you can control, and remember that everything changes, from the way we feel, to the weather, and everything in between.
Avoid staring at your bank accounts.
Keeping a constant eye on your finances during difficult times will only cause stress. The numbers will likely dip before they get better, but don’t dwell on it.
Don’t keep the news on 24/7.
It can be tempting to constantly pay attention to the news, but that will only distract you and add to your stress. Instead, set specific times to check the news and focus on reputable sources, not rumours.
Stay away from negative people.
When you’re facing challenges, the last thing you need is someone complaining. You need people around you who support you.
Make sure you have a positive support network.
Build a network of people who support you and can lift you up with a hug or words of encouragement during tough times. It can be friends, family members, other farmers, a Rural Aid counsellor or anyone you can count on to be positive and stay in your corner.
Remember this is temporary.
When you hit turbulence on a flight, the scary shaking eventually gives way to smooth air. Tough times are the same–they are scary in the moment, but eventually, you’ll reach smooth sailing. Eventually the floods will dry up.
Take time for yourself.
Find ways to practice self-care every day. Go for a walk, take a long shower, read a book—whatever it is, you need to have a moment for yourself.
Remind yourself what you have to be grateful for.
It’s easy to focus on the negative, especially during tough times. But no matter your circumstances, there’s always something to be grateful for, even if it’s small. Family, friends, people offering support, the sunrise in the morning, the sunset in the evening.
Focus your time and energy on something constructive.
Don’t just sit in your struggles. Find an outlet to clear your head, whether it be work, playing with the kids, visiting a mate, talking to someone who’ll listen.
Use technology to stay connected with friends and family.
This is especially important if you are away from your support system. Keep those bonds strong with video chats and phone calls.

Challenges will always come our way, but I hope these 10 tips will help you stay positive and optimistic just as Albert Facey did though out his life.

Stay positive, things will get better.

Wishing all our farmers and their families a lovely Christmas and an even better New Year.

To talk to a Rural Aid Counsellor, phone the free line 1300 17 55 94

Coping with Fatigue

Coping with Fatigue

Written by: Rod Galvin

Counsellor and Community Representative, Rural Aid

 

At the moment, it feels like there is a constant bombardment of negative news and events facing our daily lives. Weather events are like nothing we have experienced before, concerns about climate change are becoming stronger, staff are still extremely hard to find, and Covid-19 hasn’t stopped impacting our lives. These factors all have an effect on our emotional and physical wellbeing.

Lately, we may have found ourselves totally focused on the ‘doing’ of day-to-day life, without considering how our bodies are responding.

It can be helpful to keep an eye on a few signs that indicate if you’re struggling with fatigue.

Like the analogy of placing a frog in a pot and gradually heating it, we seem to take on more and more in our lives until it becomes unbearable. It can be difficult to stop when there is so much that needs to be completed. This can cause feelings of overwhelm and fatigue.

Signs to look out for include changes in sleeping and eating patterns, becoming short tempered, struggling to focus on tasks, or withdrawing from your normal social interactions.

If some of these ring a bell for you, the question then becomes what you can do to support your wellbeing. At times, it is not possible to remove yourself completely from the situation, as daily life goes on and responsibilities continue. But the good news is that there is plenty you can do, even with a busy life.

It is vitally important to take some time for yourself. These moments can be quite short;1 or 2 minutes watching the sunset, time spent caring for pets, sitting and watching the stars, enjoying an open fire, or sitting a sharing a moment with a loved one. Focusing time on caring for ourselves improves our ability to care for others. It’s a great place to start if you feel fatigue getting the better of you.

It seems like a small action, but by spending a few minutes a day absorbed by an action that brings you joy, you are doing your tired brain a huge service! Your fatigued brain is craving any chance for reprieve. Spending two minutes watching the sunset might just give you the extra energy and breathing room to tackle the rest of your night. Two minutes in front of a red, rural sunset could give you twenty minutes of solid action when you’re doing the books later that night.

If you’re battling feelings of fatigue, you can also call the Rural Aid counselling team. We have great tips that we can personalise to your life, to help you get back on track. Give us a free call on 1300 175 594 Monday to Friday to see if counselling is right for you.

A Perfect Storm for Mental Health Crisis

A Perfect Storm for Mental Health Crisis

Hospitalisation, injury, disability, death—none of us are immune to life’s challenges and certainties, but Australians living in rural and remote areas have a unique set of stressors that can make facing these hardships all the more debilitating.
Around 28% of the Australian population—approximately 7 million people—live in rural and remote areas (ABS 2022c), and their varied geographic locations can play a key role in their mental and physical wellbeing over the course of their lives. Isolation and remoteness affect rural Australians in numerous ways: greater exposure to natural disasters and extreme weather, poorer access to healthcare services, less financial security and employment opportunities, and having to face difficulties far from the ‘village’ of support readily available in more populated locations.
It all amounts to a perfect storm of factors that have led to a critical mental health crisis in the bush. Rates of exposure to risk factors (ie smoking, excessive drinking, drug use), physical and mental illness, and death are significantly higher among Australia’s rural population. Alarmingly, the rural rates of suicide compared to that in metropolitan areas sit as high as double in some regions.

Rural Aid is committed to removing the barriers that have traditionally prevented rural Australians from accessing mental health support, such as location, stigma, and cost. A $3.75 million commitment to grow its Mental Health and Wellbeing Team by 300% and expand coverage into West and South Australia (in addition to Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria) is a strong statement of intention.

Rural Aid’s remote counsellors offer free and confidential support to Australian farmers and their families, bringing a range of services from early intervention through to evidence-based treatment directly to the farm gate—where it’s needed most. Our dedicated counselling number – 1300 175 594, is already making it easier for counsellors to provide emotional and mental wellbeing support to impacted producers and their families.

South Australian farmer, Kaye Wicker, took over managing her family’s property under the most difficult of circumstances. After suffering years of limited cash flow and declining farm outcomes, Kaye’s brother suffered a fatal heart attack, leaving Kaye to pick up the pieces.

Between the insurmountable workload and her crushing grief, Kaye’s fear and anxiety took hold, and it was at that moment she reached out to Rural Aid.

“It’s hard to speak about the things that scare you the most. It’s overwhelming.”

“I found that the Rural Aid counsellor was so supportive and gave freely of her time… and the fact that the service was free. If there was a charge, I wouldn’t have been able to access it,” said Ms Wicker.

“Our Mental Health and Wellbeing Team is one of the highest priorities here at Rural Aid. There are abysmal gaps in regional healthcare, and after years of hard times, our farmers need and deserve support,” said John Warlters of Rural Aid.

“The generosity of our supporters has allowed us to make a sizable financial commitment to growing our team and operation, and we’re thrilled to be able bring counselling assistance directly to farmers.”

Post traumatic growth, a personal reflection

Post traumatic growth, a personal reflection

Written by: Darren Devlin

Counsellor and Community Representative, Rural Aid

 

WARNING – this article may contain information that some people may find triggering or of a sensitive nature. If this article causes any distress and you would like to talk with one of our skilled counsellors, please call our intake line on 1300 175 594. Alternatively, you may reach out to Beyond Blue (1300 224 636), Lifeline (13 11 14) or the Suicide Call Back service (1300 659 467).

This is my personal experience and mental health journey as it relates to my experience of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It’s my story and I am sharing it in the hopes that it may provide hope, guidance, and growth for those that may need it. While it is my experience, it may or may not suit your journey and should be used as a guide only and not a prescriptive course of recovery action. If you are experiencing issues with your mental health and require professional support, please seek the appropriate supports such as a GP, counsellor, psychologist or clinical mental health triage team.

January 2003, I was starting to come to terms with a failing abusive marriage (although I didn’t acknowledge being a victim of abuse for another 6 years) and a life that was going nowhere. I was being treated for clinical depression and anxiety through my GP and a counsellor. As part of this journey, I needed to reconnect with my community and give back, so I joined the Country Fire Authority as a volunteer fire fighter. Flash forward 6 years of very active first responder duties to structure fires, motor vehicle accidents, search and rescue, flood response and several strike team responses to wildfire. I had worked my way up the ladder at the CFA to crew leader and incident controller and eventually into several officer’s position. My depression was being managed through an unhealthy balance of overeating and avoidance, my weight ballooned to about 143kgs, the biggest I had ever been, and my health was struggling.

 

February 2009, I had spent the previous 10 days working the Delburn Fire in Gippsland when early on Saturday the 7th of February 2009 we received a call out to a bushfire on my home patch in Churchill Victoria. We spent the next 48 hours running to try to contain the fire which ended up burning for over a month. I recall spending about 6 weeks on the fire ground chasing active fires and eventually blacking out and making safe the burned area. In counselling sessions after the fact, we worked it out that I averaged about 4 hours sleep a day for the period of 6 weeks, with some days running on no sleep at all.

 

My situation had built into a perfect storm. Running on very little sleep with no down time, a traumatic home life, poor health and using my unhealthy avoidance strategies to cope, I was destined to burn out. At the time I was employed as a youth worker with a community minded organisation that allowed me time off to attend the fire fighting. After the 6 weeks, I eventually went back to work and all I can remember is sitting at my desk for the next 2 days staring at the wall, not knowing what to do and not able to concentrate. I knew something was wrong. I knew I couldn’t continue working like that, so I spoke to my manager and resigned, effective immediately. The next 2 weeks I spent in bed. I don’t remember eating or even getting out of bed. I was in a dark fog that I couldn’t even recognise. I was blank and empty, all except the re-occurring flashbacks of flames and sirens, burnt buildings and that horrible smell that to this day still brings back the memories of that 6-week period.

 

Thankfully, an external party intervened and gave me the kick up the butt I needed to get me out of my bed and back into counselling. I spoke with my GP and started going through the process of finding the right balance and type of anti-depressants that I needed to take the edge off so I could re-engage in getting myself back on my feet. I know that there is a lot of hesitation for some people to take anti-depressants. However, I am here to say that while they may have some side effects, the benefit they provide reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety is enough that it allows the taker some relief, space, and energy to be able to do the work required to kickstart their recovery. I know for me they quietened my mind and reduced the severity of the flashbacks and their impacts on me emotionally.

 

I began regular weekly sessions with my counsellor and learned and practiced various psychological therapies, which included mindfulness and focussed breathing to help ground me in the present. We worked on emotional regulation and integrated my memories of the events of the Black Saturday bushfires to create a timeline of events which helped reduce the emotional arousal to these events and memories. During this process is when I became aware that I was living in a violent relationship, which had contributed to my development of PTSD and I started the journey of getting myself and my children out of that abusive relationship.

 

I learned that most of my life I had been using various forms of avoidance to dissociate myself from my emotional response to my environment, and that if I wanted to truly heal, I needed to engage with my feelings and emotions in a safe and managed way. Even if it meant talking and engaging in emotional content that I found uncomfortable with or confronting. It was only through engaging with this emotional content and connecting with my emotional responses that I was able to truly heal.

 

With my psychological and emotional health starting to improve, I was still unhealthy and overweight. My GP encouraged me to address my weight issue and developed a plan of walking and healthy eating. Because of the excess weight I was carrying, and a symptom of depression being reduced motivation and exercise tolerance, I couldn’t run or walk very far, so I slowly started my journey back by walking the length of my street. The more I walked the more I found I was able to do. The length of the street turned into a lap of the block. The block turned into the neighbourhood. When I realised, I could walk around the neighbourhood, I decided I would try to add a small slow jog. I would walk from one lamp post to the next and then slow jog to the next lamp post, then it became 2 lamp posts, then the length of my street. Slowly but surely my exercise tolerance began to increase. The physical benefit of being able to jog improved my health, but I also noticed that my self-confidence and emotional states became more stable and to top it all off, I felt fantastic at what I had accomplished. This made me think what else could I challenge myself to do and what else I could accomplish. So, I joined the local gym and got myself some personal training.

 

I had never really been interested in lifting weights, so I had never really pushed myself at the gym before. But the more the personal trainer pushed me the more I gained. I could feel myself getting stronger and more confident. I could breathe easier and now running the block only fuelled me up to run further. The more I ran and the more I worked out the better I felt. The better I felt the more I wanted to challenge my boundaries. The more I challenged my physical boundaries, the more I grew as a person both physically and mentally. I was starting to personally experience the psychological and emotional benefits of physical exercise, and it felt great.

I now run almost daily and am currently training to run my third marathon as well as having completed several half marathons and middle-distance races. I have completed Tough Mudder and Spartan obstacle course racing events, all things I had never even dreamed of being able to complete. I don’t run these races to win, I don’t even run theses races to compete against the other racers. I run them to compete with myself. Because each race is a new goal I set for myself and another chance to push my boundaries and challenge myself to see what I am truly capable of, and let me tell you, when you set yourself a goal and you go out achieve it, when you find your perceived personal limitations and you step through them, your internal world, your emotional state and your mental health sky rocket.

 

I am often asked why I have such a relaxed positive energy about me. I personally believe that it is because of the journey I have been on and the steps I took to rebuild and even grow through the post traumatic process. I have not only recovered from my traumatic experience, but I have also experienced post traumatic growth.We are all capable of experiencing our own post traumatic growth and we can do this by engaging in our experiences and emotions in a safe and managed way.

 

Thanks for hearing my story, I hope that you find something useful to grow on 😊Darren Devlin

 

Disaster Fatigue

Disaster Fatigue

By Liz Bellette-Stubbs

Rural Aid Counsellor & area representative

Are you feeling weary after repeated flooding or other disasters?

Since 2019 Australian farmers have faced drought, fire, floods and the pandemic. Some of these events have occurred repeatedly, exacerbating stress and resulting in disaster fatigue.
Disaster fatigue refers to prolonged distress experienced after exposure to negative news. It also happens after disaster.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

People may feel drained, anxious and overwhelmed. The not knowing of what will happen next, how to get help and living with the aftereffects of disaster such as loss of stock, sheds and homes, triggers the brain’s flight or fight response. The body secretes cortisol and adrenaline to help us face the threat. Too much of this response creates adrenal fatigue which results in an additional set of symptoms including brain fog, low energy and mood.

If you are experiencing symptoms, there are several things you can do:

  • Get help
    • Make an appointment with your GP.
    • Ring the Rural Aid Counselling line Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm Ph: 1300 175 594
    • Ring the Mental Health line in your state

      NSW – 1800 011 511

      QLD – 1300 642255

      VIC – 1300 375 330

      SA – 13 14 65

      WA – 1800 552 002 Rurallink

  • Focus on positivity

    Restrict the time you spend listening to the news. Listening to negativity can increase stress and anxiety.

  • Get physical.

    Engaging in physical exercise regulates endorphins and creates a positive mindset. Weight training and swimming are great activities because of the importance of breathing. Joining a gym can give you contact with like-minded people you can connect with.

  • Social connection.

    Communicating with others is important, even if it’s for a short time. Set up a coffee call for once a week where you have a cuppa with a mate. A 15 minute chat over the phone provides human connection, interest and knowledge you are not alone.

  • Build self-care into your day.

    Allow yourself time to take a couple of minutes to smell the roses. Appreciate the country vista before you. Breathe and clear you mind. Take a photo of one thing which calms you.

    Picture by James Wheeler

    Taking care of yourself is the cornerstone of coping with disaster fatigue. If you have any questions call the Rural Aid Wellbeing team on 1300 175 594.

The Importance of Fun

The Importance of Fun.

By Cheryl Calder
Rural Aid counsellor and community representative

Sometimes, as we grow up, life becomes hard, and we stop having fun. We know now more than ever that life can be all too serious sometimes. There are so many things happening to us and around us that it can sometimes cause us to forget the importance of having fun, especially as a family. Having fun as a family is important for building strong relationships and identity in your family. When families have fun, taking the time to enjoy each other, letting go and being spontaneous, bonds can be built that last a lifetime. When you have fun with your family you are setting an example to your children as well as planting valuable seeds for the future. In addition, having fun as a family can help everyone set the groundwork for a life less troubled by mental health issues and physical health problems.

It can be hard to step away from the things that occupy us to make time to be with our family to have fun. There will always be something that needs doing, some other place to have to be, or our minds are too busy to slow down. But everyone needs to find a way to be in the moment, to find a restorative state that allows them to let go of their struggles and stresses, even just for a time.

Fun doesn’t have to be complicated or cost lots of money, and fun is different for everyone. There is no right or wrong, and part of the fun can be working out together what fun looks like for different members of the family. It is good if everyone gets a chance to talk about what fun makes them happy.

Here are some simple ways of having fun together that won’t empty your pocket as well:

  • Have a campfire, toast marshmallows and tell fun stories
  • Play games.
  • Go for walk together
  • Create your own obstacle course
  • Turn off the lights and have a dance party with flashlights.
  • Make mud “soups” with flowers, leaves, sticks, pieces of paper, old dry beans…anything you can find.
  • Build a cubby house with couch cushions, blankets, tables, chairs and the mop.
  • Build things together
  • Lie outside and watch the stars, see who can spot a falling star first
  • Go for a random surprise treat
  • Play tag or hide-and-seek
  • Go for a picnic
  • Go on a foraging hunt: Give the kids baskets and lists of things to find (white feather, black stone, yellow leaf…)
  • Make ice cream sundaes out of any random sweet ingredients in the house.
  • Rub your feet on the carpet and shock each other.
  • Put bubble beards on in the bath.
  • Make a secret hideout out of cardboard boxes.
  • Make pizzas that look like faces.
  • Look for the rainbow in the spray of the garden hose.
  • Birdwatching
  • Go on a hike
  • Learn something new together

These are just suggestions, there are so many things that you can do to have fun together that creates a strong sense of wellbeing for everyone. Give it a go and enjoy the benefits of being a family that has fun!

Help as Helper

Help as a helper.

By Roger Hitchcock
Counsellor & Community Representative West Australia

The body and mind’s ability to feel in unison results in an ability to feel great and an ability to feel not so great. Most of us know the feeling of being sick with the flu and how that effects our ability to function. Similarly, we also know when we aren’t feeling ourselves mentally and how this to affects our ability to function. Just as importantly family and friends who know us well can feel and see that we are not well. Usually, close friends and family are the first to offer or be asked to help.

Seeking help when you are not feeling yourself is a Strength. It takes a very strong person to approach someone and ask for help because they don’t feel quite right. More strength than keeping these feelings to yourself. It also takes a very strong person to help a person who says I’m not feeling myself. Giving help to someone not feeling themselves can be confronting and leave you feeling vulnerable. But many are that strong person who stops, listens, and helps.

When someone picks up the phone and rings me to say I think I need some help I immediately know I have a person who although feeling vulnerable is strong. This strength to seek help is an asset which can be utilised to help that person get back on track.

As a counsellor I’m required to meet with a supervisor once a month to discuss how I’m going myself. How am I coping being a helper helping others?

In my travels I meet people who help and care for others. There have been times when I’ve been the counsellor for a person who is helping another. This is very effective as a helper can sometimes doubt if they are doing enough. It is extremely rare that I need to give advice that something the helper is doing could be done differently. Most people who have stepped up to help their friends or family member do a great job. So much so, I wonder if they have also been trained themselves. They may just want reinforcement that they are doing the right thing.

I can’t emphasise enough the power of stepping up when your friend needs help. Mates and families know each other better than a stranger. Sometimes talking to a neutral person such as a counsellor is better because there will be no judgement or criticism. But where someone approaches a mate or family member for help then usually the subject is something you also need to keep private. This is unless that person intends to harm themselves or others, then I advise you tell someone.

But helpers also need to release their stress or frustration that helping another can cause.

As a helper you may be feeling that you need to discuss what is happening to keep yourself on track. Maybe you need to just check that what you are doing is Ok because of a bit of self-doubt. Then a counsellor who you enter a confidentiality agreement with can be a huge support. Even if this is just to release some tension so you can better cope. This is also why counsellors have to have supervision with another counsellor.

If as a helper you yourself become ill or you begin to become anxious, stressed or very tired it is so important that you look after yourself first. By keeping yourself well you can better care or help others. Otherwise, one becomes two people who need help. As a helper look after yourself, have some time to yourself, remember that there is help for you as well.

A lot of people close to us really care about us and each other. Be strong ask for help, be strong and offer that help. Call me as a qualified counsellor and I will help. Together we will achieve more than trying to muddle through on our own. Why? Because you matter that’s why. You are important to a lot of people.

The right tool for the right job

The right tool for the right job.

by Darren Devlin
Rural Aid Counsellor and Community Representative, BA (Psych) MSW(Q)

In my previous article I wrote about mental health not being a dirty word and demonstrated how our mental health, like our physical health, exists along a continuum from normal healthy functioning to injured and even ill health requiring professional intervention. I noted in the previous article that leaving our mental health unchecked as it slips along the continuum can result in an increased decline. Basically, meaning that if we stay in an anxious, stressed or heightened emotional state for a long period of time, our mental health can deteriorate.

In this article I am going to discuss the tools we use in life to do what we need to do to get the job done and provide an example of how investing in the maintenance of our tools we can help reduce the likelihood and, in some cases, even prevent ending up down the injured and ill end of the spectrum.

Over the course of my personal and professional life I have developed a belief.

Everyone is trying to live their best life with the tools they have, unfortunately many of us have either been given the wrong tools or those that we have are damaged or become dull.

So, what do I mean by tools?

In its most general sense of the word a tool is something that we use to get a job done or achieve a desired outcome. We all have a various set of tools in our tool belt or box. We have the physical tools that we utilise. For me in my profession, my tools are my mobile phone, my laptop computer, my car so I can visit all the wonderful farmers in my community and of course myself, my physical presence. To ensure that these tools are the right tool and are readily available and working for me to use them I must take care of them. Which could include charging the laptop and phone (a flat phone or laptop aren’t much good when I need to reach out and connect). I need to make sure my car is driveable, has adequate petrol and is regularly serviced to keep in optimum and safe running condition. I need to look after myself to ensure that when I am connecting with farmers and their communities, that I am healthy, and I can focus my attention and give my time to ensure that my connection is meaningful and valuable to those I connect with. For a farmer these physical tools might be a tractor, a quad bike, all the way down to a hammer and screwdriver.

Imagine if any of those tools you use weren’t job ready, were dull or broken down.

How would you get the job done?

That is why we take care of our tools and do the regular maintenance to ensure that they are working properly and are job ready.
Could you also imagine trying to plough your field with a screwdriver?

Yeah, sure you could probably do it, but could you imagine the amount of time it would take and how much energy you would have to expend to get it done.

I believe in the right tool for the right job at the right time.

However, in this article I am not referring to our physical tools, in this article I am referring to our psychological tools.

What are our psychological tools?

Psychological tools are the internal thoughts and strategies that we utilise to perform tasks, keep ourselves safe, look after our well-being and generally get the job done. These could range from our morning habits to ensure that we start the day right all the way through to our sleep habits. Habits are a good example of a psychological tool. Habits are routine activities that are developed through the repeated activities we utilise to meet our needs. We generally develop habits as a means of saving time and thought when trying to get something done. For example, we may develop the habit of always restringing a fence a certain way along a certain line. By doing the same way by habit, we know we can get the job done. While this can make the task quicker, it may mean that we overlook a new direction or line the fence may go in, or a new way of stringing the fence that in the long run could save you time and money while opening access to a new piece of land.

Let’s look at this example through the lens of trying to do your best with the wrong or damaged tool.

The habit of how you string the fence is the right tool, it gets the job done easier and quicker.

However, the fact that it may overlook a better way of stringing the fence or opening new land access is a good demonstration that this tool may be damaged or faulty.

It’s not the wrong tool for the job because you may be able to use the same principles of the habit but in a new or refined way. You are repairing or sharpening the tool.

Another example of a psychological tool could be an avoidance strategy that you may have developed for helping to keep you safe. Growing up you may have learnt to not enter the bull’s yard because he might get angry and charge you. While avoidance is a good tool to keep you safe, it can leak into other areas of your life where it is not so good, can hold you back and can in fact cause harm.

Avoiding a dangerous situation is a great survival tool, it can keep you away from real danger. But what if the danger wasn’t real, it was only perceived as dangerous in your mind. Like having to see you bank manager about a loan repayment. You may avoid talking to the bank manager, he then makes an application to reposes your assets. Not such a helpful tool anymore. This is an example of the wrong tool for the job.

Another example of avoidance – things have been tough on the farm, you’ve been struggling along trying to keep going. Because you are struggling, you might think that others might judge you for it, you may think that they think that you can’t cut it. To avoid these feelings and to avoid the possibility of judgement, you don’t ask for help and you don’t talk about your struggles. This leads to some growing anxiety and stress. This then becomes a cycle whereby the more anxious and stressed you get the more you fear being judged and the less likely you may be for turning to others for help. The longer the cycle continues the worse your mental health deteriorates until you end up down the unwell and ill end of the spectrum. Again, avoidance has turned out to be the wrong tool for the job.

Sounds dark and gloomy doesn’t it. Well, it doesn’t need to be.

Just as you picked up the other tools you can always pick up new ones.

Or if your current tools are damaged or in need of a service, there is always something that you can do.

The first step is always identifying that the tool isn’t getting the job done. This may be as obvious as what you are trying to achieve is not working. If you were trying to plough your field with a screwdriver and you’ve been at it all day but when you look back you have only moved a couple of feet, I think most people would agree, the screwdriver is not the right tool for that job. You then have a choice, you can either keep going for the next month with your screwdriver, or you could go get the tractor and plough.

In the case of avoiding your bank manager, you could continue to avoid him until he turns up with a repossession order, or you could go see him and try to sort it out. I know that even this might not work, so then you try another tool, you go speak to a friend or neighbour. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot they can do, but they do give you some advice (another tool), they suggest you speak to a financial counsellor. You pick up the new tool (the financial counsellor) who then sits down with you and between the two of you, you work out a payment plan (another tool) that is agreeable with the bank manager and your property is saved from repossession.

Identifying that the current tool isn’t working.

Some of the signs that you may be using the wrong tool could be, you are feeling more anxious, scared, stressed, or worried about things. You may find yourself getting more frustrated or angry than usual. You may find that you can’t sleep at night or that you are sleeping during the day when you never used to. You might be drinking more alcohol or taking drugs to help you cope (it’s a widely accepted fact that alcohol and drug misuse is a well-known avoidance tool that can help you to avoid remembering or thinking about a traumatic experience).

You may not notice these changes yourself, it may be your partner, your kids or someone else that notices. That’s ok, when things are not going so well and we become stressed or anxious, it’s easy for us to not see the forest through the trees.

Remember, identifying the problem is always the first step to fixing the problem and you don’t have to do it alone. If someone identifies an issue, they probably aren’t judging you. It’s more likely that they are worried about you and can see that you need some help.

Start looking for new tools or repairing your existing ones.

Once you have identified the problem, you can start looking for solutions, you can find new tools. This may be as simple as trying different strategies yourself or talking to friends. However sometimes that tractor needs to go to the mechanic and get a service or inspection. In the case of your psychological tools the equivalent of the mechanic is a trained and qualified counsellor, social worker, or psychologist. They can sit down with you and help you unpack your situation and help you explore other tools and repair existing tools. There are a lot of tools out there to explore, sometimes we need a specialist to help us find the right tool to get the job done.

You don’t have to do it alone, thinking that you do may be an old tool that needs some repair.

Some useful psychological tools that you can use at home.

When you notice that you are feeling stressed or anxious you can try some of these tools to help you settle. They don’t take long and can be done pretty much anywhere.

  • Mindful Breathing
  • Stop what you are doing.
  • Focus on your breath.
  • Breathe in for a count of 4.
  • Hold for a count of 4.
  • Then slowly release your breath for a count of 5.
  • Repeat for a minute or two or until you feel more settled.
  • Mindful Awareness
  • Stop what you are doing.
  • Notice something in your immediate area (may be the sky, the trees, your livestock).
  • Start to focus in on what you are noticing.
  • Take note of it the colours, shapes, sizes, it’s movement.
  • Maintain your focus for a minute or two.
  • Step Away
  • It’s ok to take a break.
  • Sometimes the more fixated on a problem you are the less likely you are to resolve it.
  • If there is someone there with you, stop and have a chat.
  • If there isn’t someone there, try reaching out on your mobile.
  • Sometimes talking through a problem is all the help you need.

When all else fails, reach out. Rural Aid Counsellors are here to help 😊

Rural Aid Counselling Intake: 1300 17 55 94

Utilising counselling is a strength, and it doesn’t mean you have failed, Counselling is just another tool to help you get the job done!

Together we can keep the tractor going.

Mental Health is not a dirty word

Mental Health is not a dirty word.

by Darren Devlin
Rural Aid Counsellor and Community Representative, BA (Psych)

It is widely accepted that mental health carries with it some significant stigma. A lot of this can be accredited to the negative connotations associated to mental illness portrayed in the media, including movies, news, and social media. However, it is also becoming more common that people in the media spotlight are speaking out, such as Jim Carrey, an extremely successful, positive influence on society, at the top of his game, openly expressing his own mental health issues.

The truth of the matter is mental health is no different from physical health, and in fact both interact with each other and can influence where a person may sit with their health.

Physical health runs on a continuum from good health to poor health and chronic illness. Mental health also runs along the continuum from stable mental health through to poor mental health and chronic mental illness.

So what does this look like?

The physical health continuum

As you can see above, everyone sits somewhere along the physical health continuum, and can slide along the continuum at various times throughout their lifespan.

Your place on the physical health continuum can be affected by internal factors such as disease and illness, age, nutrition, and level of physical activity (which will be different for everyone).

It is also affected by external factors such as environmental factors (access to nutritious foods, clean drinking water, physical safety, biological and medical hazards).

The mental health continuum

As with physical health we all sit somewhere along the continuum, which can change depending on our individual circumstances. These circumstances can be internal such as how we are feeling physically (physical health) and our emotional state. As well as external factors (stressors) such as our environment, if we feel safe or under threat, if we have access to our immediate needs, if we experience grief and loss (we don’t only grieve the loss of a loved one, we can also grieve the loss of something special or our way of life, any significant change will come with some level of grief), or if we have social connection or feels isolated.

As you can see there is significant similarities and crossover between physical and mental health, and for the most part is a temporary status that can change due to various factors.

When our stressors go unmanaged our mental health can deteriorate down the continuum through reaction whereby, we are responding to our mental health deterioration and can and usually do bounce back. To an injured state whereby, our mental state can deteriorate and require intervention. Then down to ill which is when a diagnosable mental illness has developed.

An example may be:

We are working and maintaining our well-being both mental and physical, we are enjoying some down time and hanging out with friends and family. We have access to most of our immediate needs and there is no significant threat to our lives or livelihood. We are in the Healthy range.

However, one day we wake up and one area in our life has taken a hit, we have some bad weather and our feed crop for our livestock is destroyed. We become anxious about how we are going to feed our livestock through winter without the feed crop. Fortunately, we have a good relationship with our family, and they have some extra bales of silage that they can provide, we have also got some extra money from a good season the year before, allowing us to buy in some extra fodder. We get stressed but have avenues to address our area of stress, and therefore we bounce back from the stress and anxiety quickly. We are in the reacting range.

Same scenario as above, only we have no extra bales of silage and we just come through a drought, meaning there is no back up of money and our usual supports are also struggling. Our period of stress and anxiety is extended, impacting our mental state and physical health. We start to lose interest in our normal routine and motivation starts to take a dive. We rely on unhealthy external coping strategies (excessive drinking, bad habits, poor self-care, avoiding our usual support networks). Due to the loss of interest and poor motivation we find it difficult to get ourselves out of our current state. We can’t do it on our own and need the support of others. We are in the injured range.

We remain in the injured range for an extended period, such as through a major disaster or multiple disaster event. We feel stuck and can’t think or see a way out of our situation. We may not realise it at this stage, but we are in the ill range.

While in the healthy and reaction ranges, we have the capacity to cope and mange our situation, we address the areas of need and move on while maintaining our normal daily functioning and habits.

When we move into the injured range, things become more difficult and our ability to cope and manage our situation becomes more difficult. Our focus will usually become fixated on our issues and problems, we may become negative (there’s no hope, there’s no way out, I can’t manage this). It is at this point that we would benefit from support from others. We may tell ourselves that we don’t need the help, or that there is something wrong with us because we can’t manage this situation ourselves. However, when we are in the injured stage our brain isn’t functioning the same as it would in the healthy range. Our brain becomes flooded with stress hormones and our thinking becomes fixated, meaning that we usually can’t see the forest through the trees. Sometimes it takes someone not connected to the issue to help us see the way forward, and if we enlist the help of an external person, we can usually find a way out. This is where a counsellor may help, a counsellor is not an expert in your life or your situation, they may have some knowledge and experience and may offer options, however, often the counsellor is a sounding board and someone that we can download or debrief with and provide strategies to improve our mental and emotional states. As with our physical health, when we are injured, we seek out the right professional with the right qualification to help improve our health status.

If we don’t address the stressors in our life and stay fixated as in the injured range, this can lead to a further deterioration of our mental health leading us into mental illness and like a physical illness we will require treatment to amend our health status or in the case of a chronic condition like cardiovascular disease, cancer, schizophrenia, clinical depression, respiratory disease, bipolar disorder, we need the right medical and professional treatment to manage our lives to enable us to live as fulfilled a life as we can with the chronic illness.

As demonstrated above, mental health and physical health are the same, we don’t stigmatise someone with cancer so why should having depression be any different. In both cases with the right intervention at the right time, with the right support, we can still live a quality of life.

There are many people in our society that currently live with some form of mental illness or mental health concern, that are still raising a family and fulfilling a role in society, and at any time anyone of us may slide down the mental health continuum, but with the right support we can manage our situation often with only minor interruptions to the way we normally live.

Mental health is not a dirty word and seeking support to maintain your mental health is no more or less a reflection on you as a person as seeking help and support for a physical health issue.

If you or anyone you know is worried about their mental health, please reach out, the support is there.

Recognising survival mode

Recognising survival mode

by Lauren Stracey
Rural Aid Mental Health and Wellbeing Team Leader

For good biological reasons, flood affected farmers across Australia have had their bodies kicked into survival mode. Farmers are reporting getting stuck in panic spirals about how to tackle immediate needs like clean up, fencing and looking after their stock, but also projecting into the future about what will happen if the rain continues and the impact that will have on the next season.

Being in the middle of a disaster can kick us into ‘survival’ mode. And while this can get us to react quickly, being reactive is not always helpful.. Decision making when panicked can lead us into greater danger. It’s like flooring it without knowing where you’re going.
When we panic, our body’s accelerator (known as our sympathetic nervous system), is in control. It is sending oxygen to our arms and legs so we can get ready to fight or flee. This means there is less oxygen being sent to our thinking brain, the prefrontal cortex, making it very difficult to think clearly, make plans or take on new information. It’s that fuzzy headed feeling you get when stressed, and the simplest decision or question feels overwhelming.

Research into this response has shown there are some really simple techniques that will help to take the foot off the panic accelerator. Taking a few slow breaths can help redirect the oxygen back to our thinking brain and kick start our brakes known as the parasympathetic nervous system. This helps free us up from the flight or fight symptoms and means you have more mental energy to plan and problem solve.

  • Try this-breath in for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4 and pause. Now as you breath out, breath out slowly, like you are blowing up a balloon for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4. Pause and start again.
  • Ideally continue for 1 minute or longer

This will settle our nervous systems Next, set a mental mindset. This can be a statement that helps us feel more in control such as “I can get through this, one step at a time” or “I’ve got this”. Over time, this phrase will become a point of reset; stopping for one minute to breath and reset, before moving to the next task. This means tasks like calling insurance companies or choosing what to clean first are made a little less daunting.

Regular practice of slowing your breath (also known as grounding), can have long term health benefits such as improved sleep, reducing pain and stress, increasing the body’s ability to heal wounds and can help you pull away from flashbacks and challenging emotions.

Taking time to breath and reset can also help you better respond to the needs of loved ones, particularly kids. It helps us notice distress in others, meaning we are more likely to tend to the distress. For kids, this can be in the way we speak, giving cuddles and connection. Slowing down our own heart rate and breathing helps those around us also slow down. Research has shown us that when we are in panic, we are more likely to disregard our disaster plan and take action that is unplanned and dangerous. Slow breathing is a short-cut to connecting with the part of your brain that keeps you grounded and responsive. Practicing slow breathing through the day won’t make the disaster go away. But it will help you make better decisions, stay calmer and keep you and your loved ones safer.