Rural areas have some of their own special stressors

This time of year when school is back in session, and sports practices and games are one after another, it’s easy forget this is a place people come to relax and get away from “it all”.   The Virginia Cooperative Extension Service offers some information on stress, particularly in rural areas, and in some cases how it is specific to farming. One of the references cited is a publication called The Rural Stress Tool Book prepared by Julie Bidwell RN, BScN. Rural Health Extension Program, for the Centre for Agricultural Medicine, University of Saskatchewan.   It includes workbook pages with self-screenings, and information on coping skills. The exercises are introduced with the following overview intended to raise our own awareness of what we may be experiencing.

“Stress is your reaction to any change you perceive as a challenge or threat. Stress isn’t all in your head but that’s where it starts. Events don’t cause stress; it’s how you interpret and react to them that does. Adrenalin and other chemicals are pumped into your bloodstream. Your heart rate and breathing become faster, muscles tense up and the body prepares for action. This fight or flight response makes you stronger and more alert in the short term. It can help you meet challenges and accomplish goals. In a crisis, it can help you do things you didn’t know were possible. High levels of adrenalin and other chemicals, meant to be a short-term response, are harmful when they continue indefinitely. The results can include high blood pressure, heart disease, changes in your body’s ability to fight off infection, depression and other diseases. Some authorities believe up to three-quarters of disease is stress-related. “

The Tool Book mentions how rural areas experience different kinds of stressors.

“Things that are beyond your control and that last for a long time create the most stress. Weather, market prices, equipment breakdown, interest rates, and government policy are just some of the stressors beyond the control of farmers. Rural town-dwellers can’t control the loss of business and services due to depopulation. Families and communities can’t control the closure of schools and health care facilities, the increased driving distances that result, and the loss of friends and family who move to the city.

Perceptions of stress and reactions to stress are individual. Some people will be severely stressed in response to an incident or set of circumstances and others will think it is nothing. However you react is OK. If your partner is stressed because of something and you’re not, neither of you is “right”. The two of you just react differently. People experience a wide variety of symptoms when they are stressed.”

The Rural Health Extension Toolbox sites a range of physical symptoms, emotions and behaviors from tight neck and shoulders, and pounding heart to overeating, and a tendency to over-react or lash out.

Stress can’t be cured but it can be managed. Learning to manage stress is a three-part process. First you identify the symptoms and the causes. Then you learn the skills to manage it; and thirdly, you learn how to use those skills. How you deal with stress depends on the source. If it’s caused by something beyond your control, your only alternative may be to learn acceptance. At other times, coping skills may help you adapt to the stress or alter the situation. When stress is caused by something you can control, you can take action to change the situation. Just as people differ in the way they perceive and react to stress, people differ in how well they manage stress. The ability to cope with stress depends partly on temperament or inherited disposition, partly on previous experience dealing with stress, and partly on the availability of support systems. Anyone can learn skills to help manage stress more effectively. Four types of skills are required: ✔ Awareness skills ✔ Acceptance skills ✔ Coping skills ✔ Action skills. The link to the complete Tool Book and work pages is available on the Virginia Cooperative Extension website, and at


Story By

Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

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