Pork producers, please keep talking

Ted Matthews advises producers to focus on lowering stress, lean on family during COVID-19 crisis.

Ann Hess, Content Director

May 6, 2020

5 Min Read

Family. That's the universal reply Ted Matthews gets every time he asks a farmer, "what's the most important thing in your life?" Now as many pork producers across the Midwest are wading through one of the most stressful, emotional and tragic times in their careers, he's asking producers to not forget that answer — family.

"Prove it by making that family a part of your discussions as to what's going on with you, rather than think you're saving them from that, you're actually doing just the opposite," Matthews said during a National Pork Board webinar Tuesday. "Every person in your family will know that you are going through all of those things and most of them will truly want to help you. But they can't help you if they don't know what it is that you're talking about. So make sure you identify the family as a truly important part and your spouse as the person to lean on because if you lean on them, they'll lean on you and together you can do a whole lot better."

A mental health practitioner with more than 30 years of experience in counseling in rural areas and an emphasis in farmer mental health support for the past two decades, Matthews has already fielded several calls from hog producers forced to euthanize animals due to plant closures caused by COVID-19. He describes their stress levels as "scary high" and says it is critical producers find a way to lower those levels.

"One of the things that people always need to recognize is we're all different, so how much we can handle, that's an individual thing. When we're looking at those things, we need to focus for one, on how much can I take, and how do I bring down my stress levels, so I don't reach that peak," says Matthews. "Nobody knows how bad it's going to get and the way we do those things is to rely a lot on family and close friends. Talk about what's going on, talk about what's going on with you. Bringing down that stress, just talking about it will be helpful."

Producers may not like the concept of lowering stress and just want it fixed, but Matthews says right now making it a little bit better is the best they can do.

"As our stress level gets higher, we don't know how much we can handle, so anything we can do to lower it some is helpful and communicating is probably one of the most important things, communicating with anyone," Matthews says.

While "call Ted" has become a common phrase across agricultural media channels, Matthews says communicating with these producers is not just a job for psychologists right now, it's a job for communities.

"Psychologists obviously play a role, but everyone in the community plays a role and everyone in the farming community plays a role," Matthews says. "We need to look at this as we're in this together, and that means our clergy, our friends, our spouses."

Matthews cautions producers that when they are under this stress level, the tendency is to get angry — angry at themselves, angry at the situation, angry at employees and staff.

"We tend to say things that we don't mean when we are angry, and we might only feel those things for a few seconds but whoever we say them to, they'll remember them forever," Matthews says. "Understand that keeping your anger under control is important and the first thing about that you need to remember is anger by itself does not exist. There's no such thing. What emotion is triggering that anger? Is it stress? Is it feeling pain, emotional pain? Is it jealousy? Lots of soft emotions create anger, so by identifying that, I can talk that through."

When discussing these stressful events, he also says it's important to remember men and women don't think alike or talk alike. When under high stress, men are more likely to pull back; for women the higher the stress level, the more they need to talk it through. Knowing those differences in communication style can help lower frustration later and help keep anger under control.

Finally, Matthews says producers need to be nice to themselves.

"Oftentimes we are our own worst enemy. We focus on what's wrong with us, what we could have done, what we should have done instead of what we have done and what we are doing," Matthews says. "The hardest thing in the world to do is to be nice to ourselves, and the easiest thing is to look at other people and really focus on helping them."

Give yourself a break, look at your faults as part of your being and let people support and help you get through it, Matthews says.

"Strong family values only exist if we let them in. If we don't let them in, it doesn't matter how strong our family values are, we have to be a part of that family. Oftentimes the male in the family will pull back and pull back to the point where they aren't really a part of that family. They need to be," Matthews says. "Family becomes so important and that's the one thing that you can hold on to, and that's the one thing that you need to hold on to."

Matthews invites pork producers and their families to reach out to him at 320-266-2390.

About the Author(s)

Ann Hess

Content Director, National Hog Farmer

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