Structure your farm life to make time for yourself

In this week’s Women in Agriculture blog, UFU communications officer Tracey Donaghey discusses the importance of prioritising self-care and Michelle Obama’s relatable family life .

Picture: Cliff Donaldson
Picture: Cliff Donaldson

Looking after our physical and mental health continues to be a crucially important part of lockdown life despite restrictions being softened slightly.

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has always encouraged farmers to look after their own wellbeing, reiterating the message that it’s okay not to be okay and promoting local charity Rural Support’s services.

We have highlighted this even more since lockdown began. Day-to-day life has shifted dramatically due to COVID-19 and created a new type of normal that we’ve had to adjust to. We are living through unprecedented times.

Change is never easy, but it is inevitable and a constant theme in life. The change that COVID-19 has brought has put pressure on our personal wellbeing which is why it is so important to step away and make time for yourself.

Whether you are a full-time farmer, a farmer’s spouse, a son or daughter who is always on call, life on the farm is busy for everyone and down time is scarce. For farming families with young children this brings a whole other set of challenges due to school closures.

Farming families have the most dedicated approach to what they do, producing high-quality food for the nation. So much so that their own needs tend to be constantly pushed down the ladder and sometimes they never reach that top spot. There are a number of factors that could have a part to play in this including farming being a lifestyle rather than a nine to five job and when your home is literally parked in the middle of your business it can be hard to switch off.

No matter how much we enjoy working on the farm or the length of the to do list, there has to be a balance, too much of anything can have a negative effect on our wellbeing.

You’re responsible for your own happiness and our wellbeing and happiness go hand-in-hand. I recently read Michelle Obama’s biography and she shared how after she and Barack had kids, she found herself struggling to find time for herself and grew mad at her husband because he was still going to the gym. I think this is something a lot of women involved in farming can relate to.

During an interview with Gayle King at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, Michelle talked candidly about family life in those early days: “I found myself getting mad at him because he was doing what he needed to do for him. And I think for us as women, we have a hard time putting ourselves on our own priority list, let alone at the top of it.

“And that’s what happens when it comes to our health as women. We are so busy giving and doing for others that we almost feel guilty to take that time out for ourselves, we are trained that way,” she said.

Michelle revealed that the cause of her discontentment was not Barack going to the gym, it was because she was not making the time for herself.

I think it’s really important to not view self-care as a task but as an essential activity like brushing your teeth. It does not have to take up a massive chunk of your day either. Each day I consider two things, where can I make time and how can I utilise this time.

Starting the day a little earlier to exercise is a popular one, perhaps rising twenty minutes before feeding the cattle, but starting the day a little bit later also counts as self-care. I tend to look at lunch time as a great self-care opportunity too, I usually take twenty minutes to read.

Self-care can occur at any time of the day, for as long or as short as you need it to be and has many different forms. Members of farming families, regardless of age or hours spent on the farm should practice it as much as they can because self-care is like good weather, it puts you in a good mood and makes everything that bit brighter.