“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine / You make me happy, when skies are grey / You’ll never know dear, how much I love you / Please don’t take my sunshine away…”

Growing up, that was one of my favorite songs to hear my mom sing to me and my siblings. Now I enjoy hearing her sing it to my nieces and nephew, but thanks to coronavirus I haven’t been able to experience it lately. More isolated now than ever before, how do we find that sunshine — that light at the end of this tunnel?

Enduring 2019 was hard enough; now the unanswered questions 2020 is asking only increases our stress. From market access and depressed prices to just making everyday ends meet, we are facing unprecedented new challenges.

So: We. Are. STRESSED!

Some stress is normal even in everyday situations; what makes the difference is how you handle that stress. During the first “Feed Your Soul” retreat for women in agriculture, Cultivate Balance founder Sarah Zastrow (a Midland County Farm Bureau member) talks about the responsibility ‘pie’ and how, with all the stress and pressure we face, we must first identify that small piece of the pie we can control: OURSELVES.

We control how we react, respond and engage. Once we’ve identified our slice of the responsibility pie, we can learn to give ourselves some grace and finding the good — all vital to developing a healthy mindset.

Three tactics MSU Extension recommends for developing a healthy mindset are: positive self-talkdeep breathing or meditation, and practicing acceptance of what we can control.

Also consider integrating a gratitude practice into your daily routine. Keep a notepad next to your coffee pot to write down three good things from the previous day like Sarah does. Saginaw County member Amanda Sollman jots hers down in her planner throughout the day.

Find a way to bring your entire family into the practice by sharing around the table at dinner. Share what you are #quarantinegrateful for on social media, like Ogemaw County member Elaine Palm.

If you were at the 2020 Young Farmer Leaders Conference, you heard speaker Paul Long encourage us to ingrain healthy mindset practices by greeting others with “What’s good?” — challenging them to respond in the positive. MFB’s State Young Farmer Committee took that advice to heart; their weekly confabs are now “What’s Good Wednesdays.”

Deep breathing or meditation can look different for everyone. If technology is your thing, there are breathing apps for your smartphone. A trick I picked up from a friend for when I’m so stressed I can’t focus — “brain fog” —is to look in a mirror and envision myself blowing that fog out of my head with each breath.

Farmers we are constantly on the go, so how do you work such practices into your day? Find what works best for you.

Another effective stress-management tool is physical exercise, which most farming already has plenty of. If you can’t work in a short walk, just take a moment after stacking hay bales. If you’re walking fields scouting for pests, take some time for your brain chemistry to do its job reducing stress before moving right onto the next task.

More than anything, understand that you — that we — are not alone in this, and that it’s okay to reach out for help and just to talk with someone. Don’t hesitate to seek out a counselor or therapist when needed.

A good starting point is MSU Extension’s Farm Stress Program, now equipped to connect farmers with online counseling resources. In many conversations with Barb Smith, director of the Barb Smith Suicide Resource and Response Network, she’s said how farmers sometimes care for their tractors better than they care for themselves. Don’t forget and don’t neglect you — the only piece of the pie you can control!

As challenges come at us from every angle, and it gets harder to see light at the end of the tunnel, don’t forget that song my mom and so many others taught us:

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine… Please don’t take my sunshine away!”

Becca Gulliver is MFB’s Regional Manager in the Saginaw Valley, serving Farm Bureau members in Bay, Gratiot, Isabella, Midland and Saginaw counties.

Farm stress resources