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HERd Management: How a newfound hobby is helping me battle work-related stress and anxiety

Ashley Messing-Kennedy for Progressive Dairy Published on 31 March 2020

If you follow along with any of my social media profiles, or you have read my past HERd management columns, you might know 2019 was a difficult year for me. I have been battling mild anxiety and depression while managing our farm with my husband.

I’m also a mom to two little girls under 3, and I’m still attempting to maintain my identity as Ashley, all while having the regular life stuff thrown at me. We all know it can be so tough.

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During these past months, I have been working closely with my doctors, and we have tried so many things. We tried medication. We tried exercise. We changed my diet. We tried everything that could get me out of my funk. I wasn’t in a deep depression, but I also wasn’t myself. Everyone in my life had noticed I didn’t seem normal. It’s been a frustrating circle to be in, and it’s tough to dig yourself out of a circle.

One day, I was following my regular routine. I was out in the barn working while I was listening to podcasts. If you need a good podcast recommendation, I’m your gal. I regularly rotate through 60-plus different ones. I’ve covered almost any subject matter you can imagine. I was listening to a podcast about how doing a hobby with other people can decrease the effects of anxiety and depression. Don’t ask me to send you the research; I honestly cannot remember what podcast I was listening to.

But it got me thinking – maybe I should make myself do something I enjoy with other people. Gasp, actually go do something with people instead of just hiding out in my house?! I naturally am an outgoing person, but the working dynamic of being a boss can be draining, especially when I am in a time of abnormally high stress. As a reaction, I had decided to hide out in my house, avoid going out and drink copious amounts of wine. I will never tell anyone to stop drinking wine unless it becomes a serious issue for health and safety.

I went out on a limb and posted on Facebook asking if anyone in my local area would be interested in a running group. I played it off as an accountability group, but I really needed to go do something with actual humans. Since I started the group, we have been growing in size slowly but surely. I look forward to meeting up each Saturday morning at 6 a.m. with my small, dedicated band of road warriors.

The craziest thing is: I have found I feel more positive through the week. I have something I enjoy with people I like to be around, and it has helped me to feel less depressed and anxious. When I feel the depression or anxiety creeping up on me, I am able to step back and control them. I’m doing something good for myself in more ways than I thought a run group could. Interacting with humans has been my tiny version of Xanax that doesn’t need a pill. Could it be totally anecdotal, that I already had it in my head since I listened to it? Sure. But do I care? Nope.

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I see so many dairy farmers who only do farming. Don’t get me wrong; I love farming. There is a reason why I have fought hard to farm with my husband. But when times are tough on the farm, we all need a place to blow off steam, preferably in a healthy, safe manner. I highly encourage every farmer to find a hobby. For me it’s running, and in difficult times it has brought me a lot of joy. For my husband, it is his weekly bowling league where he spends time with his friends.

Find your “thing,” regardless of what it is. I will throw out a few you might not have thought of: woodworking, blacksmithing, glass blowing, pottery or taking a dance class. Find something to do that brings you joy, relieves stress or just throws you out of your everyday schedule. You just might find a group of friends with a common interest that you never would have met any other way. Share stories. Talk about stress. Or just go and try to forget for a while. You just might find it could lighten those clouds just a little bit.  end mark

Ashley Messing-Kennedy

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