To say that farming is a stressful industry is putting it lightly.

Every year, farmers face inflation, fluctuating crop prices, expensive equipment upkeep and a high risk of injury. Farming is consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States and is five times deadlier than firefighting. Stir into the mix a global pandemic which severely disrupted supply chains and interrupted many industries that collaborate with farming, and you have a recipe for an incredibly overwhelming and difficult year.

Of course, stress itself isn’t necessarily bad. Everyone experiences stress from time to time, and in acute situations, stress can actually be beneficial by motivating you to take action or respond appropriately to a life-threatening situation.

But when stress becomes chronic and your nervous system repeatedly shifts into the “fight or flight” response, long-term health problems can arise.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and a good time to learn more about stress and how it can impact your health and safety. Here are three things to know:

1. Chronic stress is hazardous to your health.

Being chronically stressed triggers pro-inflammatory changes in your brain, body and nervous system that can make you sick. Stressed-out farmers often have trouble sleeping, focusing and making decisions. No wonder excess stress is responsible for a majority of work-related accidents. And chronic stress leads to other long-term health issues.

2. Chronic stress is a growing problem.

Only farmers and their families can truly appreciate how challenging this industry is. But for better or worse, chronic stress isn’t unique to farming.

According to the American Psychology Association, one in three Americans are currently dealing with extreme stress levels, and one in two Americans say their stress levels have increased in the past five years.

Why the rising prevalence? Global pandemic aside, factors like politics, the economy, the environment, family, work, money and other life events like divorce and job loss are on the forefront of many people’s minds. For farmers, concerns over things like shrinking profit margins, on-the-job accidents, weather and crop yields also add a lot to the plate.

Here’s the takeaway: If you and your loved ones are struggling with physical and mental effects of stress, please know you are not alone.

3. Reach out for help if you’re feeling overworked.

Farmers and their loved ones are as a diverse and unique bunch of individuals as any other demographic in this country. Many farmers live up to the stereotype of being self-sufficient, stoic and “salt of the earth” folks. These are wonderful traits, but they can also make it hard for some farmers to reach out for help, express their needs and talk about their mental or physical health concerns.

Please reach out if you’re feeling stressed. You could have an underlying mental health condition that would benefit from treatment. And sometimes it just helps to talk.

The Southern Illinois University School of Medicine Center for Rural Health and Social Services Development partners with our rural and agricultural neighbors through our Farm Family Resource Initiative. We are currently piloting a program in Christian, Logan, Macon, Macoupin, Morgan and Sangamon counties, and hope to expand if funding permits.

We have established a 24/7 helpline at 1-833-FARM-SOS for farmers and their families. Again, you are not alone. We all need someone we can talk to.

Karen Leavitt Stallman is an agriculture resource specialist working with the Farm Family Resource Initiative for the Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. She and her husband, Ed, farm near Ellis Grove in Randolph County.