Farming is in Ian Handcock’s blood. As a teenager in the 1980s, he grew up on a hilly, beef farm on the Coromandel Peninsula during a time when the farming subsidies had been removed.

It was a tough existence, so Ian took his father’s advice and spent 10 years in building and construction after he left school.

He was drawn back into farming after marriage, and in six years he and his wife moved four times, built and sold a house on a lifestyle block, bought their first herd of 260 cows, and had three children. It was a tremendously stressful lifestyle.

“I remember during one calving, a friend came over and made me sit down for a coffee, even though I thought I had work coming out my ears,” Ian says. “We talked about everything but farming, then planned out the coming week. It was like the clouds clearing on an overcast day.”

Recommendations reduce stress

That revelation led Ian towards a new career coaching farmers, and in 2012 he launched an initiative called Fit4Farming, motivated by a desire to help other farmers reduce the stress in their lives.

Ian advises farmers in crisis situations to simply pause. “Stop, organise your thoughts, get help if you need to, plan your next move, then – when you have done all this – move forward.”

He also suggests farmers reduce stress levels by having interests away from their farm and increasing their physical activity.

As a runner, cyclist, and past rugby and netball coach, Ian knows those who are fit and healthy have less stress and less anxiety.

“Even simply riding an old cycle down the farm, playing a game of squash or going for a walk with your neighbour can be hugely rewarding.”

Supporting the art of farming

Ian has noticed that rural communities are gradually starting to change. “Conversations we have on farms now are much different than what they used to be. The language has changed,” he says.

“We used to concentrate on the science of farming – the cows and grass. Now we talk about the art – what makes farmers happy, what they want to achieve. We’re attacking problems from an entirely different angle and getting better results.”

Ian says it is still important to offer support if you see someone is not coping.

“Support is such an important factor with mental wellbeing because it builds confidence in the person so they move forward. More often than not the person has the skills, they just need self-belief and some support from you. The more confidence the person gets from self-recovery, the better equipped they will be next time.”

Join Ian in March 2016, for the inaugural FarmStrong Fit4Farming cycle tour to raise awareness in rural communities of the importance of looking after our mental and physical health and wellbeing.

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