‘Frontline heroes of food production’ urged to mind health

As frontline heroes of food production, it has never been more important that farmers mind their health, according to the nurse co-ordinator of the hugely successful ‘Fit Farmers’ programme in Roscommon, Laura Tully.

“This is always the busiest time of the year for farmers but the global coronavirus pandemic has brought farmers many unique challenges in early 2020. Maintaining food production and supply is critical and requirements for fresh food such as meat, milk, fruit and vegetables are at their highest,” she said.

As institute nurse and health centre co-ordinator at Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT), with a professional and personal interest in farmer health and well-being, she has developed health advice to ensure that farmers mind their physical and mental health during the pandemic.

“Coronavirus is spread in sneeze or cough droplets. To infect you, it has to get from an infected person’s nose or mouth into your eyes, nose or mouth. This can be direct or indirect – on hands, objects, surfaces. Good hygiene and hand washing in line with physical distancing measures will offer the best protection against coronavirus.

“Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when you cough and sneeze. Avoid touching your face. Don’t share items that touch your face or mouth such as spectacles, drinking bottles or cups,” said Laura.

“Remember to clean and disinfect surfaces regularly. Pay particular attention to frequently touched objects like door handles; the steering wheel; keys; and your phone.

While continuing your farm work is crucial, it is important to restrict your movements and to keep a space of at least 2m from others. If you are over 70 or have a condition which makes you extremely medically vulnerable, you are strongly advised to cocoon, to reduce your risk of getting coronavirus.

“Information on how to cocoon is available from the HSE [Health Service Executive] in order to keep you, your family and others healthy. You must only continue your farm work if you are an essential worker adhering to the HSE guidelines.

“Farmers should carry one form of identification for when they are stopped by Gardaí and ensure that they are carrying out essential duties,” Laura said.

Mind our minds

It’s critical that we mind our mental health during this period of uncertainty, she said.

“The outbreak of the coronavirus is unprecedented; we all have understandable fears and anxieties relating to the evolving situation that we find ourselves in. The advice to self-isolate and distance ourselves from others is the exact opposite of what we want to do in times of crisis,” said Laura.

“It’s vital that we implement measures to ‘mind our minds’ as we adapt to our restricted lifestyle. Use technology such as phones and the internet to connect to others. Try to connect with people who you haven’t heard from in a while or people in your community who are likely to be isolated right now.

“The additional time at home can bring tension but it can also be an ideal opportunity to reconnect and strengthen relationships. Use your opportunity positively.

“The constant stream of news and media can be overwhelming so try to limit your exposure and opt instead to check the news once a day. Rely on trustworthy sources for information such as RTÉ news and the HSE,” Laura said.

Sleep disturbances can interfere with physical, mental and emotional functioning so a healthy sleep habit can make a big difference to your quality of life and could even affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.

“While sleep can elude many farmers due to the unpredictability of calving and lambing at the moment, farmers should where possible aim for seven hours sleep per night. You should stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time to help regulate your body’s clock.

A calming activity such as reading during the last hour before bed, away from electronics, will promote sleep, Laura said.

“If you associate any particular activity with anxiety about sleeping such as watching the news, then mind yourself by omitting it from your bedtime routine. Your bedroom should be dark, quiet and tidy.

“Avoid alcohol, cigarettes and heavy meals in the evening as they can disrupt sleep. If you’re still having trouble sleeping, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor.”


Routines allow us to establish structure and predictability in our days and in turn, help us feel safe, she said.

“It’s important that we establish new routines at this time as the more habitual our days become, the less burden there will be on our brain, freeing it up for cognitive functions like our ability to cope in difficult situations.

Benefit your mental health by establishing a routine which includes a healthy diet and daily exercise. Aim to have five to seven portions of fruit and vegetables per day and remember that tinned foods and frozen fruit and vegetables can be just as healthy as fresh varieties.

“Drink more water; ditch the fizzy drinks; replace biscuits with fruit; add vegetables to dinner; and control portion sizes. Include oily fish twice a week and eat less processed food. Avoid alcohol. Your food and mood are linked so make a healthier choice to reap the benefits,” Laura said.

For those not physically active, it’s important that they move their body every hour they are awake, she said.

“Exercise is a natural anti-depressant, it breaks up the day and keeps us healthy. When you are outdoors, pause and listen to nature. Focus on the present moment. As we contemplate what is happening to our world, find your peace by pausing and listening to the sounds of nature,” said Laura.

“Take individual walks within the 2km radius of your home daily or try some of the numerous online workouts at home,” said Laura, who added that Age and Opportunity Ireland is sending free physical activity DVDs to those who are cocooning.

Those interested should email: [email protected] with their postal address.

Be prepared

Being prepared in case of emergency is vital, according to Laura.

“Accidents can happen and people will develop other ailments and illness. If you become unwell in any way, phone your doctor or the emergency services. Don’t be afraid of seeking help when you need it. It is a good idea to have a list of your medications ready as well as making sure you know your PPS number and Eircode.

Have a little First Aid kit ready with paracetamol and a thermometer if you have one. It is no harm to have a hospital bag assembled in the event you might need it. Ensure your phone is fully charged and has credit.

“If you develop symptoms of coronavirus, self-isolate immediately and phone your GP. If you meet specific clinical criteria your doctor will arrange a test for you. The most important thing will be to treat the symptoms and monitor your condition. Your doctor will advise you on how to do this,” Laura said.

“If you are waiting on a test, spend some time writing a retrospective 14-day list of close contacts and their phone numbers which will be of help to the people contact tracing in the event you have coronavirus.

“At this point, your close contacts list should be very short and only contain those in your household. The Department of Agriculture has set up a phone information line to assist farmers with queries in relation to current croronavirus restrictions on: 076-106 4468.

Online services and information are on: www.agriculture.gov.ie.