Stress Symptoms, Signs, and Causes

Improving Your Ability to Handle Stress

Stress isn’t always bad. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. But when you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price. If you frequently find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance. You can protect yourself—and improve how you think and feel—by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of chronic stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.
What is stress?
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the “stress response.”

The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid a car accident.

Stress can also help you rise to meet challenges. It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV. But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, mood, productivity, relationships, and your quality of life.

Fight-or-flight response: what happens in the body
When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed up your reaction time, and enhance your focus—preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.

The effects of chronic stress
Your nervous system isn’t very good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats. If you’re super stressed over an argument with a friend, a work deadline, or a mountain of bills, your body can react just as strongly as if you’re facing a true life-or-death situation. And the more your emergency stress system is activated, the easier it becomes to trigger, making it harder to shut off.

If you tend to get stressed out frequently, like many of us in today’s demanding world, your body may exist in a heightened state of stress most of the time. And that can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can suppress your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speed up the aging process. It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.

Health problems caused or exacerbated by stress include:

Depression and anxiety
Pain of any kind
Sleep problems
Autoimmune diseases
Digestive problems
Skin conditions, such as eczema
Heart disease
Weight problems
Reproductive issues
Thinking and memory problems
Signs and symptoms of stress overload
The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you. You get used to it. It starts to feel familiar, even normal. You don’t notice how much it’s affecting you, even as it takes a heavy toll. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress overload.

Cognitive symptoms:

Memory problems
Inability to concentrate
Poor judgment
Seeing only the negative
Anxious or racing thoughts
Constant worrying
Emotional symptoms:

Depression or general unhappiness
Anxiety and agitation
Moodiness, irritability, or anger
Feeling overwhelmed
Loneliness and isolation
Other mental or emotional health problems
Physical symptoms:

Aches and pains
Diarrhea or constipation
Nausea, dizziness
Chest pain, rapid heart rate
Loss of sex drive
Frequent colds or flu
Behavioral symptoms:

Eating more or less
Sleeping too much or too little
Withdrawing from others
Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)
Causes of stress
The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that puts high demands on you can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.

Of course, not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be internal or self-generated, when you worry excessively about something that may or may not happen, or have irrational, pessimistic thoughts about life.

Finally, what causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it. Something that’s stressful to you may not faze someone else; they may even enjoy it. While some of us are terrified of getting up in front of people to perform or speak, for example, others live for the spotlight. Where one person thrives under pressure and performs best in the face of a tight deadline, another will shut down when work demands escalate. And while you may enjoy helping to care for your elderly parents, your siblings may find the demands of caretaking overwhelming and stressful.

Common external causes of stress include:

Major life changes
Work or school
Relationship difficulties
Financial problems
Being too busy
Children and family
Common internal causes of stress include:

Pessimism
Inability to accept uncertainty
Rigid thinking, lack of flexibility
Negative self-talk
Unrealistic expectations / perfectionism
All-or-nothing attitude
Top 10 stressful life events
According to the widely validated Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, these are the top ten stressful life events for adults that can contribute to illness:

Death of a spouse
Divorce
Marriage separation
Imprisonment
Death of a close family member
Injury or illness
Marriage
Job loss
Marriage reconciliation
Retirement
What’s stressful for you?
Whatever event or situation is stressing you out, there are ways of coping with the problem and regaining your balance. Some of life’s most common sources of stress include:

Stress at work
While some workplace stress is normal, excessive stress can interfere with your productivity and performance, impact your physical and emotional health, and affect your relationships and home life. It can even determine the difference between success and failure on the job. Whatever your ambitions or work demands, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the damaging effects of stress, improve your job satisfaction, and bolster your well-being in and out of the workplace.

Job loss and unemployment stress
Losing a job is one of life’s most stressful experiences. It’s normal to feel angry, hurt, or depressed, grieve for all that you’ve lost, or feel anxious about what the future holds. Job loss and unemployment involves a lot of change all at once, which can rock your sense of purpose and self-esteem. While the stress can seem overwhelming, there are many steps you can take to come out of this difficult period stronger, more resilient, and with a renewed sense of purpose.

Caregiver stress
The demands of caregiving can be overwhelming, especially if you feel that you’re in over your head or have little control over the situation. If the stress of caregiving is left unchecked, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind — eventually leading to burnout. However, there are plenty of things you can do to rein in the stress of caregiving and regain a sense of balance, joy, and hope in your life.

Grief and loss
Coping with the loss of someone or something you love is one of life’s biggest stressors. Often, the pain and stress of loss can feel overwhelming. You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness. While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can ease your sadness and help you come to terms with your loss, find new meaning, and move on with your life.

How much stress is too much?
Because of the widespread damage stress can cause, it’s important to know your own limit. But just how much stress is “too much” differs from person to person. Some people seem to be able to roll with life’s punches, while others tend to crumble in the face of small obstacles or frustrations. Some people even thrive on the excitement of a high-stress lifestyle.

Factors that influence your stress tolerance level include:

Your support network. A strong network of supportive friends and family members is an enormous buffer against stress. When you have people you can count on, life’s pressures don’t seem as overwhelming. On the flip side, the lonelier and more isolated you are, the greater your risk of succumbing to stress.

Your sense of control. If you have confidence in yourself and your ability to influence events and persevere through challenges, it’s easier to take stress in stride. On the other hand, if you believe that you have little control over your life—that you’re at the mercy of your environment and circumstances—stress is more likely to knock you off course.

Your attitude and outlook. The way you look at life and its inevitable challenges makes a huge difference in your ability to handle stress. If you’re generally hopeful and optimistic, you’ll be less vulnerable. Stress-hardy people tend to embrace challenges, have a stronger sense of humor, believe in a higher purpose, and accept change as an inevitable part of life.

Your ability to deal with your emotions. If you don’t know how to calm and soothe yourself when you’re feeling sad, angry, or troubled, you’re more likely to become stressed and agitated. Having the ability to identify and deal appropriately with your emotions can increase your tolerance to stress and help you bounce back from adversity.

Your knowledge and preparation. The more you know about a stressful situation, including how long it will last and what to expect, the easier it is to cope. For example, if you go into surgery with a realistic picture of what to expect post-op, a painful recovery will be less stressful than if you were expecting to bounce back immediately.

Improving your ability to handle stress
Get moving. Upping your activity level is one tactic you can employ right now to help relieve stress and start to feel better. Regular exercise can lift your mood and serve as a distraction from worries, allowing you to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed stress. Rhythmic exercises such as walking, running, swimming, and dancing are particularly effective, especially if you exercise mindfully (focusing your attention on the physical sensations you experience as you move).

Connect to others. The simple act of talking face-to-face with another human can trigger hormones that relieve stress when you’re feeling agitated or insecure. Even just a brief exchange of kind words or a friendly look from another human being can help calm and soothe your nervous system. So, spend time with people who improve your mood and don’t let your responsibilities keep you from having a social life. If you don’t have any close relationships, or your relationships are the source of your stress, make it a priority to build stronger and more satisfying connections.

Engage your senses. Another fast way to relieve stress is by engaging one or more of your senses—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement. The key is to find the sensory input that works for you. Does listening to an uplifting song make you feel calm? Or smelling ground coffee? Or maybe petting an animal works quickly to make you feel centered? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so experiment to find what works best for you.

Learn to relax. You can’t completely eliminate stress from your life, but you can control how much it affects you. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the polar opposite of the stress response. When practiced regularly, these activities can reduce your everyday stress levels and boost feelings of joy and serenity. They also increase your ability to stay calm and collected under pressure.

Eat a healthy diet. The food you eat can improve or worsen your mood and affect your ability to cope with life’s stressors. Eating a diet full of processed and convenience food, refined carbohydrates, and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of stress, while a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, can help you better cope with life’s ups and downs.

Get your rest. Feeling tired can increase stress by causing you to think irrationally. At the same time, chronic stress can disrupt your sleep. Whether you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, there are plenty of ways to improve your sleep so you feel less stressed and more productive and emotionally balanced.Stress isn’t always bad. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. But when you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price. If you frequently find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance. You can protect yourself—and improve how you think and feel—by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of chronic stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.

What is stress?

Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the “stress response.”

The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid a car accident.

Stress can also help you rise to meet challenges. It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV. But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, mood, productivity, relationships, and your quality of life.

Fight-or-flight response: what happens in the body

When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed up your reaction time, and enhance your focus—preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.

The effects of chronic stress

Your nervous system isn’t very good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats. If you’re super stressed over an argument with a friend, a work deadline, or a mountain of bills, your body can react just as strongly as if you’re facing a true life-or-death situation. And the more your emergency stress system is activated, the easier it becomes to trigger, making it harder to shut off.

If you tend to get stressed out frequently, like many of us in today’s demanding world, your body may exist in a heightened state of stress most of the time. And that can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can suppress your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speed up the aging process. It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.

Health problems caused or exacerbated by stress include:

  1. Depression and anxiety
  2. Pain of any kind
  3. Sleep problems
  4. Autoimmune diseases
  5. Digestive problems
  1. Skin conditions, such as eczema
  2. Heart disease
  3. Weight problems
  4. Reproductive issues
  5. Thinking and memory problems

Signs and symptoms of stress overload

The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you. You get used to it. It starts to feel familiar, even normal. You don’t notice how much it’s affecting you, even as it takes a heavy toll. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress overload.

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor judgment
  • Seeing only the negative
  • Anxious or racing thoughts
  • Constant worrying

Emotional symptoms:

  • Depression or general unhappiness
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Moodiness, irritability, or anger
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Other mental or emotional health problems

Physical symptoms:

  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heart rate
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent colds or flu

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Eating more or less
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
  • Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)

Causes of stress

The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that puts high demands on you can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.

Of course, not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be internal or self-generated, when you worry excessively about something that may or may not happen, or have irrational, pessimistic thoughts about life.

Finally, what causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it. Something that’s stressful to you may not faze someone else; they may even enjoy it. While some of us are terrified of getting up in front of people to perform or speak, for example, others live for the spotlight. Where one person thrives under pressure and performs best in the face of a tight deadline, another will shut down when work demands escalate. And while you may enjoy helping to care for your elderly parents, your siblings may find the demands of caretaking overwhelming and stressful.

Common external causes of stress include:

  • Major life changes
  • Work or school
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Financial problems
  • Being too busy
  • Children and family

Common internal causes of stress include:

  • Pessimism
  • Inability to accept uncertainty
  • Rigid thinking, lack of flexibility
  • Negative self-talk
  • Unrealistic expectations / perfectionism
  • All-or-nothing attitude

Top 10 stressful life events

According to the widely validated Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, these are the top ten stressful life events for adults that can contribute to illness:

  1. Death of a spouse
  2. Divorce
  3. Marriage separation
  4. Imprisonment
  5. Death of a close family member
  6. Injury or illness
  7. Marriage
  8. Job loss
  9. Marriage reconciliation
  10. Retirement

What’s stressful for you?

Whatever event or situation is stressing you out, there are ways of coping with the problem and regaining your balance. Some of life’s most common sources of stress include:

Stress at work

While some workplace stress is normal, excessive stress can interfere with your productivity and performance, impact your physical and emotional health, and affect your relationships and home life. It can even determine the difference between success and failure on the job. Whatever your ambitions or work demands, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the damaging effects of stress, improve your job satisfaction, and bolster your well-being in and out of the workplace.

Job loss and unemployment stress

Losing a job is one of life’s most stressful experiences. It’s normal to feel angry, hurt, or depressed, grieve for all that you’ve lost, or feel anxious about what the future holds. Job loss and unemployment involves a lot of change all at once, which can rock your sense of purpose and self-esteem. While the stress can seem overwhelming, there are many steps you can take to come out of this difficult period stronger, more resilient, and with a renewed sense of purpose.

Caregiver stress

The demands of caregiving can be overwhelming, especially if you feel that you’re in over your head or have little control over the situation. If the stress of caregiving is left unchecked, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind — eventually leading to burnout. However, there are plenty of things you can do to rein in the stress of caregiving and regain a sense of balance, joy, and hope in your life.

Grief and loss

Coping with the loss of someone or something you love is one of life’s biggest stressors. Often, the pain and stress of loss can feel overwhelming. You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness. While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can ease your sadness and help you come to terms with your loss, find new meaning, and move on with your life.

How much stress is too much?

Because of the widespread damage stress can cause, it’s important to know your own limit. But just how much stress is “too much” differs from person to person. Some people seem to be able to roll with life’s punches, while others tend to crumble in the face of small obstacles or frustrations. Some people even thrive on the excitement of a high-stress lifestyle.

Factors that influence your stress tolerance level include:

Your support network. A strong network of supportive friends and family members is an enormous buffer against stress. When you have people you can count on, life’s pressures don’t seem as overwhelming. On the flip side, the lonelier and more isolated you are, the greater your risk of succumbing to stress.

Your sense of control. If you have confidence in yourself and your ability to influence events and persevere through challenges, it’s easier to take stress in stride. On the other hand, if you believe that you have little control over your life—that you’re at the mercy of your environment and circumstances—stress is more likely to knock you off course.

Your attitude and outlook. The way you look at life and its inevitable challenges makes a huge difference in your ability to handle stress. If you’re generally hopeful and optimistic, you’ll be less vulnerable. Stress-hardy people tend to embrace challenges, have a stronger sense of humor, believe in a higher purpose, and accept change as an inevitable part of life.

Your ability to deal with your emotions. If you don’t know how to calm and soothe yourself when you’re feeling sad, angry, or troubled, you’re more likely to become stressed and agitated. Having the ability to identify and deal appropriately with your emotions can increase your tolerance to stress and help you bounce back from adversity.

Your knowledge and preparation. The more you know about a stressful situation, including how long it will last and what to expect, the easier it is to cope. For example, if you go into surgery with a realistic picture of what to expect post-op, a painful recovery will be less stressful than if you were expecting to bounce back immediately.

Improving your ability to handle stress

 

Get moving. Upping your activity level is one tactic you can employ right now to help relieve stress and start to feel better. Regular exercise can lift your mood and serve as a distraction from worries, allowing you to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed stress. Rhythmic exercises such as walking, running, swimming, and dancing are particularly effective, especially if you exercise mindfully (focusing your attention on the physical sensations you experience as you move).

Connect to others. The simple act of talking face-to-face with another human can trigger hormones that relieve stress when you’re feeling agitated or insecure. Even just a brief exchange of kind words or a friendly look from another human being can help calm and soothe your nervous system. So, spend time with people who improve your mood and don’t let your responsibilities keep you from having a social life. If you don’t have any close relationships, or your relationships are the source of your stress, make it a priority to build stronger and more satisfying connections.

Engage your senses. Another fast way to relieve stress is by engaging one or more of your senses—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement. The key is to find the sensory input that works for you. Does listening to an uplifting song make you feel calm? Or smelling ground coffee? Or maybe petting an animal works quickly to make you feel centered? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so experiment to find what works best for you.

Learn to relax. You can’t completely eliminate stress from your life, but you can control how much it affects you. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the polar opposite of the stress response. When practiced regularly, these activities can reduce your everyday stress levels and boost feelings of joy and serenity. They also increase your ability to stay calm and collected under pressure.

Eat a healthy diet. The food you eat can improve or worsen your mood and affect your ability to cope with life’s stressors. Eating a diet full of processed and convenience food, refined carbohydrates, and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of stress, while a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, can help you better cope with life’s ups and downs.

Get your rest. Feeling tired can increase stress by causing you to think irrationally. At the same time, chronic stress can disrupt your sleep. Whether you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, there are plenty of ways to improve your sleep so you feel less stressed and more productive and emotionally balanced.

Meanings in Conversations

CREDIT

That’s not what I said.

That’s not what I meant.

You took it the wrong way.

Why can’t you see things from my point of view?

What I was trying to say was…

In any meaningful conversation, where what’s said and what’s heard is equally important on all sides, the truth is rarely heard simply as stated. Usually, there’s what someone says and then there’s what someone hears. It’s a miracle that we don’t miscommunicate more.

In all honesty, language and conversation is something we take for granted. But in these turbulent, divisive and also promising times, communication is of vital importance. Those who can engage someone empathetically, showing an ability to understand and share the feelings of another, can create bridges that sow divides and create thriving communities.

But you have to care.

You have to believe in something bigger than yourself or any one person or thing.

The vision and meaning of togetherness must carry greater purpose and prominence collectively…for all.

The difference between utterance and discernment, after all these centuries of communicating with one another, still leaves much to be desired. Dialogue is so much more complicated than speaking and listening. The distance between the two is separated by an incredible array of everyday obstructions: cognitive biases, experiences, emotions, and self-centeredness on every side.

The art and science of language and communication are just that…art and science. Expression and significance are often left to the senses of the beholder, regardless of intent.

Let’s appreciate that the coalescence of thoughts, ideas, and purpose create a complex stream that’s truly unique to each person. Someone has to take the first step. Someone has to see the bigger picture. Someone has to understand the other…first.

Regardless of what is or what should be and why, most times, other people aren’t going to take the first step. But that’s the true opportunity for empathetic leadership.

Don’t just try to get closer.
Don’t just listen.
Don’t just repeat what you head back to someone.
Don’t just feel sorry for someone…that’s sympathy, not empathy.

Empathetic leadership is just that…leading the way by taking steps toward someone and somewhere else. Become a bridgebuilder.

Listen and commit your undivided attention to the conversation.
Ask questions.
Refrain from judgment and assumptions.
Consider different perspectives and angles.
Seek common ground.
Acknowledge another’s feelings and show emotional support (EQ=emotional intelligence)
Relate – show care and concern.
Mirror someone’s form of communication and nonverbal signals.

Empathetic leadership is a skill and a competitive advantage. In a world seemingly rife with divisiveness, fear, and confusion, this is exactly what the world needs more of right now…engagement, harmony, and community.

Take the first step.

8 traits for effectively leading the family ranch forward

Amanda Radke

I received a phone call from a college student recently. He was a freshman studying animal science and had been assigned the task of interviewing beef industry leaders to learn about their careers and to gain advice and insights for their own futures in agriculture.

I took the call while driving to a FFA fundraiser where I was speaking, and he asked me a wide variety of questions. What would you do differently in your college years? What advice would you give to a college student wanting to be involved in the industry? Who do you look up to in agriculture? What motivates you in your career? Why is it so difficult to bridge the gap between consumers and producers?

Honestly, the conversation spurred many ideas for future columns.

However, one question in particular got me thinking during my road trip. He asked me, “What challenges do you face on your family ranch?”

“I noticed I was placing the burden squarely on my folks to figure everything out. That’s when I realized that I hadn’t necessarily expressed these concerns or vocalized how much or how little we were willing to take on, should my parents decide they are ready to retire.”

Admittedly, I had a hard time answering at first. Our problems seem so “common,” and I wasn’t sure which one to pinpoint as a challenge worth noting. Do we communicate well? Is our transition plan solid? Does our multi-generational business operate as smoothly as it could? Is there room for improvement?

We certainly don’t want to “push” him out before he’s ready. On the contrary, I could use a little more time to get my own affairs in order, so I feel confident and financially secure to purchase assets as he transitions into retirement.

It’s just the unknowing. How soon will we need to be ready? What will a purchase agreement look like? How much can we take on?

In thinking about those variables, I noticed I was placing the burden squarely on my folks to figure everything out. That’s when I realized that I hadn’t necessarily expressed these concerns or vocalized how much or how little we were willing to take on, should my parents decide they are ready to retire.

So I made a goal for myself — to schedule a meeting for all of us this summer. The discussion of this family business meeting wouldn’t necessarily be on the “when,” but on the “hows,” so when the time comes to transition the operation into new leaders — whether that’s six months or six years from now — we’ll know what the plan is and how it will be executed.

I’m sure it will take more than one discussion, but we’ve got to start somewhere, and it needs to start with me. By being transparent in my own goals and plans and by being willing to communicate and walk through all scenarios and potential pitfalls, I hope it will be a seamless transition that leaves the business intact and the family harmonious.

I recently read an article that addresses what it takes to be an effective leader in the family business. Written by Steve Moyer for SKM Associates, the article recaps management guru Peter Drucker’s list of traits that make for a great executive in business.

Drucker’s list includes:

• 1. Ask what needs to be done.

He says, “Get the knowledge you need by asking what needs to be done, and take the answers seriously. Failing to ask this question will render the leader ineffective. Once you know the to-do list, set priorities and stick to them.”

• 2. Ask what’s right for the enterprise.

“Don’t focus on what’s right for individuals (i.e. owners, family members, employees or customers.),” writes Drucker. “What is right for the enterprise may not be right for individual stakeholders or family members.”

• 3. Develop action plans.

“Set a plan that specifies results and constraints compatible with family and organizational goals,” he advises. “Create check-in milestones and revise your plan as necessary to reflect new opportunities or insight.”

• 4. Take responsibility for actions.

• 5. Take responsibility for communicating.

• 6. Embrace change.

• 7. Run productive meetings.

• 8. Say “we” not “I”

You can read more of Drucker’s tips here: http://netfamilybusiness.blogspot.com.

I would love to hear what has worked for your family in effectively running business meetings, guiding conversations and making meaningful and lasting decisions for the operation and the family. Please email me your advice to amanda.radke@informa.com. Thanks. ❖

COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

Holding on to Your Advantage –

By Kit Pharo

In last week’s PCC Update, we discussed the need to have a competitive advantage – and how to obtain one.   This article was written for the benefit of the many PCC subscribers who already have a competitive advantage.

NOTE: If you don’t have a competitive advantage, I suggest you re-read last week’s PCC Update.   We believe having a competitive advantage will be the difference between mere survival and true success in the future of the cow-calf business.

You have a competitive advantage because you were willing to step out of the status quo herd and do a better job of running your business.   However, you will only have a competitive advantage until the majority discover they can do what you are doing.   Rest assured, this will take much longer than it should.

Eventually, though, yesterday’s Herd Quitters will become the new status quo.   If you want to maintain your competitive edge, you must continue to change with the times.   You must recognize when you are in danger of becoming the new status quo, and start looking for new advantages.   This is a never-ending challenge that I love.

Henry Ford is an excellent example of a leader who fell behind.   It has been said that Henry Ford was 20 years ahead of his competition for the first 20 years of his business – and 20 years behind the next 20 years.   During the boom years of the Model T, over two-thirds of the cars in the U.S. were Fords.

Henry did what he had to do to become the leader in the early car business – but he failed to adapt and change with the times.   For example, he thought every car should be black.   He allowed his business to stagnate under its previous success.   The same thing can happen to us if we’re not careful.    Nothing stays the same!   The key to staying ahead is to adapt to change as it is taking place.

Quote Worth Re-Quoting –

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.   It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”   ~ Charles Darwin

“It is not necessary to change.   Survival is not mandatory.”   W. Edwards Deming

Production Per Acre –

By Tim Goodnight

Shifting the focus from production per cow to production per acre has been shown to increase profitability.  It’s no secret that smaller framed cows will produce more calves and more total pounds per acre.  In addition, these lighter calves are worth more per pound.

More pounds that are worth more per pound is a win-win, right?

As simple as this concept is… status quo producers can’t seem to understand that by focusing on individual growth and weaning weights, they are limiting their profitability.  Despite the emphasis placed on growth, the status quobeef industry has not been able to increase average weaning weights over the past 15 years.   The only thing that has increased in the last 15 years is cow size.  This has led to the increased use of expensive inputs, which has had a negative impact on profitability.

So how can producers increase production per acre?  It begins with a paradigm shift.  Shifting the focus to the production and performance of the entire operation instead of the individual animal is the most important first step.  Next,you should align your operation with a program that has shown the ability to increase total production without expensive inputs.  Pharo Cattle Company has been that program for 30 years.  If you’re ready to increase your ranch’s total production and profitability, we can help.

Quote Worth Re-Quoting –

“In times of change, learners will inherit the earth – while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”   ~ Eric Hoffer

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”   ~ George Bernard Shaw

The Learning/Doing Gap

Seth Godin

Our society separates them. Somewhere along the way, we decided that one interfered with the other.

Go to school for 8 years to become a doctor–most of that time, you’re learning about doctoring, not actually doing doctoring.

Go to work as a copywriter. Most of the time, you’re doing writing, not learning about new ways to write.

The thing we usually seek to label as ‘learning’ is actually more about ‘education’. It revolves around compliance, rankings and “will this be on the test?”

Being good at school is not the same as learning something.

One reason that we don’t incorporate doing into education is that it takes the authority away from those that would seek to lecture and instruct.

There are 56 million people in K-12 (compulsory education) in the US right now. Most of them do nothing all day but school, failing to bring real-life activity, experimentation and interaction into the things that they are being taught.

And there are more than a hundred million people going to their jobs every day in the US, but few of them read books or take lessons regularly about how to do their work better. That’s considered a distraction or, at best, inconvenient or simply wasted time.

The gap is real. It often takes a decade or more for a profession to accept and learn a new approach. It took gastroenterologists a generation before they fully accepted that most ulcers were caused by bacteria and changed their approach. It has taken our justice system more than thirty years to take a hard look at sentencing and corrections.

It could be because we’re confusing learning with education. That education (someone else is in charge and I might fail) is a power shift from doing, so I’d rather be doing, thank you very much.

What happens if the learning we do is accomplished by always engaging in it in conjunction with our doing?

And what happens if we take a hard look at our doing and spend the time to actually learn something from it?

When police departments invest time in studying their numbers and investigating new approaches, they discover that efficacy and productivity goes up, safety improves and so does job satisfaction.

When science students devise and operate their own lab tests, their understanding of the work dramatically improves.

Education (the compliance-based system that all of us went through) is undergoing a massive shift, as big as the ones that have hit the other industries that have been rebuilt by the connection and leverage the internet brings. And yet, too much of the new work is simply coming up with a slightly more efficient way to deliver lectures plus tests.

I see this every day. People show up at Akimbo expecting lifetime access to secret videos, instead of the hard but useful work of engagement.

The alternative? Learning. Learning that embraces doing. The doing of speaking up, reviewing and be reviewed. The learning of relevant projects and peer engagement. Learning and doing together, at the same time, each producing the other.

If you want to learn marketing, do marketing. If you want to do marketing, it helps to learn marketing.

That same symmetric property applies to just about everything we care about.

To quote the ancient rockers, “We don’t need no… education.”

But we could probably benefit from some learning.

In the middle of all this doing, this constant doing, we might benefit from learning to do it better.

Woe is Me – By Kit Pharo

I skim through many beef publications on a daily basis.   Within the last two weeks, I have read the following statements in various online and printed publications.

  • The average age of farmers and ranchers in America has been increasing drastically over the past 30 years.
  • From 2002 to 2015, the cost to produce a weaned calf more than doubled from $400 to $875 per cow.
  • The average net farm/ranch income was negative for 2018.
  • Farm bankruptcies in some states were up 60% in 2018.
  • Calf losses this spring were well above average because of snow, cold and wind.
  • The USDA reported that since 2013 there has been more than a 50% reduction in net farm income.
  • Total farm income decreased $9.1 billion in 2018.
  • Total farm debt increased $410 billion in 2018.
  • Delayed corn planting will have a negative effect on feeder cattle prices.
  • Net income has been dropping due to circumstances out of farmers’ and ranchers’ control – dropping commodity prices, increasing input costs, machinery purchase costs and repairs and inclement weather.

These statements don’t paint a pretty picture, do they?   They leave little room for hope – especially for those who are struggling to make a decent living in the cow-calf business.   It’s easy to understand why some producers are throwing their hands up in despair, thinking, “Woe is me.   What can I do?”   Most are doing nothing – which just makes matters worse.

I believe all but one of the above statements are true.   The last statement, however, is FALSE!   It will make producers feel a little better about the situation they are in – but it will discourage them from taking any appropriate action.   Truth be known, very little is totally out of our control.   We just like to think things are out of our control because we’re afraid to think or look outside the box (paradigm) we have put ourselves in.

At the risk of upsetting more subscribers, I am going to do my best to challenge you to look and to think outside the box you have put yourself in.   We have all put ourselves in a box of some sort.   Our actions and our success are limited by the box we have put ourselves in.   Thinking outside your box will probably go against conventional thinking – but I want you to understand that it is possible to create a very profitable, enjoyable and sustainable business.   I want you to understand that it is possible to create a very bright and prosperous future for the next generation.

In last week’s “The Next Generation” article, I asked, “What do you need to do to adapt to the changes that are taking place in the cow-calf business?”   I went on to say, “If you have been paying attention, you already know the answer to that question.   The real question is… do you have enough courage to break away from the status quo, herd-mentality way of thinking so you can make the right decisions?”   Herein lies the problem for most people.

Let me begin by admitting we have no control over the weather.   However, we do have the ability to plan for most weather-related events and situations.   With a good grazing system and a good drought plan, we can decide when to turn our cows into cash to conserve our grass.   As Bud Williams once said, “You will never go broke having too much money or too much grass – but going broke is easy if you have too many cattle at the wrong time.”   We have the ability to take control of these situations.

Hundreds of cow-calf producers lose an inordinate number of calves every year while calving.   To add insult to injury, these same producers work harder than anyone else trying to save those calves.   Apparently, they do not realize they have control of when they turn their bulls out.   There are very few environments in which winter calving makes sense.   Why do wild ruminates wait until May to have their babies?   Why are all calves born with a summer hair coat?   There is nothing more enjoyable and profitable than calving on green grass.

I am also willing to admit we have very little control over the markets and the prices we receive.   The only way to take control of the prices you receive is to get out of the commodity business and sell a product like grass-finished beef directly to the consumer.   Several PCC customers have been very successful at doing this.

Farmers and ranchers cannot do much about commodity prices.   Most will whine and complain – but that does no good.   Many will blame others for their problems – but that does no good.   So, what can you do?   If what you are doing now is not working, you need to do something different.   This is as obvious as the nose on your face – but most people will not change a thing until they are forced to.   By that time, it will be too late for many.

PROFIT  =  (Production  x  Market Value)  –  Expenses

Since we have no control over the markets, we need to focus our attention on increasing production and/or decreasing expenses.   When we talk about increasing production, we are referring to production per acre – NOTper animal.   Focusing on production per animal (bragging rights) will actually decrease production and profit per acre.   The status quo beef industry has been focused on the wrong thing for the last 50 years.

I know several producers who have increased pounds and profit per acre by 50 to well over 200 percent.   That’s HUGE!   These producers have implemented proper grazing management to make the most of every ray of sunshine and drop of rain that falls on the land they control.   They also produce smaller, more efficient cows that fit their environment – instead of artificially changing the environment to fit their cows.   This allows them to increase stocking rate and production per acre.   If they can do it, why can’t you?

The average cost of producing a calf has more than doubled in the last 20 years.   That makes it very difficult for most producers to make a decent living.   In contrast, most long-time PCC customers have a cost of production that is 40 to 50 percent less than the national average.   That’s an advantage of $350 to $450 per calf!   If they can do it, why can’t you?   The easiest money you will ever make is the money you don’t spend.

The reason the average age of cow-calf producers has increased so rapidly over the last 30 years is because the next generation, for the most part, is not coming back to the farm or ranch.   The reason the next generation is not coming back is because very few cow-calf operations are profitable, enjoyable and sustainable.   The reason very few cow-calf operations are profitable, enjoyable and sustainable is because most producers are unwilling to make the necessary changes in their operation.   It is easier to say, “Woe is me,” than to think outside the box they have put themselves in.   We encourage you to choose a different route.   You can do it – and we can help!

Quote Worth Re-Quoting –

“You are responsible for your own happiness and success.”   ~ Harvey Mackay