National Drought Mitigation Center

Family and Human Health Issues

Source: Weathering Tough Times: Drought and Heat, UNL Extension

Multiple weather factors, water shortages, and the rising costs of production all take a toll. You may face difficult decisions such as whether or not they can survive farming for one more year. It is normal to respond to stressors with an attack or a problem-solving attitude. A major problem in coping with the drought is not being able to control the weather nor the water shortage and it may seem as though there is no way out!

However, even when issues are beyond our immediate control, we can help ourselves and others cope more effectively. Although knowing this information doesn't ‘fix' the problem it can empower us and give us a sense of hope.

Reduce Stress:

Conditions over which you have no control can be a source of worry and concern. When these conditions continue over time, such as the current drought conditions, stress levels may climb. Learn to recognize symptoms of stress and depression in yourself and other family members. Changes in sleeping and eating habits, being overly anxious, irritable and short-tempered, or withdrawing from usually pleasurable activities can all be signals that stress has taken its toll. Even children in a family can pick up on high stress levels and develop their own reactions to it. If this is happening, decide to seek guidance from a pastor, mental health counselor, school counselor, or other health professional for some next steps.

Work Together as a Family:

When stressful conditions cause doubts, discussion or decisions about selling the farm or business, remember that your family is something to preserve and hold dear. During crisis times, family and friends are the people who can help us see hope and a reason to look toward the future. Without family and friends, our world would look bleak. Having this important source of social support enhances our well-being, including our physical and psychological health.

Since we are by nature social beings and need connectedness with others, it is healthy, as well as important, to nurture relationships with family and friends. Avoid keeping secrets or purposefully withholding information from your spouse or partner. Your significant relationship should not be neglected but rather given priority during difficult times. When appropriate, involve your children in discussion to help them understand the family's situation. As problems arise, schedule time to deal with them. Weigh the costs and benefits and try to arrive at a mutually agreeable plan. Make plans together by setting some measurable goals. Decide what you'd like to do in a year, 5 years and maybe even 20 years from now. Try not to place blame on one person and avoid being judgmental. Families who survive a crisis recognize the value of each family member and remind each other how much they are needed and loved.

Take Care of Yourself:

During these tough times it is even more important not to ignore some basic self care and health habits. As much as possible plan regular meal times with a variety of foods present to offset some of the negative stressful impacts and allow your body to fight illness. Guard against dehydration from working in these hot summer days by drinking water and other fluids throughout the day. Even though you may be quite busy getting all of the work done, allow yourself periodic rests during the day and schedule adequate sleep time. Do not use alcohol or other drugs to relieve your stress.

Manage Money Carefully:

When facing tough times it may seem as though managing resources is a lost cause. Credit cards or overdue notes may tend to pile up. For some, sticking bills in a drawer or not talking about them seems like the best way to deal with debt. However, whether or not you are experiencing financial hardship, you need to get a handle on both farm and family living expenses. Having separate accounts for farm/business and family accounts is a helpful management tool and will prevent frustration and blaming.

Often times, it is the family living expenses that take the hardest hit when spending must be curtailed. Home mortgages, rent, utilities and loan payments are usually a large portion of the family living bills. And then money is still needed for daily living expenses such as groceries, household supplies, personal care, clothing and transportation. Make a list of the most important expenses and then develop a spending plan that can work. Postpone purchasing larger items until income is more certain. It is helpful to honestly discuss options with your partner to make sure basic needs are being met and what alternatives there may be for generating income.

Find Someone to Talk To:

Our emotional and mental well-being is just as important as physical health. But during stressful times, we tend to notice only urgent physical symptoms, if even those. It is critical, however, to attend to your emotional health as it influences every action and decision you make. Family and friends usually provide emotional support, information and advice, as well as physical or material assistance. However, in times of severe stress, family and friends may not be able to offer the depth of help necessary. Mental health counselors, health workers, ministers, extension educators, and other professionals are trained to assist with problem issues and make appropriate referrals. Many people benefit by discussing confidential issues with a trusted professional at some point in their lives. Talking about problems doesn't make them go away, but it does help to voice concerns, deal with emotions, and examine various options.

Develop a Plan:

For many agricultural producers, it is all too easy to have a negative "knee jerk" reaction to the weather. It is human nature to think the worst without really taking an objective assessment of what resources might be available. It is easy to get stuck in the mind set that resources are strictly financial. Resources can mean many things.

The first step might be identifying the different types of assets at your disposal, looking beyond the obvious common financial resources. Resources include skills, interests, talents, past volunteer and work experiences, your physical location and environment, connections to other people, and of course, family and friends, just to name a few. From that inventory, start to develop a plan based on several "what if" scenarios. Think about short-term and long-term needs, both from a family and business perspective. Be honest with yourself and your family. Working through this process will give you a clearer picture of your situation and possibly open up some options. At the very least, it will allow you to be more objective and explore all alternatives.

Get Out and Have Fun:

Give yourself permission to take a break from the busyness of your life. Entertainment can come in small and inexpensive packages but still give a boost to your day. Get ideas from family members or friends about pleasurable activities and make plans to do some of them. It could be a picnic in the park, a hike in the hills, reading, listening to music, or spending time with a favorite hobby. If you feel you can't spend an entire day having fun, carve out a couple of hours for a special break. A healthy mental break can also come from humor and laughter, so find a humorous book or a zany movie to get a special kind of lift.


  • Dr. Linda Boeckner, Extension Nutrition Specialist, University of Nebraska Panhandle Research & Extension Center
  • Dr. Kathy Bosch, Extension Family Life Specialist, University of Nebraska Panhandle Research & Extension Center
  • Dr. Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel, Community & Economic Development Specialist, University of Nebraska Pandhandle Research & Extension Center

Human Safety

Maintaining personnel health during a heat crisis is critical. These recommendations are for personnel doing reasonably strenuous outdoor work when temperatures are in the critical range.

Alternate between hard and light work. If personnel must do hard work, spend 10-20 minutes of each hour doing less strenuous work, preferably in the shade.

Force water consumption. Drink one to two quarts of water per hour.

Use a “buddy system”. Buddies should encourage each other to drink water, make sure the buddy alternates strenuous work with periods of light work, and watch for early signs of heat exhaustion. The first signs of heat exhaustion include mood changes, emotional responses, and confusion.

If heat exhaustion occurs, the person should not return to strenuous work that day. They should be assigned to office work or take the rest of the day off. Failure to do this may result in the person developing heat stroke, which is a medical emergency.

What are the signs of these heat disorders?

SUNBURN: Redness and pain. In severe cases swelling of skin, blisters, fever, headaches. Ointments for mild cases if blisters appear and do not break. If breaking occurs, apply dry sterile dressing. Serious, extensive cases should be seen by physician.

HEAT CRAMPS: Painful spasms usually in muscles of legs and abdomen possible. Heavy sweating. Firm pressure on cramping muscles, or gentle massage to relieve spasm. Give sips of water. If nausea occurs, discontinue use.

HEAT EXHAUSTION: Heavy sweating, weakness, skin cold, pale, and clammy. Pulse thready. Normal temperature possible. Fainting and vomiting. Get victim out of sun. Lay down and loosen clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths. Fan or move victim to air conditioned room. Sips of water. If nausea occurs. discontinue use. If vomiting continues, seek immediate medical attention.

HEAT STROKE or SUN STROKE: High body temperature (106 degrees F or higher). Hot dry skin. Rapid and strong pulse. Possible unconsciousness. HEAT STROKE IS A SEVERE MEDICAL EMERGENCY. SUMMON EMERGENCY MEDICAL ASSISTANCE OR GET THE VICTIM TO A HOSPITAL IMMEDIATELY. DELAY CAN BE FATAL. Move the victim to a cooler environment. Reduce body temperature with cold bath or sponging. Use extreme caution. Remove clothing, use fans and air conditioners. If temperature rises again, repeat process. Do not give fluids.

Source: Dee Griffin DVM, University of Nebraska, Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center


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When to Seek Outside Help for Stress (North Dakota State University)

Managing Stress During Tough Times (Colorado State University)

Weathering Tough Times (University of Nebraska - Lincoln)

When Your Income Drops (South Dakota State University)