On resilience and the importance of sleep with Dennis Hoiberg (BCM | Part 2)

As noted in  our previous post, my husband and I attended one of the Big Community Muster sessions in Deniliquin last Monday.

During the Big Community Muster we had the great opportunity of listening to Dennis Hoiberg. Towards the end of his presentation, Dennis asked us, somewhat rhetorically: “I bet everyone here knows at least 10 other people that would have benefited from being there?” Every head nodded in the room, so, for all those that could not attend, I wanted to share some of the insights and guidance he shared with us.


Dennis opened up the session by stating that all of us “have been told three big lies”:

  1. In the late 80s and early 90s, we were told to “Work smarter, not harder” –> All this actually just meant “work harder”.
  2. Then, we heard “Do more with less” –> Which also actually just meant, “work harder”.
  3. And now, we are being told to “Be more resilient” > Which actually just means “work harder and don’t complain”.

After a few laughs and nodding heads from across the audience, Hoiberg explained when hearing the word resilience, an emotional response is common, as the phrases “suck it up”, “toughen up”, “don’t complain” often come to mind.

“This emotional reaction of being tough is misguided,” stated Hoiberg.

Alister Bennett, Gerard O’Brien and Dennis Hoiberg. Photo: Peter Hardin, Northern Daily Leader

So what is resilience?

Hoiberg explained it like this:

  • Resilience is actually about the ability to bounce back through change. It’s not about being tough and sucking it up.
  • It’s about being whole.
  • Feeling sad, worried and broken for a time does not mean you are not resilient.
  • It’s the ability to then get through this hard time and bounce back.
  • Resilience is about action. It’s more than happy thoughts.

“Shit happens and it’s how we chose to what to do about it,” concluded Hoiberg.

So how do we become more resilient?

Habits are key to building resilience, particularly our sleep habits, stated Hoiberg.

But habitual sleep patterns can be difficult to achieve when farming and it is one reason why we are so exposed to depression and anxiety in our sector. This is particularly relevant for broadacre and dairy farmers, but also affects all of us who are having trouble switching off at night as so many decisions and uncertainties spin around our heads during prolonged periods of drought or other disasters.

Hoiberg provided some tips, guidance and advice for us all that I wanted to share today:

  1. Maintaining a regular bedtime and awakening is key. The optimal between and awakening from research is 10.37pm and 5.31am (I couldn’t find any research on the awakening time), however this is difficult, particularly for croppers and dairy farmers.
  2. If you’re a day napper, don’t sleep for more than 20 minutes.
  3. Adopt a routine where you wind down and relax the brain 45 minutes before bedtime.
  4. Don’t exercise within 3 hours, or eat within 2-3 hours, of bedtime.

Dennis left us with two sets of key questions:

“Have you had disturbed sleep? And for how long?”

He explained that after 8 or 9 days of poor sleep, we release cortisols that are designed to keep us safe. It takes only 14-18 days to create a habit and over 42-66 days to break it.

“How do you feel about 1) self, 2) circumstances and 3) the future, out of a score of 10?”

Hoiberg asked if we scored ourselves:

  • Did you score 1) 6 or below 2) 2 or below 3) 4 or below, respectively for 1) self 2) circumstances or 3) the future?
  • If you answered yes to two or three of these,  you may be experiencing some form of depression.

Hoiberg continued onto explain that he sees a lot of reactive depression in the agriculture industry.

Situational depression is a short-term, stress-related type of depression. It can develop after you experience a traumatic event or series of events. Situational depression is a type of adjustment disorder. It can make it hard for you to adjust to your everyday life following a traumatic event. It’s also known as reactive depression.

In treating reactive depression, which he explains in straightforward terms as “when you go through something and can’t get out of it”, Hoiberg has seen a lot of success with the methods of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Acceptance Commitment Training. Both retain the brain and give people the skills needed to move forward, rather than prescribing medical intervention.

To explain this more thoroughly, I found this YouTube video from a previous Nuffield Conference (below) in which Hoiberg covers many of the themes and topics that he touched upon in his presentation at the Big Community Muster.

To learn more about Dennis Hoiberg, please head over to his website, where there a number of free and paid resources to explore.

Thanks to the organisers and presenters at the Big Community Muster.

8 takeaways from the Big Community Muster (BCM | Part 1)