Whether you or someone you love is suffering from anxiety, depression, or *insert mental illness here*, you know it’s no fun at the best of times.
I know it too. I’ve suffered from a whole host of anxiety disorders over the past decade or so, including general anxiety disorder, depression, social anxiety, panic attacks and PTSD to name a few. It sucks. Plain and simple.
In fact, my anxiety was one of the reasons why I wanted to move out of the city and live a slower, quieter, simpler life in the first place.
I’ve always known that I feel most calm and peaceful when I’m away from the masses of people, traffic, lights, noises and pressures of city life and immersed in the quiet serenity of nature. Or even just when I’m in my kitchen with some candles lit and calming folk music playing in the background. Ah, pure bliss!
Homesteading: A solution to anxiety?
Homesteading naturally appealed to me as a solution to my anxiety: I could live this lifestyle that brings me peace and it could sustain me too. And the self-reliant nature of homesteading meant I could stop relying on others and feeling guilty about it (guilt, warranted or unwarranted, has been a huge driver of anxiety and depression for me).
Related: Why I Homestead
It seemed like the perfect alternative lifestyle option, and I threw myself into my homestead dream with every ounce of my being as soon as I had my “aha!” moment (as Oprah would say).
In many ways, homesteading truly has been the solution to my problems. I’m happiest and most fulfilled when I’m working in the garden, baking bread and cooking meals from scratch in my kitchen, and spending family time with my loved ones around a campfire or out in nature.
But homesteading alone hasn’t cured me of mental illness. In my case, it’s in my genes, and despite the lifestyle changes, it’s still something I struggle with regularly… Not every day, but often enough that I’ve discovered an entirely new problem to solve: How to homestead with anxiety.
The Pros & Cons of Homesteading with Anxiety
I’m not here to say that being a homesteader makes living with anxiety any easier or harder than living any other type of lifestyle; Simply that it comes with its own unique benefits as well as obstacles to overcome, some of which can make living with anxiety easier and some of which can make it that much more difficult.
On the plus side, if you are anything like me, homesteading can be calming and fulfilling and can take the edge off of anxiety. Living a life closer to nature, spending more time at home with family and working hard, but on your own terms, can sometimes be all you need to alleviate some of the stress and pressure that can lead to panic attacks and anxiety disorders. To me, homesteading feels like a more natural way of life and I feel more confident and in control when I’m living a more self-reliant lifestyle.
On the other hand, homesteading comes with a whole host of other stressors that the average urbanite might not even have to consider, let alone deal with. Like crop failures, sick or injured livestock, having enough food to make it through the winter or enough money for life’s necessities if you’re not working a day job. And of course, if you are working a day job (like I am), then there’s worry about how you can possibly get everything you need to accomplish done in the limited amount of time you have.
Our modern-day to-do lists already more closely resemble the Epic of Gilgamesh than traditional to-do lists of times past, and as modern homesteaders, that to-do list can seem so impossibly long that just thinking about it can cause us to curl up in the fetal position and weep. But sure as the sun rises and sets each day, the daily chores need being done no matter what.
So, how does one homestead with anxiety? How do you tackle your daily to-do list when you can’t even fathom getting out of bed let alone pouring a bunch of energy you don’t have into running a functioning homestead?
A Little Background About Me…
Now, since I am speaking from my experience, I believe it’s important that you know that I am not currently running a fully functioning homestead. We do not have livestock yet (just a bunch of house pets currently), we do not have acres worth of gardens to maintain (just a few raised beds, some container gardens and a small greenhouse) and we do not rely only on the food we have preserved for the winter (we still rely heavily on the grocery store, especially in winter).
So, what gives me the authority to talk about homesteading with anxiety? Because I know what it is like to try to do it all; To make everything from scratch, keep up with daily chores, raise a child, work a day job and run a small home business (in hopes that one day I can quit said day job), all the while continuing to learn new skills and work toward self-sufficiency with every breath that I take.
And I know what it’s like to feel like everything is crashing down when I have an unexpected anxiety attack and suddenly go from feeling like Self-Reliant Super Woman-In-the-Making to Completely Useless Captain Sweatpants who can’t get her butt off the couch to warm up a bowl of soup, let alone bake a loaf of bread from scratch.
Just because I don’t have as many responsibilities as some homesteaders do at this point in my journey doesn’t mean that I don’t understand the pressures of trying to live as self-sustainably as possible while dealing with an illness that can make you feel like the most incapacitated, “opposite of self-reliant” (a.k.a. completely dependent on others) person on Earth.
At the end of the day, the strategies I’m about to share are universal. They can be applied to anyone suffering from anxiety disorders in any walk of life. But I find them especially relevant for homesteaders with added responsibilities who often don’t have the option of taking a “sick day.”
Disclaimer: Before I share any advice on managing anxiety or mental illness, I want to make it clear that I AM NOT A DOCTOR! Please, I urge you to seek professional medical advice if you are suffering from anxiety, panic attacks, depression or anything else. What I am about to share with you are my own coping strategies that come from personal experience.
Also, I personally do not like to take prescription medications, so you won’t hear me talk about those options here. But that does not mean that I am against them. I know they have benefitted many people and although I know many homesteaders and self-reliant folks would also rather steer clear of prescription meds, I hope you know that you are not a failure if you need them! It doesn’t make you any less self-reliant or capable! We all need to rely on medications in some form. Whether natural or made in a lab, that should not affect your sense of self-worth.
There, now that I have that out of the way, let me share some strategies that have helped me cope with anxiety and depression in the past. But again, please know that everyone’s experience is different. Always seek professional medical advice when dealing with any sort of mental illness.
Strategies that Have Helped Me Cope
First And Most Important Piece of Advice:
1. Give Yourself Grace!
This is the thing I struggle with the most but am actively working on the hardest: Showing myself the same compassion when I’m going through a hard time as I would show to a good friend (or even a stranger!)
Often times we are our own harshest critics and we expect more from ourselves than others expect from us. It can seem like the weight of the world is on our shoulders and if we even have one bad day then the world as we know it will come to an end!
But the truth is, the world won’t end if you give 70% instead of 100% while you take some time to get back on track and focus on your own wellbeing. And if you can’t even give 70%, that’s okay too. You’re human! And if you deal with mental illness there may well be days you can’t do anything! I will tackle how to deal with that in the next piece of advice, but for now just be kind to yourself.
Know that as hard as it is to let go of having to do everything, the most important thing is getting through this difficult time and taking care of yourself so you don’t end up in an even worse condition (maybe even hospitalized).
No matter who you are, where you are or what your responsibilities, you need to take care of yourself first, otherwise you won’t be able to take care of everyone and everything else to the best of your ability.
Take the advice you would give to your best friend if he or she came to you and told you they felt like you feel right now. Be kind. Be gracious. Be compassionate. Practice love and self care and prioritize your own wellbeing above all else. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself and everyone around you, and it will almost always speed up recovery time.
2. Rely on Others
Okay, first of all, let’s bust the “myth of self-reliance.” Yes, it is possible to live a self-reliant life in this day and age, but no, it’s not possible to be 100% self-reliant all the time. I don’t care if you’re Ma Ingalls or Mick Dodge, every human being relies on a community of others for survival in some capacity.
Sometimes we need to rely a little more on others, and that’s okay! It doesn’t mean we need to go on welfare or rely on the government or big, heartless corporations to provide for us while we sit on the dole.
It doesn’t mean you are sacrificing your morals or your pride or integrity if sometimes you need to lean on others a little more. It means you are human and you are a valuable member of a community that needs you too, and that’s what communities do for each other: They lift you up when you’re down because you would (and do) do the same for them.
Your community could be your town, your neighbourhood, your commune, your church, your coworkers, your circle of friends, your family or a combination of all of the above. It could sometimes mean just your spouse or your kids or your mom or even an outreach worker in the community if you really feel you have no one else to turn to. But don’t go it alone to save your pride. Trust me, no one will judge you or think of you as a lesser person for reaching out in a time of need, and if they do they are not worth being a member in your tribe.
As homesteaders especially, it can be easy to fall into the trap of feeling like we have to do it all ourselves all the time, but in truth, homesteaders in years gone by had a network of people they could rely on to help them out in times of need.
If you’re physically hurt or incapacitated, you probably wouldn’t think quite so hard about asking for help getting your daily chores done. So when you’re mentally incapacitated it shouldn’t be any different.
Unfortunately I understand that there is still a stigma attached to mental health and it can be hard to ask for help when you feel your problems are literally “all in your head,” but I am giving you full permission right now: Ask for help! Delegate tasks to other members of your family/homestead and even hire out help if you can to lighten your load. Remember, it’s just temporary, but this too will speed your recovery up as it frees your time to focus on yourself and get better.
As for ongoing anxiety, assess how much you are actually doing yourself and see what tasks you can permanently assign to others in your family or community. You may find you just have too much on your plate altogether, which brings me to my third piece of advice…
3. Stop trying to do it all (perfectly)
This really goes hand-in-hand with my former two points, but this time I’m talking about really assessing what your expectations are of yourself and deciding what is realistic.
For me, I strive to make all of my meals from scratch and stick to a really tight budget, but I find that when my anxiety gets really bad, I can barely open a jar of food once a day let alone cook every meal from scratch. So I settle for eating (affordable) takeout or making simple meals like a sandwich and soup, and maybe I even buy my bread from the store because *gasp* that’s okay!
The only person judging me for it is me, so I give myself grace (remember that one?) and I tell myself it’s okay, I will get through this and then I will feel like baking bread again when I’m feeling better.
For you, anxiety might hit during canning season when you’ve got 50 lbs. of tomatoes about to rot on the vine if you don’t pick them and process them. Think of what you can do to alleviate pressure: Maybe just pick them and throw them in the freezer until you are feeling up to canning. Or make it part of your kids’ weekly chores, or even pay the neighbour kid a few bucks to pick them if you can’t even do that.
Sometimes it’s okay to do the bare minimum and tackle the harder things later. Sometimes it’s okay to just freeze the tomatoes or buy a loaf of bread or eat takeout!
If anxiety is ongoing, look at lessening your overall load. Maybe this means growing less food so you can manage growing, harvesting and preserving your crops without being too overwhelmed. Maybe it means cooking mostly from scratch but being okay with buying staple food items like breads and condiments and even cheese instead of making them yourself if that’s what you strive to do. It could even mean enrolling your kids in public school if you are trying to handle homeschooling at the same time. It’s different for everyone, but find some things you can scrape off your plate and stop trying to do it all (perfectly) by yourself.
Remember, it is always better to lighten your load and focus your time and energy on your own healing and wellbeing first, then tackle the next goal or project on your to-do list. Which again leads in to my fourth piece of advice…
4. Prioritize ruthlessly
So, have I mentioned that your own health and wellbeing should be priority number one? Oh, I have? Good. Let that sink in until you believe it to the core of your being.
Next… What’s next? Write out a list of all of the things you feel you need to get done in a day to keep your life and homestead functioning optimally. Then prioritize that list by numbering each task starting with #1: Take care of thine own self.
Then figure out what comes next on your list. What else is absolutely vital? What has to get done each day no matter what? Your top few priorities will probably be things like Feed and Care for Children, Feed and Water Livestock/Pets, Collect Eggs, Milk Cow, Water Garden, Prepare Dinner, etc…
Further down the list you might have things like Chop Firewood for Winter, Weed Garden, Bake Bread, Meal Prep, etc…
And even further down the list you might have things like Build New Shed, Fix Old Generator That’s Been Sitting Behind the Garage Forever, Start Homestead Blog, Darn Socks, or better yet, Throw Socks Away and Buy New Socks.
The point is, prioritize your list and then look over it and categorize it into chunks of “Things that Must Get Done,” “Things That Should Get Done Soon-ish” and “Things I’d Like to Get Done But They Can Totally Wait And If They Don’t Get Done No Big Deal.” Be honest. Be ruthless. Perhaps even take this time to eliminate some things altogether.
Once you’ve narrowed your list down to the vitally important “Things You Must Get Done,” then apply the previous pieces of advice. Try to assign some tasks to other people, and be okay with doing the bare minimum and not even doing that perfectly.
If you have children to care for, let them watch TV or a movie if that entertains them and keeps them busy right now. Or better yet, get them to take on some extra chores to help out if they are old enough. If you have livestock to feed, get out there, get it done and worry about switching out bedding and mucking out pens another day.
Just do what is absolutely necessary. It all comes back to freeing up as much time as possible for self care right now. That is always priority number one!
5. Take time away from your house and homestead
It is all too easy for homesteaders to never take a break from being at home. After all, most of our life, work and play revolves around our homes and requires us to be here most of the time.
Also, we tend to be a bit of an introverted bunch who sometimes teeter on the edge of being isolated hermits. After all, this tendency towards introversion and reclusiveness is what appeals to many of us about the homesteading lifestyle to begin with.
But it’s not healthy for anyone to spend 100% of their time at home. Push yourself to get out and take a break. Enjoy a change of scenery. Go for a walk in the park or even go to town and treat yourself to an ice cream or a latte from a café.
Go to the library. Sit on a patio and people watch. Go on a picnic with your family. Find a local event and join in. Volunteer. Anything to get you out and away from home for a little while. Sometimes all we need is a change of scenery to give us new perspective and help lift the cloud that’s been hanging over us.
If you have social anxiety, just go somewhere quiet like a secluded beach or for a walk in the woods or just a nice, long country drive. Just get out for a while. Home will be there when you return.
There are so many other things I could suggest to help ease the burden of anxiety, regardless of whether you’re a homesteader or not. Practice mindfulness, deep breathing and meditation regularly. (There is lots of info online about this stuff so I will leave it to you to do further research on this).
Also, find a mantra or two that you can repeat to yourself that will help you get through the hardest of times. I often repeat the mantra “This Too Shall Pass” to myself when I’m really struggling and this reminds me that what I’m going through is only temporary. Another good mantra is “Let Go,” or “I Am Enough.” Find what works for you.
And have faith. Whether you are Christian or you are of another faith or you are simply spiritual or even if you are an atheist, look to a power higher than yourself (even atheists know we’re not the most powerful force in the Universe) and have faith that all things happen for a reason and will work out as they should. Know that the difficult times in life are what shape your character and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Be thankful for the challenges you face because you will emerge a stronger, better, more enlightened person in the end.
Read. Read books about dealing with anxiety and depression; About spirituality and our purpose here on Earth; About other people’s inspiring stories and how they’ve overcome or learned to cope with anxiety and depression. Or listen to podcasts or audiobooks or read articles online. This is always a huge help for me.
Lastly, get enough sleep, exercise regularly and eat as healthy as you can. Living an overall healthy lifestyle will decrease your chances of having anxiety attacks and will likely lessen their severity when they hit. Just know that you can do everything “right” and still have an anxiety attack.
You can do all of the things you know you should do and you might still battle depression. Don’t blame yourself. Beating yourself up won’t do any good. Just take a deep breath and start back at square one: Give yourself grace. Everything will be alright. Just breathe.