10 Tips for Managing Stress and Overwhelm on the Homestead
If I had to choose a single word to sum up 2020, it would have to be “stressful.” Or “overwhelming.” Or…
Okay, I’d choose two words.
Between the coronavirus pandemic, sky-high political tensions, adapting to the “new normal,” going double speed on all of our homestead projects in preparation for who knows what lies ahead…
Releasing two new courses, publishing regular blog posts, videos and a monthly magazine and balancing it all with the regular never-ending to-do list that is our daily lives, including but not limited to…
Our child going back to school, end-of-season gardening tasks, doing our TAXES (ugh), and preserving the mountains of food ready now before it all goes to waste)… I finally cracked this week.
And I know I’m not the only one.
Adapting to “unprecedented times”
Across the globe, tensions are high. Here in North America, many people are out of work or trying to balance working from home with homeschooling their children for the first time.
We’re all adapting to social distancing and mask-wearing, and the general feeling of “just get me out of here” that’s become common place in most grocery stores and other public places. Anxiety-inducing to say the least.
Add to that the fact that so many people have let their health slip as they’ve sat home under shelter-in-place orders, watching Netflix and eating junky comfort food to help them through these emotionally draining times. While comforting at the time, this physical toll on our health also affects our mental health too.
Oh, and then there’s the whole systemic racism/social injustice thing that has people in many communities and cities across the US suffering, angry and afraid for both their lives and livelihoods. Not to mention the onslaught of recent environmental disasters (ie. hurricanes, wildfires, pest infestations, etc.), an upcoming political election with no chance of a peaceful outcome and an undercurrent of division in our society like we’ve never experienced before.
And then all the while there are our regular old, mile-long to-do lists vying for our focus and attention as if all of these other things weren’t going on in the background.
Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? I sure am.
I finally snapped…
I’ve had a bit of a rough week myself. We’ve just been going hard for so long and it’s been slowly chipping away at my mental, emotional and physical health ever since the pandemic took hold here.
It all came to a head this week, and I’ve found myself in tears a few times; over my own feelings of inadequacy to deal with everything and be everything to everyone; over my own shortcomings and personal issues (we’ve all got ‘em); over the sadness I feel for the world right now; over the uncertainty of the future; and over the anxiety that comes from my inability to cross every, last, thing off my to-do list each day.
Anybody else feeling this way? Please leave me a comment below to let me know I’m not the only one!
In any case, I find it useful to take a breath and put my thoughts on paper (or in a blog post) when I’m feeling overwhelmed like this. When it comes to managing stress and overwhelm on the homestead, it helps for me to walk myself through hard times and give myself the advice I would give someone else; the advice that’s helped me get through many challenging times before in my life when I’ve felt trapped by the weight of it all.
So, because I know that there are others out there who need help to cope with stress and overwhelm now more than ever, I figured I’d take my crappy week and make something good come of it. Hence this blog post.
My tips for managing stress and overwhelm on the homestead
These are the tried and true steps I’ve taken time and again when I’ve gone through periods of stress and anxiety. (And I’ve gone through my share of these periods, believe me).
Managing stress and overwhelm on the homestead can often be extra difficult because of the added layer of work and responsibility that comes with homesteading life. So while these tips work for anybody, they’re especially helpful if you’re managing a homestead as well.
No matter what you’re going through, where you live, how big (or non-existent) your homestead, I hope the following tips bring you some comfort and peace in this time of overwhelm and uncertainty, and that they help you to keep putting one foot in front of the other as we forge a path forward for ourselves, our families and each other.
1. Focus on what you can control and let go of the rest
Okay, this might seem obvious, but it’s really easy to forget that all of the big, heavy things going on in the world right now (and always) are largely out of our control, at least at an individual level.
Instead, focus on what you can control. Focus on your family. Focus on your health, focus on your home… Cook a meal from scratch. Clean your kitchen. Weed the garden. Tackle the next project or skill that will help advance you on your path.
By tackling the things you can control, no matter how big or small, it helps you to feel more in control of your life overall. This is just another reason why I love homesteading as I feel like I’m in much more control over things like my health, food security, finances and self-sufficiency overall.
As the old saying goes, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.”
2. Do a brain dump
Sometimes when I’m so overwhelmed that I feel like I’m on the verge of a panic attack, it’s because there’s so much swirling around in my head that I don’t even know where to start or how to keep track. I’m unable to focus or prioritize because everything feels equally important.
At this point, it helps to just sit down and do a brain dump, which is basically where you just vomit all of your thoughts onto a page.
Okay, not literally vomit. It’s really just about getting everything that’s taking up mental space in your brain out on paper so you can see it for what it is. It’s about closing all the “open tabs” in your brain.
Once it’s on paper, you can stop worrying about having to think about it. That’s the first step toward more mental freedom and clarity.
Next, it helps to look at your list and categorize things. Categories could include Family/Home, Work, Homesteading/Gardening, Cooking/Food, Finances/Paperwork, etc. For example: Harvest tomatoes, Replace animal bedding, Plant Cover Crop, etc. could all go under “Homesteading.” Monthly budget, Taxes and Registration forms could all go under “Finances/Paperwork,” and so on.
The human brain likes order and classification, so by categorizing everything on your to-do list, you begin to eliminate the chaos and overwhelm that comes from trying to keep everything straight.
To help with this, I’ve uploaded a Time Management Planner to my Free Resource Library to help walk you through the process. Click here to gain access to the Resource Library and grab this free printable! (Find it under the “Homesteading & Self-Sufficiency Resources” section of the library).
3. Choose your “Big 3”
There are only so many hours in the day, and while many of us have to-do lists a mile long at all times, it’s just not possible to get everything done in a single day.
I struggle with this. I’ll constantly put more on my daily schedule than I can reasonably handle, and then feel defeated and overwhelmed when I fall into bed at night with most of the tasks still unchecked. But I know that when I do do this -when I focus on just three things instead of 33- it feels much more manageable and I go to bed feeling a lot calmer and happier about my progress that day, which, in turn, helps me to wake up feeling less overwhelmed the next day.
Choose the top three things that absolutely must get done that day. This might include work that needs to get done on deadline, food that needs to be preserved before it goes bad, paperwork that needs to be submitted, bills that need to be paid or even a load of laundry that needs to be done because no one has clean underwear. Whatever needs to be done ASAP to avoid consequences or mitigate loss should go on your Big 3 list.
After that, if there’s space for it, choose things that actually move the needle forward for you or help you get ahead. Maybe that’s working on your business or tackling a project on your homestead or doing a workout or prepping meals for the week ahead.
Only once you’re finished with those three things can you choose what to work on next from your brain dump list. Anything after three is a bonus. This makes you feel like a time management rockstar when you accomplish “bonus” tasks on top of your Big 3.
4. Make a plan/schedule your tasks
It’s one thing to prioritize your tasks, but if you don’t know how or when to do them, you can still end up feeling frazzled.
Take a few minutes to sit down and schedule out your tasks. Decide when you’re going to tackle each task and put it on your calendar or daily scheduler. Use time blocking to assign each task to a given time frame in your day. (Hint: Always allow a little more time than you think you need, just in case).
Plan out your day the night before (or in the morning before you get started). Again, this helps to take the pressure off you because you don’t need to always be thinking about what you need to be doing. You can just check your planner!
You can either use a tangible, paper planner to write everything down or you can use an app or the calendar on your computer or phone. I like using Trello to schedule all my tasks because it’s easy to add, delete and move things, and I can set it up however I want. You can have Trello boards for different projects, you can create one with your weekly schedule (that’s what I do), and you can even make group boards to schedule out your family calendar. Plus, it’s free!
If you prefer to write things down on paper, I’ve included a daily and weekly schedule template that you can print out in the Time Management Planner, which can be found under the “Homesteading Resources” section of my Free Resource Library.”
5. Start with the quickest/easiest task
While there’s definitely something to be said for the whole “eat the frog” approach to getting things done, when you’re feeling stressed, anxious and overwhelmed, it’s often best to start small and work your way up.
Start by choosing the smallest, easiest, most “doable” task on your list and tackle that first. Whether it’s sending a quick email, feeding the animals, doing the dishes or having a shower, by tackling something quick and easy first, you give yourself a quick win and get to cross one thing off your list right away. This helps boost morale and build momentum, making it easier to move onto the next task and the next.
6. Batch the tasks on your to-do list
One of the most effective ways to knock a whole bunch off your to-do list all at once is to batch similar tasks together and get them all done in one chunk of time.
I don’t know about you, but I find that my most productive days are when I’m focused on a single task or when I’m “in the zone” with a particular type of work. On the other hand, my least productive days are when I lose hours transitioning from one task to another without actually getting much of anything done.
For example, if I’m working in the kitchen preserving food, cooking, baking, making kombucha, etc. I’m most effective and in flow if I just stay in the kitchen and focus my attention there rather than flitting back and forth between the kitchen and the laundry and the garden and, and…
Likewise, if I’m working in the garden, I get much more done if I devote a chunk of time to knocking off a bunch of my gardening tasks all at once. Same goes for work. As a blogger, I wear many hats. But I always find I’m most effective if I group like tasks on the same days and batch them. I like to do all of my writing at the same time because I get in the zone with writing. Same with filming and then same with video editing, financials, etc. Batching tasks together doesn’t just keep you focused and eliminate a lot of time spent in transition from one task to another, it can even help you get ahead of the game, which can take a whole lot of pressure off.
7. Turn off all unnecessary devices
TVs, smart phones and computers can not only keep you distracted, they can keep you (or make you) feel even more stressed out and overwhelmed!
I don’t need to tell you that the news these days isn’t exactly good most of the time. Nor does it need to be said that there are a whole lotta mean-spirited people on the Internet just waiting to ruin your day with their negativity. This is a huge drain on your energy and on your mental and emotional health.
Take a break from social media and television and just quiet all that noise. You may want to consider taking an extended break for a few days, or simply scheduling phone/Facebook/TV-free time each day (I didn’t include computers as you may need to work on your computer, but you should definitely keep social media to a minimum).
If you have trouble putting down your phone or you just can’t seem to stop scrolling on Facebook, there are apps that will help you block certain sites, apps and social media platforms. Offtime is an app that helps you block distractions like social media, games and text messages. Focus is another good distraction-blocking app that blocks websites like Facebook and Twitter for a specified amount of time. Plus, if you try to visit these sites while you’re blocked, a motivational quote appears instead!
8. Take a break/go outside and get some fresh air and exercise
This is another “no-brainer,” and yet, so many of us struggle to allow ourselves to just take a break and get outside for some fresh air, sunshine and movement when we’re feeling overwhelmed with everything on our plate, or stressed out by the weight of the world on our shoulders.
Instead, we put our heads down and trudge forward with the things we need to do, often feeling stressed out the whole time (which reduces our effectiveness overall).
But taking a little brain break and a quick walk around the block, on the trails, down a country road, through the park or even around your property if it’s big enough is often all it takes to ease some of your anxiety, practice mindfulness and recharge your batteries.
If you can’t go for a walk, go spend some time in your garden or petting your animals (animals are such great therapy!) or simply sit outside for, say, 15 minutes and just be. Don’t look at your phone or get distracted with anything. Just practice being in the moment. This can really help to clear your mind and gain a new perspective on things.
9. Prioritize your health
Without your health, you don’t have anything, so staying in good health is important to help you manage stress and anxiety and avoid total burnout.
Sleep is so important when it comes to how your brain functions and processes the world around you. Know how much sleep you need to feel fully rested and aim to get that many hours every night. Lack of sleep is the quickest path to grumpiness, lethargy and a general inability to function at a high level.
Likewise, eat good, healthy foods and drink lots of water. What you put into your body truly does effect what you put out too. The healthier and more well-rested you are, the happier and more high-functioning you’ll tend to be, which makes dealing with stress and overwhelm on the homestead and in life all the much more manageable.
10. Learn to say “no”
I honestly feel a little ridiculous giving this piece of advice because I am so bad at this. I have terrible guilt when I say no to other people, so I tend to say yes simply to avoid the guilt. But I almost always end up regretting it when I say yes to things that I really don’t want to do out of a sheer feeling of obligation.
However, I did have a big win in this department when I was asked to teach my daughter’s dance class a couple weeks ago and said no, full stop. While I did feel a little bit guilty for saying no, I knew without a doubt that there was no way I could possibly take this on with everything else I have going on and not have a total mental breakdown. That’s one HUGE time commitment and filler of mental space that I avoided even adding to my list in the first place by saying no. Instead, I get to use the time to do the things that light me up and move the needle for me, my business, our homestead and our family.
Practice saying no to things you don’t really want to do, or to things that you know you don’t have the mental bandwidth to deal with right now, or that take away from the things that really light you up and fill your cup.
Will you feel guilty? Maybe. I know I sure do. But I’m learning that I’d rather feel a little guilty than have a complete and total mental and emotional breakdown from taking on more than I can handle. And I have a feeling I’ll get over the guilt eventually if I just practice saying no more often.
Managing stress and overwhelm on the homestead is different for everyone, but you are not alone
Everybody has a different tolerance for stress and overwhelm and deals with these issues in different ways. Sometimes it’s more of a time management issue and all you really need is help organizing your to-do list and getting things done. For help with this, be sure to download the free printable Time Management Planner from my Free Resource Library. (Find it under the “Homesteading & Self-Sufficiency Resources” section of the library).
Other times it’s more of an issue of feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, or working through some tough personal issues, which can affect your every day life and how effective you are at taking care of your responsibilities at home, at work and as a homesteader, etc. Read more about coping with anxiety on the homestead here.
While there are no easy, one-size fits all answers for these types of problems, my best piece of advice for you would be to give yourself grace and permission to be human. Allow yourself to feel it all. Cry if you must (I have!). Get it all out and grieve if you need to. Scream into a pillow. Go for a run. Whatever it takes to let out everything that you’re feeling so you can let it go.
At the end of the day, there are a lot of big, stressful, overwhelming problems that you alone are not in control of or responsible for fixing. While I always think you should be part of the solution and not the problem, you don’t need to be a martyr either. When it comes to managing stress and overwhelm on the homestead, taking care of yourself and your own mental and emotional health before taking on other people’s is what’s most important. Just remember to breathe, because this too shall pass.
At least, that’s the advice I’d give myself. And ya know what? I think I just did:)
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Great article and great comments. I keep busy with my small pumpkin and herb farm and I watch my grandchildren Mon-Fri. As for T.V. we only watch Little Bear once in awhile. Love Little Bear (he has a nice simple life:) I feel so bad for the world and wish I could do more but like you said you can only control what is around you and I am so happy to wake up each morning and start a brand new day (whatever it may bring:) Stay safe everyone and know you are not alone
Anna, those are great suggestions. Strangely, I was in about the same place as you a week ago. I normally plan before I leave the garden what my next tasks will be, usually for the following day, unless rain is expected. Overwhelmed as I was, I decided to start limiting myself to three garden tasks a day. I also decided to get back to my once-a-week “bake & make day,” And I decided, for my own mental health, I needed to let go the idea I could get everything done. Sound familiar? I told myself I would do my best, but not to the point where I was going crazy. This meant some of the tomatoes I picked were going to spoil rather than get canned, so that that was a hard decision. It meant the house wasn’t going to be clean this week, though I did get to some of the usual household tasks. It meant that some of the seeds I was putting in for a fall garden might not get in when they should. But mostly, it meant that I felt better.
I reminded myself that kindness matters, not only for me to be kind to others, but to be kind to myself. Running myself ragged with high expectations… make that unrealistic expectations of myself is not being kind.
And then, while I was cleaning up a bed and prepping it for the next planting, I started thinking about how I might smooth out next year’s garden schedule, just a bit, so that that I’m not quite so overwhelmed next year. I could plant with a plan so I can even out my harvests a bit. Maybe I could adjust things so that I’m not simultaneously trying to clean up and plant some beds while tomato canning is going on. I can inventory and get supplies in for canning before the season.
You had some other good tips I can try now. Thank you!
I love those tips too! I’ve been saying for a couple years now that I’m going to start making freezer meals in the spring so at least I have some quick dinners ready when the kitchen is a mess with canning and everything in the summer. And I want to do less crops at once but more succession planting next year too so that things are staggered.
Every year is a new learning experience and no, we just can’t do absolutely everything. I think as women, especially, we can be extra hard on ourselves with expectations. But something always has to give in order for other things to take priority.
Oh, and if it makes you feel any better, cleaning my house is almost always the first thing to go when I’ve got too much on my plate!
Love it, Anna! 😀
Great article, Anna! Great tips and so needed right now. A couple of other things I do to manage stress are:
1) Practicing self-care. Busy people, busy Moms are often too busy to take care of themselves. But I find when I make the time to take a bubble bath, enjoy a cup of tea, read a couple of chapters in my favorite book or give myself a pedicure, it does wonders for my mental health and well-being.
2) Making quiet time. For me this generally includes some type of devotional, prayer and meditation. It’s good to rest and renew the mind from all the negative and focus on more uplifting thoughts, building my faith and hope again.
Thanks for all you do! XO