Being self-reliant means many things to many people. Usually, a self-reliant lifestyle is associated with some degree of homesteading, living off the land-perhaps even off the grid and providing for yourself and your family with nothing but the skill and strength of your own two hands.
It means being prepared to survive and care for your family in any event, being financially independent and indebted to no one, and taking control of your physical health and wellbeing with natural medicine and the type of physical fitness that comes from long days of hard work.
Indeed self-reliance can be (and often is) all of these things. But there’s one other very important aspect that is rarely talked about, yet it’s the foundation upon which all other important skills are built. It’s our mental health, and it’s perhaps the most powerful weapon we have in our arsenal.
The Importance of Mental Health for Self-Reliance
As a society, we still struggle to talk openly about mental health. For some reason, it’s still a bit of a taboo subject that gets dismissed too often as being little more than new age quackery. But mental health is very real and affects us all just as much as our physical health (sometimes more).
Consider the fact that, according to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people suffer from depression worldwide. And that’s just depression. There are many more people who live with varying types and degrees of stress, anxiety, trauma and even phobias, all of which take their toll on our mental health and our ability to function optimally in our day-to-day lives.
Now, what does this all have to do with self-reliance, you ask? A lot.
For starters, anyone pursuing a self-reliant lifestyle is probably someone who wants to take control and responsibility for their own wellbeing and not have to rely on others to care for them.
When it comes to physical health, we all know it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, eat nutritious foods and stay physically fit so as to remain in good health and avoid reliance on doctors and hospitals as much as possible. It shouldn’t come as a big surprise then that this concept applies to mental health as well: In order to maintain good mental health and avoid doctors, drugs, and therapists, we must train our minds just as we do our bodies and feed our brains positive thoughts just as we feed our bodies nutritious foods.
Another reason why it’s so important for homesteaders and others striving for self-reliance to maintain good mental health, quite frankly, is because we’re too busy not to!
For the average homesteader, the to-do list is never-ending. There are gardens to be tended to, meals to be cooked from scratch, wood to be chopped, fires to be stoked, homeschool lessons to be delivered, projects to be completed and livestock to be fed, watered, birthed, harvested and cared for. We need to make sure we are mentally as well as physically fit to handle all of the pressures and demands of this lifestyle before we find we’ve bitten off more than we can chew.
I have personally battled anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and continue to live with moderate anxiety today. I know first-hand how debilitating these types of mental health challenges can be. There have been many days when I’ve struggled to even get out of bed, let alone tackle my to-do list with enthusiasm. I’ve spent years learning techniques to help me cope with and overcome these challenges. But I know well what it’s like to have anxiety creep up and paralyze you, rendering it seemingly impossible to complete even the simplest of tasks.
Homestead life can also be emotionally taxing when dealing with unpleasant realities like slaughtering livestock, losing animals to predators, having crops wiped out by pests and disease and dealing with the many other challenges and heartbreaking losses that can make even the toughest of us question whether it’s all worth it in the end.
Now, not every homesteader is doing or dealing with all of these things (I’m certainly not), but many are, and many others are striving to do as much as possible on their own. Accomplishing all of this hard work requires focus, dedication, determination, diligence, resourcefulness, confidence, and faith, all of which can suffer when we’re in a state of poor mental health.
Finally, there is at least some degree of emergency preparedness that goes hand-in-hand with living a self-reliant lifestyle. When we talk about homesteading and self-sufficiency, we often touch on the importance of being prepared for anything by raising our own food, having a fully-stocked pantry, having a source of off-grid heat, power and water, knowing first aid and having supplies packed and ready to either bug-in or bug-out in the event of a major emergency. But again, we rarely talk about the importance of being mentally prepared.
Imagine disaster strikes and chaos ensues. Now more than ever you need to think clearly and rationally, stay focused and remain calm. It’s also the time when you’re most likely to panic or break down if you’re not prepared and you’ve never practiced how to stay calm in stressful situations.
Thankfully you can train your brain to better be able to handle stress, anxiety and negative emotions. Much like you can train your body to become stronger, so too can you train your mind.
While there are many physical things you can do to support mental wellness (such as exercise, healthy diet, natural medicines and getting enough sleep), I’d like to touch on the emotional, spiritual and mindful techniques you can use to improve your own mental health and overall wellbeing.
Please keep in mind that I am not a doctor, and I advise you to seek professional medical help if you are experiencing any sort of mental health issues that are affecting your day-to-day life.
These are just a few tools that have helped me to deal with some of the mental health challenges I’ve faced while eliminating my reliance on doctors and prescription drugs. I hope you’ll find them equally useful…
The most effective technique I’ve learned to help deal with stress and anxiety is the practice of mindful breathing. This is a tool I can whip out anywhere, anytime to help me get through some of the most uncomfortable feelings of unease, ranging from mild anxiety to full-blown panic attacks. And you literally don’t need anything but your own body to put this into practice. Simply take a few slow, deep breaths in and out (as many as you need), and focus your attention on each inhale and exhale.
The mind can only consciously focus on one thought at a time, so focusing your attention on your breathing actually helps to replace any other negative thoughts you may be experiencing.
Also, slow, deep breathing can help to oxygenate the body, which eases nerves and calms your mind and body.
This type of mindful breathing is the first step (and one of the most highly recommended relaxation techniques) when it comes to managing stress and anxiety. This is a really great technique to practice to help you remain calm in an emergency or otherwise stressful and chaotic situation.
I also practice mindfulness regularly by taking time to focus my attention on whatever I’m doing at the present moment. Whether I’m pulling weeds, turning compost, cutting pastry or picking strawberries, I find my mind is most at ease when I’m completely focused on the task at hand.
This practice of being present and mindful is another awesome technique that requires nothing more than your own body and can be applied anywhere at any time. By focusing on the present moment, you block out anxiety about the past and worry about the future and allow more space for positive, calming thoughts to flow. You can practice this at any moment, but I’ve found that doing regular yoga and guided meditations have really helped me to hone this skill.
You can find some great free guided meditations on Youtube or you can gain access to a huge library of resources including dozens of guided meditations, calming music and visuals, and relaxing sleep stories through my favorite new app called Calm. You can sign up for a one-week free trial here and gain access to everything that Calm has to offer. Then you can choose whether to subscribe or cancel your trial but keep access to some of the features for free. I’ve been using this app every night before bed since I discovered it a couple weeks ago and I absolutely love it!
“Keep Calm and Carry On,” and Other Affirmations
Another thing I do to help me through uncomfortable or highly emotional situations is to repeat mantras and affirmations to myself. When I find I’m getting caught up in a negative thought pattern, I try to replace the negative thoughts with positive and reaffirming ones.
One of my personal favorite mantras is “this too shall pass.” I repeat this to myself when I’m engaged in a painful or uncomfortable task, caught up in negative emotions or dealing with anxiety or panic attacks. It reminds me that the pain and discomfort I’m feeling won’t last forever, and I just have to ride the wave and keep on pushing forward until it passes.
Don’t Go It Alone!
In addition to repeating affirmations to yourself, talk to someone you love and trust. Remember, just because we are striving to become more self-reliant doesn’t mean we have to do everything alone. We are still social beings that rely on our relationships with others to survive and thrive in this world. If you are dealing with mental or emotional challenges, find someone you feel comfortable confiding in and get it off your chest.
It’s normal to want to shut yourself away or hide under your blankets alone when you’re feeling down, but it’s much healthier to talk to someone or even just be around loved ones and supportive people. Sharing with others can lessen our own burden while positive feedback and advice can help us to feel better about ourselves and get on with our lives.
Be careful about toxic relationships though! Think carefully about who you can open up to without judgment. Sometimes those closest to us can be the most critical, so talk to someone you know will lift you up instead of bringing you down.
Last but most certainly not least, give yourself over to God.
Knowing that we cannot control everything and relinquishing the need to be able to control every outcome is incredibly liberating; Like a huge weight of responsibility being lifted off your shoulders.
I’ve learned to trust that everything happens for a reason, even if it makes no sense at the time. There are forces beyond our comprehension at work and I believe there is a greater plan for all of us. Relinquishing the need to control that which we have no power over and putting our faith in God allows us to align with the divine path we are meant to be on, which makes us feel more joyful and at ease.
I’ve learned that making time for regular spiritual practice has helped my mental wellbeing immensely. If you are of the Christian faith, this might include attending church regularly, doing daily devotionals and/or keeping a Bible journal. If you consider yourself more spiritual than religious, you might choose to set aside time each day for meditation, yoga or simply being in nature. Basically, the same types of activities you engage in to help you become more mindful will also allow you the time and space you need to open up and connect with your own higher power.
Give Thanks, Every Day
Practicing gratitude is another amazing technique for easing anxiety and depression and filling your heart and soul with joy. We are truly so blessed in so many ways, but it’s easy to forget this and only focus on what is lacking in our lives, which inevitably brings us down.
Keeping a gratitude journal or simply making time each day to count your blessings is enough to calm your mind and lift your mood. If you have air in your lungs, food in your belly, a roof over your head and a family to love, remember that you are already more blessed than many people we share this planet with. Anything extra is truly icing on the cake.
How Self-Reliant Living Can Boost Your Mental Wellness
The best part about living a more self-reliant lifestyle is that it has allowed me the time and space to practice all of these techniques on a regular basis. Living closer to the land has allowed me to have a deeper connection to God and all things.
It is humbling to watch the miracles of nature all around us or to look up at a sky of stars on a summer night and remember how tiny and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things. It can really put our perceived problems into perspective.
For me, living more rurally has also helped me to escape a lot of my anxiety that stemmed from living in a big city. The traffic, the faceless crowds of people, the rush and business and hurry of running the rat race every day, going nowhere… I left all of that behind when I moved to the outskirts of a smaller town and started living my homestead dream.
I have more time to be with my family, to do the things I love like cooking and gardening and creating, and to enjoy life’s little miracles, like watching a seed grow into a plant and harvesting the fruits of that plant to feed my family. I’m living a lifestyle I love and living true to myself, my morals and my own higher power. If that isn’t good for the mind, body, and soul then I don’t know what is!
Many people pursue a homesteading lifestyle for the health benefits of eating good, organic food and making healthy, natural products from scratch. But the mental and emotional benefits can be just as rewarding. Take full advantage of them and remember to give thanks every day that you are able to choose this beautiful lifestyle, no matter where you are on your journey.
So remain focused, dedicated, determined, diligent, resourceful and confident. But above all else have faith: Faith in God, faith in yourself, and faith in this incredibly rewarding lifestyle you’ve chosen. The simple life may not always be easy, but I promise it is worth every ounce of energy you put into it. You’ve got this.