77: Because winter is hard (mental health for homesteaders)

77: Because winter is hard (mental health for homesteaders)

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Winter is hard. It’s long. It’s dark and cold. I mean, at least where I live.

Winter can be difficult as a homesteader, especially if you are north. There’s no dirt. There’s no grass. Everything is frozen. Nothing’s growing. And if you have animals, you’re shoveling show or chipping ice to get to them.

Like I said, winter is hard.

(Don’t want to read all the words? This blog post is also a podcast—just press the triangle play button on the little black bar at the top of this post!)

This is the stuff that people don’t talk about. We talk about how to deal with winter for our animals, but we rarely talk about the reality of winter for the actual homesteader—at least not how it relates to mental health.

I’m not saying this isn’t an issue other times of the year. Mental health is always important, and there are many stressors on a homestead that can make mental health an issue year round. And yes, mental health is an issue across the board, not just for homesteaders.  But today we’re talking about the reality of winter, and the special situations we can find ourselves in as homesteaders.

Let's talk about the reality of winter on the homestead, and how it relates to mental health. Why IS winter so hard? It's more than just the lack of sun...

Why winter is especially hard: three reasons

1. If you’re having a hard time in the winter, you will often be told you just need some sun. Clearly the short, dark days affect us physically, and Seasonal Affective Disorder is a valid thing.

And sometimes sun and Vitamin D are the answer. But I often think there are deeper issues about winter on the homestead that people fail to make a connection about. For instance:

2. Many people say winter is the time to take a break. The earth is taking a rest and it’s what we should do, too. The problem is that sometimes taking a rest and not having enough to do is bad. Staying busy keeps you out of trouble. Trouble doesn’t always refer to jail. Sometimes trouble refers to places in your head that you shouldn’t be spending time in. The “break” of winter gives you time to sit—and think—and spend time with mental demons that you’re able to keep at bay in the much busier spring, summer, and fall of homestead life.

3. Related, sometimes the “rest” of winter gives us enough pause to bring issues to the surface that need to be dealt with. Financial situations. Relationship issues. Commitments we’ve said yes to that we need to let go. Parenting drama. And it’s good to deal with issues. But in the quiet and dark and cold of winter, sometimes those issues can feel suffocating and overwhelming.

Sometimes the homestead is the place that saves you. There is life. There is nature. There are miracles everyday. In winter, you have to look harder to find those things. Some people welcome the quiet and peace and break of winter, but if you’re not in the right brain space, it’s not quiet or peaceful and it’s not a break—at all. 

Let's talk about the reality of winter on the homestead, and how it relates to mental health. Why IS winter so hard? It's more than just the lack of sun...

I bring this up because:

I really struggled this past winter. At a low point, I brought it up on my farm page on Facebook. And although I didn’t give voice to how deep in a hole I was, I did receive many comments and messages. Because of all the resulting conversations and the different ways people approached my post, I decided I would make a blog post/podcast/video about the topic.

I don’t think we talk about it as much as we need to. When the winter is hard, it’s so common for people to say you just need sun or that things will be better when you can see the green grass. But I think for many people it’s deeper than that—especially homesteaders who are used to being so busy—and a lot of my Facebook messages and emails tapped into that. We had some great, honest conversations. 

Why it’s hard to talk about what to do when you’re struggling:

In all honesty, different things work for different people. And regardless of what will help you, you have to be in the right frame of mind to hear it. So while someone can suggest all the things that will actually help, if you’re not ready to hear it or are too far into a pit to listen, it doesn’t matter.

Even so, I’m going to mention a few things that did help to start pulling me out of a dark hole. Stick them in your back pocket, should you ever need to refer to them.

Let's talk about the reality of winter on the homestead, and how it relates to mental health. Why IS winter so hard? It's more than just the lack of sun...

A few things that helped me:

Yes, you can take Vitamin D.

Yes, you can get a sun lamp.

But if you feel it’s more than the physical ramifications of being on the darker side of the year, here are some other things to keep in mind that I found helpful:

  • Get out. Your homestead is great, but you shouldn’t be there 24 hours a day, I don’t care if you don’t like people. I don’t care if your farm is your favorite place to be. If you are there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it will absolutely mess with your mind in ways you don’t realize until you’re deep down in a pit. For those of you who work from home or homestead full time, this is a legit issue. The tough thing about this is that sometimes leaving your house in the winter isn’t possible. (Anyone ever been snowed in?) But if you can, you should make a conscious effort to leave your property.
  • Be active. Yeah, I know. I get it. Blah blah blah, Amy. Winter is the time for snuggling under a blanket with a mug of something warm and a good book. And there is a time for that. But if that’s your every day, what happens is that you start to become inert. Objects in motion tend to want to stay in motion and objects at rest usually want to stay at rest. As part of my healing, I recently joined a gym because it gets me out of the house on an almost daily basis, and also because it makes me feel strong and powerful.
  • Know what really makes your head okay. Is it being around people? Is it knowing people are thinking about you and value your opinion? Is it having a certain amount of time for yourself without your kids or your significant other? Is it being creative? Is it being strong? I know that physical activity makes my brain work better and gets my creative juices flowing, but physical activity also makes me feel like I could defend myself or others, which is essential to me feeling good. I know these things about myself. If I’m stuck on words or I feel like a wimp, I am gonna end up in a bad place.
  • Know what makes your head not okay. Does whiskey tend to take you deeper into a dark pit of questioning your worth or being oversensitive? Does hanging out with certain people put you in the wrong frame of mind? Does watching the news or hanging out on social media too much make you angry or sad? Stop. doing. that. Take control of what you can control
  • Is there tangible stuff you need to deal with? Is there something that can be fixed that you can’t quite put your finger on? Work through it. Or at the very least, own that there is something there. Because it’s one thing for your head to be in the wrong place, and it’s a whole different level of bad to also be dealing with a heap of stuff that needs to be untangled that you’re not even aware is tangled up.
  • Reach out. And here is the thing you need to understand about reaching out. You have to reach out a few times before people get that you are honestly reaching out. Especially if you’re usually logical or cheerful or the one who is always helping and supporting other people.  Keep reaching out. And the other thing? You may find that the people who respond first are actually people outside your super close circle of people. And that’s okay.
  • And for God’s sake, if you need anti-depressants or other medication, please go get it. There is no shame in that.

Being in the right frame of mind means you can deal with winter on the homestead. You can more easily deal with the cold and the dark and the frozen tundra. You can keep yourself out of the dark corners of your mind, and you can tackle life issues that need to be dealt with.

Hopefully this is helpful to someone. Listen to the podcast episode by clicking the play bar at the top of this blog post, or watch the YouTube video where I talk a bit more about the topic. Leave a comment here, email me at [email protected], or message me on Facebook if you have any questions, comments, or conversation regarding mental health during winter on the homestead.

Let's talk about the reality of winter on the homestead, and how it relates to mental health. Why IS winter so hard? It's more than just the lack of sun...

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