There have been a lot of changes in the Pickle Palace in 2018, and we are closing the year off by trying to get our tiny house build under roof. This past year we moved from the city to a rural area, moved from a 1900 square foot house to a 31 foot RV trailer, changed jobs, decided to build a tiny house, began construction on our tiny house, and we are still actively pursuing new community and school options for Little Ray.

These things are happening in addition to the baseline of everyday life: eating, sleeping, self-care, homeschooling, and house and farm work. While we enjoy hard work, we should be careful not to make every waking moment about work. It is easy to get lost in how enormous big changes can feel, and the perception that everything feels like a snowball that gets bigger and faster as it rolls down the hill.

One of the priorities of my personal minimalism journey has been to minimize stress. While this includes less material things overall, it also includes organizing my mind and continually examining thoughts and habits while implementing structure.

Effective living is easier than letting life push us around.

We can’t control what life throws at us; however, we can control how we respond and react. Presenting: The Pickle Palace Big Stress Toolbox.

1. The Reality Check

There is a lot of stress that comes from resisting the way things are, resisting feelings or pain, or ruminating on anxiety. Our culture isn’t short on providing us with ways to resist. Between being constantly plugged into our devices, the availability of constant stimulation, and advertising, it’s really easy to check out. Our devices aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but when we use them to chronically avoid what is going on, they start becoming destructive distractions that add to our stress.

When things start to feel difficult, I sit down and write out everything that is true right now using radical self honesty. I’m going to write it down no matter how bad it seems. If this feels difficult, I start by writing at least one statement that is true.

When I do a reality check, I can practice acceptance of what is happening, and I feel more energized and ready to tackle my problems.

2. Priorities

After my reality check, I list my priorities. In high stress times, it’s usually more immediate needs, but they can be related to a long-term problem or goal I am working towards. Keeping a planner is crucial to this step as well. I usually list immediate priorities in my planner so I can work on them.

Making a list can decrease feelings of enormity: in my most recent reality check, my priority list was only focused on three things, rather than the thousands of thoughts that were continuously making their way through my head.

When I have completed my reality check and priorities, I can move toward examining my structures.

3. Structure

Structure guides and supports us, and helps us deal with stress in a positive way. Structure can be habits, goals and intentions, boundaries, or people that will support us.

 Structure is not a schedule. A schedule is a structure that can help us, but so can having a day to throw the schedule out and be spontaneous. There can also be different kinds of structures for different kinds of days: my daily structure is different when I am with my kid versus when I am alone.

For example, in high stress times, I need to eat more and I need plenty of protein and healthy fats. I also need to make sure my family eats well. I have a master grocery list as well as a meal plan structure in place. I also have a “let’s order pizza” structure in place, because life happens.

After I do my reality check and priorities, I check existing structures to see how well they are working and make new structures as needed. Recently, I was feeling so stressed that I felt that my self-care routine was just another thing I had to do, so I implemented a smaller structure for when things feel too big. If I can focus on simply feeding myself and taking time for deep breaths, I know I will come back to the larger structure eventually.

4. Communication

Our biggest obstacle to communication is realizing that people aren’t always going to like it when we speak our truths. Yet I have learned how absolutely crucial it is to learn to speak up for our needs, and the needs of others, especially in times of stress.

If others’ truths or needs are in contrast with our own, this is when we employ conflict management. However, conflict management can only happen when we are honest and able to speak in a neutral way that utilizes more than one perspective.

Defensiveness and personal attacks are not communication, they are deflection from behavior accountability, and they solve exactly zero problems. We all need to remember this in times of stress. We need to step away if we can’t communicate without hurting someone while realizing the dissolution of anger is not resolution. We need to come back and solve the problem when we are ready.

5. Adaptability

Adaptability is having the patience with myself to accept the things that resulted from mistakes or unknowns, and learning from those things. Adaptability is letting go of control. It is crucial in any stressful situation, it is crucial in life.

My adaptability involves allowing myself to freak out if I need to, knowing I will choose to handle it, and allowing myself the patience to get there (unless I need to act immediately, then I can freak out later!).

Sometimes I just need to get things out, and I can utilize my structure to do that. I usually go for a walk, journal, or phone my family or a friend.

6. Research and inspiration

When I consciously choose to take take my mind off things, and feel refreshed afterwards, this is constructive distraction. This is the time for walks in the woods to be inspired by nature, often with my camera. This is a time to use social media and entertainment to read or watch something inspirational or informative. Sometimes this is sustainability research, and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s just a good book and a cup of tea, or even a good sci-fi movie.

7. Self-care and rest

It is difficult for me to take care of others or deal with life unless I am taking care of myself, resting, and getting adequate sleep. I make sure my family is getting these things as well.

Realistically, in our culture self-care isn’t always a possibility, but when I utilize this tool kit, I can come back to my self-care structures. When I think of what we are working towards, this is really what it is about: the ability to take care of ourselves and others, the ability to find nourishment in life.

Stress management is also unique to situations and individuals. What are your stress management or self-care tools?