There are a million posts like this on the internet, and, generally speaking I’m not that into posting ‘tips and tricks’ for anxiety or depression because I feel like they’re complicated illnesses that a) there’s unlikely to be a ‘quick fix’ for and b) I’m probably not that qualified to give out advice on the subject, BUT, I had to share this idea…
And what makes this one different? Why share this one? Well it provides almost instant gratification, doesn’t require any prep work (or require you to happen to own a full set of healing crystals, or live next to lake you can swim in…), and I think it’s pretty risk-free, you don’t like it; you stop it.
With my anxiety, I definitely need to feel organised and in control – I make lists, I catalogue eyeshadows, I have a Spreadsheet for what I eat in a day and one that lists all the bras I own, but sometimes, I end up feeling like I’m being controlled rather than like I’m the one in-control but I still need to track things, I need to make that list. (And yes, it would be great if one day I could tame that need and not feel so out of control if I haven’t planned for something, but honestly, one battle at a time…)
So every night before bed I make a to-do list for the next day – I’ve done this for as long as I can remember. Now when I’m ‘well’ this list will consist of bigger, more impressive things like:
– jog 4 miles in the a.m.
– work 10am – 7pm
– dinner with Dad after work
– going to the cinema @ 10pm
You know, normal life stuff. And then, when I started to get mentally worse recently, I adapted the to-do list so it looked more like:
– get up before 9am
– wash hair
– eat either breakfast or lunch
– text someone
Really simplified right? I thought I would set myself super achievable goals and that would allow me to easily tick them all off and feel really accomplished and proud of myself, gold stars for me. But let me tell you, when you deliberately write a list of four ridiculously easy things to do in a day and then, because you’re so unwell you can’t do any of them… that is not a healthy or a good feeling. I was going to bed every single night feeling more like I was failing, like I was falling further down into the depression BECAUSE CLEARLY I COULDN’T DO ANYTHING SO WHAT EVEN IS THE POINT. Seriously, for every one thing I managed to tick off the list, there would be three or four I just couldn’t face (sometimes, for days at a time), and those to-do lists would just rub that in my face, day after day.
So it was time to regroup and try and find a way to still make those lists without those lists making me crazy and I remembered something I’d learned on a training day in some job or other (you know, the sort of days where there are ‘team games’ and ‘creative exersises’ *shudder*) and the tip was actually given as a tool to motivate staff when you’re running a particularly difficult shift, but hey, it applies here and the idea is… to write a done list.
So simple, and so widely used by people in all sorts of settings, it’s potentially not that surprising that it would help manage daily anxiety, but what’s interesting to me is that it doesn’t seem to just be a tool to help me cope day to day, it actually seems to be improving my overall mood. Having the list to look at at the end of the day is cheering, but having a week’s worth to look back at lets me really see how all the little pieces come together. Sure I only managed to study for 2 hours a day instead of 3, but you know what – that means I’m still 14 hours closer to achieving my dreams than I was at the start of the week.
It also helps me plan my time for the week ahead (because yes I do still need to have a rough plan of my time or else I just feel so lost). I can see realistically what I was achieving each day and I can be more gentle when structuring the week ahead – it means I can see I can usually study for about 2 hours a day, so I plan for 1.5 and then I’m proud of myself for doing more, rather than planning for 3 and ‘failing’ every day.
One thing I would say is that I think these lists are pretty personal – and of course, completely relative. For example, here’s my list for yesterday:
– Managed to cook dinner
– Managed to text my sister to say good luck for her interview
– Managed to do some programming
– Managed to listen to my body and sleep when I needed to
– Managed to speak on the phone
So… for me, that was a pretty alright day actually, based on how my life is at the moment, but clearly to almost anyone else this list would look ridiculous: ‘I mean okay, so you managed to take a nap, stuff your face, mess about on your phone and what even does ‘some’ programming mean? Did you call the doctors? You know that’s important. Did you eat anything before dinner? You know you need to eat…’ and so it could go on. One thing I’m really learning with my mental health is how personal the journey is. My done list is (usually) for my eyes only and that way I can choose to attach only positive feelings to it. I’m learning to measure success by my own standards and to notice all progress, not just significant progress and sometimes even though the people around us might only ask because they care, it can be hard having to say over and over again; “well no, I … I didn’t actually manage to do that today…” and have them look shocked – that always makes me freak out about why I didn’t do it.
Every journey starts with a single step, and the journey to mental wellness is no different, it’s just that while from the outside, the first step might be “eat breakfast each day”, depending on your starting place your daily achievements might be “was able to consider eating today, and was able to open the fridge”, and there is nothing wrong with that. Even the smallest step is a step in the right direction and so I think the done list is a great idea as long as you remember to count everything you’ve done as an achievement not just the big stuff, and you know what it’s okay if all that’s written down some days is “kept breathing” because I know that sometimes, that can feel like a battle in itself.