Thursday, 7 September 2017

how to plan your days when you have anxiety

I am writing this post as much for myself as for anybody else. I have always loved making meticulous lists and plans, as lots of people do. It gives me a sense of control over my life and motivates me to actually get stuff done.

I recently moved back to Sheffield, where, in a few weeks, I am starting the final year of my literature degree. Only a handful of other people are back this early so I've had a lot of time to myself and I've been structuring my days pretty rigidly. For the first few days it was going well, but there are some things you can't plan for. You can't plan for last-minute invitations, rearranged plans, or poor physical or mental health.

love the idea of spontaneity and surprise, I wish I could fully dedicate myself to it without worrying about not being productive enough. That said, I rarely turn things down. Most of my money goes on spontaneous coffee trips with friends I haven't spoken to for a while, and I always feel like I'm missing out if I don't say yes to every night out I am invited to. 

As I was halfway through writing this post something happened that made my mood drop and consequently meant taking some time out from the schedule I had thus far stuck to. Instead of acknowledging that I needed time for myself, I just worried about all the more productive things I could/should be doing. I’m very bad at knowing when to allow myself to have a break, but I am going to start trying to follow my own advice that I have put in this post. 

When I have already planned my day, and evening up to a week in advance and then something changes, I can't help but feel guilty and anxious about giving up my original plan. The same goes for if I spend half an hour procrastinating and then panic knowing that I will never ever get that time back again. 

Clearly, something needs to change. There are ways to schedule activities and motivate yourself to be productive that don't involve having a breakdown about last minute changes or cancellations. 

Set general goals rather than strict time limits

Instead of waking up and forcing yourself to read for 2 hours, set the goal to read 50 pages that day and dip in and out whenever you feel like it. This way, if you get distracted or really don’t have the focus, there’s no need to stress. This works for any task. It requires a certain amount of self motivation because if you leave everything to the evening then it will be a mad rush to get things done. However, it is better than fretting over been an hour behind on a planned schedule.

Don't be too harsh on yourself

If you don't go for a run or go to the gym, do some yoga or go for a walk instead. Learn not to see one task as more important than another unless it really does have a deadline you need to stick to, especially with exercise. Learn to see high intensity work outs as equal to lower intensity ones, as you are doing them for your mind, not just for your body, because that is fine the way it is.

Congratulate yourself for the small things

Take the time to congratulate yourself for every little task you complete. Whether that’s just washing your hair or writing an introduction to an essay, it is important to appreciate all our achievements; big and small. Congratulate yourself the same way you would congratulate a friend who was struggling, or as if you were praising a child.

Think of one thing you did well today

At the end of the day try and write down one thing that you did well that day. This can be smiling at someone on the street, getting out of bed, eating three meals, or calling someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Even if you think you haven’t had a very productive day, you will have done something worthwhile. Remember that when you don’t feel well, you don’t need to have a good day, you just need to have a day.  

Break tasks down

Break tasks down so that you do not have to sustain focus for longer than you can. Everyone has different limits. You might be able to properly focus for 20 minutes before taking a 5-minute break and restarting, or maybe you can focus for an hour before taking a slightly longer break. I find that if I am working on the same thing for much longer than 90-minutes I start to lose focus and need a break, even if that’s just walking to the shops or making a cup of coffee.

Make time for breaks

It is important to make time for breaks. I sometimes feel guilty doing this, seeing as most of my so-called “work” is reading and writing, which I enjoy doing anyway. However, I have found that if I am reading or writing for too long it ceases to be enjoyable and I do need a break. Try doing something completely different in your breaks, like watching TV, having a snack, listening to music or going on tumblr (if anyone other than me still even does that anymore.)

Schedule self-care time

At least once every 3 days you should schedule some self-care time. Even if you are flexible with every other task, stick to this. It is not a waste of time. Dedicate half an hour, an evening, or a whole day to checking in with your mental health and pampering yourself. Try to work through any anxieties you have by writing them down or discussing them in a productive way with a friend. Then reward yourself with something like a bubble bath, some yoga exercises or a face mask.

Try the 5-minute rule

In contrast, when you really want to get something done, but don't have the motivation, try the 5-minute rule. Start the task and focus on it for 5-minutes. If you still really don't want to do it, then take a break. Quite often, starting a task is more daunting than actually doing it. I find this especially true when it comes to running. The hardest part is getting out the front door.

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