Part 3 of my Mental Health Monday series is how to create an effective emergency self-care plan to improve even your worst days. If you're human, chances are you may have a bad day. And sometimes even worse days. One of the things that I have learned from a life with mental health challenges is that you have to plan ahead for bad days. As many wise ones have said, you cannot change what you do not acknowledge. So if you want to improve your bad days, the first step is to admit that you are going to have them, and then, knowing that, plan ahead by creating an emergency self-care plan. Today's post will help you to create your own personal plan for improving your bad days. You'll learn how to re-frame how you look at bad days and the essential steps to take to improve them.
Bad days are often the beginning stage of a mental health crisis. Left unchecked, bad days possess the potential to spiral into worse days and become a bad life. This is because what we do and experience repeatedly is what we become. The best way to handle a crisis is to have a plan already established before the crisis arrives. Think about the fire drills people practice in school. Waiting for an actual fire to train the children how to evacuate the building would be a nightmare. No-one would know what they were doing or where they were going, especially because panic would overtake rational thinking in a lot of cases. Preparing for a crisis before it happens makes the crisis less threatening and lowers your overall stress levels relating to the event. Waiting until you have a bad day to deal with your mental health is just as foolish as waiting for a fire to figure out where the exits are. Think of creating your better day plan like having a fire drill. Knowing where and how to find the exits is key to your survival.
Step 1: Release Judgement
As a result of the way post-modern society functions, most of us have acquired inner judgmental voices, or critics, who love nothing more than to tear us down. The reason for this is that most of us encountered some form of verbal abuse at some point in our lives, whether from well-meaning family members, bullying classmates, or even strangers on the street. Our society has taught us to judge each other, and so when as children we find ourselves chastised by others, we learn to copy this behaviour and do it to ourselves. As children, we think that this is the normal way of being. And we imagine that if we learn to correct our own mistakes before others see them that we will be successful. What we find instead, is that it makes us miserable. So the first step of improving your worst days is to release any judgements surrounding the idea of a bad day. How do you do this? Start by telling yourself it's ok to have a bad day. Imagine that you are a child who needs love and comfort. How would you respond to a child who was hurting? Turn that compassion inward. Practice some form of affirmation or positive self-talk to help negate this judgement.
Step 2: Find Your Happy Place
One of the essential steps to creating a plan to improve your mental health is knowing what makes you happy. If you missed Part Two: 30 Easy Ways to Improve Your Mood, I recommend reading it over. It contains my best tips for feeling better. Use that list as a starting point and discover what makes you happy. Explore the things that make you feel your best. Think back to a time when you can remember being the happiest you've ever been. What did you do? What were you thinking? Identify people, places, experiences, and things that make your heart sing. Create a list for yourself that you can refer back to when you are feeling bad. When you feel bad, your brain is naturally locked into a limiting state. Possibilities and potentialities are not the types of thinking that a depressed brain is capable of. Having that list to refer back to can be crucial in low moments. Change is scary, especially when you are in panic mode. By identifying the actions that help you feel better, you are essentially mapping out your route to the nearest fire exit. Having a clear knowledge of the map makes it easier to follow. Knowing what you're going to do ahead of time makes it more likely that you will do it.
Step 3: Develop a Self-Care Routine
Creating a self-care routine is another essential part of creating a plan to improve your mental health. When you know the things that make you feel better, you are empowered to incorporate them into your life. But if you only use them on days that you feel bad, you won't see very much progress. This is because the key to learning anything (walking, riding a bike, reading, being happy, etc.) is repetition. The secret to happiness on a daily basis is consistently seeking the things that make you happy. The happiest people are those who have identified what makes them feel good and committed to incorporating those actions into their daily routines. Many of us live busy lives, and self-care is one of the first things that we neglect. But just as it is impossible for a neglected child to be happy, it's impossible for a neglected self to be happy. Even if you only have fifteen minutes to give in your day, find a way to carve out those fifteen minutes. Think of the time you spend on self-care as an investment in your mental health. Just as we tend to accomplish less when we are depressed, we naturally accomplish more when we are happy and excited about our life. Practice giving yourself as much self-care time as works for you and you will discover that not only are you happier, but you have more time because you are automatically more productive.
Step 4: Identify Your Priorities
Bad days and low mental health tend to result in an inability to get things done. When we feel depressed, we honestly don't feel like doing anything. That's normal. Unfortunately, bad days don't negate our need to get certain essential tasks accomplished. We still need to eat. There are still outside responsibilities that must be handled. Very few of us have the luxury of handing our children or work off to someone else when we have a bad day. When we procrastinate and delay addressing these essential tasks, we set up a self-perpetuating cycle of guilt. We don't do what we need to do. We feel guilty that we didn't do it. The guilt only makes us feel worse which in turn makes us feel even less like accomplishing anything. As our pile of undone tasks accumulate, it becomes ammunition for our inner critic to hurl at us. The key to stopping this cycle is identifying tasks that need to be accomplished. The easiest way to do this is to make a list of all of the things that you feel "should" be done. Go back through the list and prioritise the items based on their necessity. I like to assign a value system using stars or exclamation marks. Three is for the things that have to be done today. Two is for the things that need to be done this week. One is for things that need to be done sometime soon, but aren't time sensitive. This technique will help you organize and whittle down your to-do list as well as identify what truly needs to be done each day. Once you've identified your priorities for the day, address the ones with three marks next to them. This will help you get things done as well as give you a sense of accomplishment when you tackle a task.
Step 5: Tackle Difficult Tasks
One of the best ways to improve your morale is to tackle difficult tasks first. As Mark Twain famously said, "If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first." In other words, do what needs to be done and get it out of the way. If you have several things that need to be done, do the most challenging one first. This way, if you accomplish nothing else throughout your day, at least you will have the sense of accomplishment that happens when you tackle a difficult task. You will have also gotten something done and made things easier on yourself. When you finish a difficult task, take a moment to acknowledge yourself. Remember that idea of imagining yourself as a child? How would you react to your child walking the first time after weeks and weeks of trying? Imagine that sense of accomplishment and allow yourself to truly feel proud of yourself. Praise yourself out loud. Find something on your feel good list and use it to reward yourself.
Step 6: Create Your Action Plan
Now that you know the essentials of how to create your plan, it's time to actually create it. Sit down and create a customized self-care kit specifically for bad days. Start by writing a positive affirmation to read when you reference the sheet. Make sure it includes only positive language and is something that resonates with you. I like statements such as, "I honour myself by caring for myself", "I am gentle with myself", "I love me", or "I deserve to be happy." Write down loving, gentle things to say to yourself. List your top five feel-better actions. List your self-care routine. Create a space for your to-do list. List possible rewards for accomplishing difficult taks on your list. Having a clear plan to follow before your bad days makes it easier to actually follow the plan when a bad day happens.
Step 7: Put Your Plan Into Action
As with anything, repetition is the key to creating new neural patterns. When you identify that you are having a bad day, pull out your plan and get started on it. Set yourself up for success by creating habits that support you. Eventually, you will get to a place where your improvement skill will be high enough to transform bad days. My bad days used to last for weeks and culminate in downward spirals of self-harm. Now, after years of practice, I can identify a low spot in my mental health and enact my self-care routine immediately. As a result, I rarely have truly bad days, and when I do, they're a lot like what my good days used to look like before I started planning. Eventually, you will reach a point where you can catch bad days as they begin and turn them around so that you have mostly good days, with a few bumpy moments in between.
What does your better day plan look like? Have you discovered another essential step for improving your worst days? Do you have any tips to share? Comment below and let me know! Sharing is caring!