Thursday, July 30, 2015

Scheduling Wellness Activities

       A common question from readers is about what activities I schedule and at what times I schedule them. Typically, the questions are aimed at finding out what exercise routines and schedules I've found to be the most beneficial for reducing my symptoms. Because no two people are in the same place on their journey, I don't believe that sharing my workout routines will be of much benefit. There is no one size fits all approach to better physical or mental health. Besides, I schedule an array of activities to reduce my symptoms, not just exercise. 

       Since this question does come up so often, I've decided to write about how I make my entire wellness activities schedule. The idea here is not to prescribe a regiment, but to demonstrate how I fit wellness activities into my life. I have a wonderful wife and two beautiful children that I want to spend as much quality time with as possible. To ensure that the time I do spend with them is quality time, I must take care of myself. To do that, I have to be creative with my time management. That means writing out a schedule.

       The importance of writing out a schedule cannot be overstated. Dean F. MacKinnon, MD, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital has talked about the importance of setting a schedule when someone has a mental illness. He stated, "If your life has no form to it, if you wake up in the morning with no idea of what to do with yourself, you're going to be miserable. Actually, that can make anyone miserable, whether they have a mental illness or not." I have learned the hard way that if I don't schedule my wellness activities out for the week, there is a good chance that I won't do them. 

       I understand the importance of a routine for those of us who suffer from mental illnesses, so while the times that I schedule activities rarely changes, the activities themselves do. Different activities relieve different symptoms, and that is one of the reasons I only schedule one week in advance. I can change what activities I do based on what I am dealing with at the time. 

       I am well aware that a quick internet search will deliver many exercise programs and classes that give step-by-step instructions for one, to as many as six, months. I love that concept. Knowing what I would be doing for a month or more would have some real advantages. However, I have found that every time I have tried to schedule more than a week in advance that I have failed in some way, however small. I may have an unexpected errand to run and have to change what workout I do that day, or one of my kids might get sick, or I may not have made quite as much progress as I thought I would, so the resulting workouts have to be tweaked. As John Lennon said, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans." I don't like letting myself down, or feeling like a failure because "life" happened. 

       I also don't like focusing solely on results, which is often what happens with those long term exercise plans. I like to have fun while I exercise (I do this to reduce symptoms, not to become an olympian), and I can't do that if all I am focused on is how much better I may, or may not, be doing compared to the last time. I found that if I focus on results they rarely come, but if I focus on the process the results are sure to follow. 

       That being said, I sit down once a week and plan out what I am going to do and when I am going to do it. For me, the best part about this strategy, when it concerns exercise, is that I don't get bored. I can change running/walking locations each week if I want a change of scenery. I can add in a hike if I have time. I am able to add trips to the gym for circuit training to gain strength. If I have worn out my joints and need a low impact week, I can use an elliptical machine or bicycle. Each week I am able to get excited about exercise again because I ask myself two wonderful questions. What will excite me? What will keep me motivated this week? Those questions keep me actively engaged in my exercise therapy. 

       I ask those same two questions when deciding what other wellness activities to include in the upcoming week. There are so many things that people do to bring themselves joy and reduce symptoms. I don't pretend to know them all, or what is best for anyone. I know what works for me, and I schedule it. If someone hasn't found things that bring him or her joy or has simply forgotten, perhaps this short (incomplete) list of examples will help.

Painting, Coloring, Sculpture, Crafts,
Meditation, Yoga, Caring for a pet,
Gardening, Volunteering, Reading,
Listening to music, Long hot baths,
Support groups, Watching a comedy,
Deep breathing exercises, Journaling

       I don't know if other people have enough time in their week to do everything that they would like to, but I know I don't. So, I always have a plan to ensure that I get in as many therapeutic activities as possible. I don't have the luxury of skipping exercise, going an entire week without some form of meditation, not carving out some time to read, or deciding that I am not going to find time during the week to journal. These are things that I must do to stay well and keep my symptoms at bay. Again, if I don't schedule them, then I probably won't do them. That is unacceptable. 

       I am not trying to survive; I am trying to thrive. To do that, I sit down each week and make my plan. There are times when I find that I can do two activities at the same time to maximize the benefit from a therapeutic standpoint. Doing so also allows me to fit more wellness activities into the week. For example, I usually listen to my favorite music while exercising, painting and taking a hot bath. I love to listen to guided meditations on my walks. Reading while I eat lunch is one of my favorite things to do and, again, it allows me to kill two birds with one stone. I have found that if I am creative and deliberate about what I do I can accomplish a great deal, even during a busy week. 

       Two tips I have found that help me immensely are to always use a pen, and always follow through. The reason I use a pen is that it prevents me from erasing activities during the week when I may be in a funk. Once an activity is on my calendar it is there to stay. The reason that I follow through, even when I know that there is no way that I will be able to finish, is because the times that I want to skip things on my list is usually when I need to do them the most. 

       Ironically, I have found that the times when I have forced myself to start activities, that I absolutely did not want to do, are the times I have ended up enjoying them the most. Obviously, it comes from the fact that when I'm done, not only do I feel better because of the therapeutic affect, but I get an additional boost from knowing that I overcame the desire to hang my head in defeat and crawl into bed. There is a great deal of satisfaction and beauty in overcoming my inner demons that tell me to just lay down and give up. 

       In case there is anyone that is unable to get a weekly calendar, for whatever reason, I designed a simple one that works well and put it below. It is in Jpeg format so that it can be clicked on, and then printed. It prints very nicely in black and white as well. 
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As always I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click the link to the right and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a great resource, and is staffed by wonderful people. 
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