Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Priorities & Mental Health

       The following two lines from last week’s post prompted many requests for me to write about my priorities: “I began to write down strategies for a wellness plan, not a symptom management plan. I wrote down everything I could think of, and then I began reassessing my priorities.” Just like when I was frequently asked about my specific workout routines, and I wrote Scheduling Wellness Activities in response, I am going to take this opportunity to write about how I assess priorities. I don’t think it would be of much benefit for me to write about my personal priorities. The reason is simple. While the priorities for achieving better mental and physical health will be similar for those of us with mental illnesses, each of us are unique in where we are on our journey, our experiences, our preferences and our needs. I do believe the sheet I made to assess my priorities can be universally used though, and it’s simple.

       I use a chart with a four-point scale to assess what my priorities are and where I should focus my attention. I realize that some people enjoy getting into the minutiae of this whole process. I think that is wonderful, but I don’t have that calling. I have read many books on the subject over the years, and I have learned much from each one. In the end, however, I have found it is best for me to keep things simple and straightforward. Otherwise, I can quickly overcomplicate a rather simple process.

       I should mention that because my symptoms have been severe throughout my life, I do put my mental/physical health on the top of all of my lists, no matter what area of my life I am focusing on. It may seem, at first, that this is selfish, but nothing could be further from the truth. To be of any service to others, I must first take care of myself. If I neglect my mental/physical health, then all bets are off. If I am unable to function because I am overrun with symptoms, then it is hard for me to be of much service to anyone. Putting my mental/physical health as the number one priority in my life is what allows me to have a life. It allows me to participate and to make a difference in the world. Caring for myself is not self-indulgent. It is what is required for me to live life. Realizing that simple truth allowed me to start filling out my charts correctly. I have put a blank one in Jpeg format below in case anyone would like to print it off.

       I completed one of these sheets for each area of my life. Some may have mental/physical health, family, social, work, etc. Others may have mental/physical health, volunteer work, social, school, etc. Whatever the areas of focus a person may have in their life, I have found that making a sheet for each one allows me to zero in on what is truly important. Being able to clearly focus on what matters allows me to live a wonderful, fulfilling life.

       When I filled out these charts the first time, I found it was critical to seriously think through every activity I do in a month before putting them into a category. I also realized I had to be completely honest with myself. For example, does television fall under (3) Nice to do or (4) Able to eliminate, for me? It is according to what list I’m working on. If I am doing my mental health list, I actually put it under (2) Important. I found watching a funny show or movie can be extremely helpful  (Television: The Good & Bad post coming soon). Truly thinking things through and being honest with myself is the only way I have found to make these sheets effective.

       I like to pay close attention to (1) Most important and (4) Able to eliminate. Deciding what are the most important things to focus on in my life is the only way I know of to give myself a sense of direction and purpose. Eliminating things that are simply taking up time, and failing to give me a return on my time investment, frees me up to fill my schedule with things that do. Making sure not to skimp on these two areas, by assuming I know what should go in them, has been an enormous help to my progress.

       I have been asked in the past, “Isn’t that a lot of work?” No. What is a lot of work is lying in mental wards or experiencing crushing symptoms. This is nothing. Improving one's overall well-being doesn't happen by accident. It happens with careful planning. Setting priorities to achieve better mental and physical health is the key. Besides, I wouldn’t think twice about spending hours planning for a vacation. This is my life. I take the time to plan for it.

       Once I figured out what my priorities truly were, all I had to do was start scheduling them into my week and sticking to my schedule. If I’m ever torn over what I should schedule, I think back on what Stephen Covey said, “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically, to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.” That has proved to be true for me. For more in depth information on scheduling you can visit the Scheduling Wellness Activities post.

       A quick side note: I add to, and subtract from, my charts as new circumstances arise and information comes in. They are not static. I go over them at the beginning of each month to make sure no course corrections need to be made. Updating them is a wonderful way to keep me on track, and it reminds me of what I want for my life. The thirty minutes I invest in reviewing them at the beginning of each month pay me back in untold hours of improved mental/physical health, contentment and overall well-being.
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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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