Blog Series: Everyday Mental Health : Universal Truth #1 Planning Your Life is Essential for Mental Health
Dr. Amanda Beaman, C.Psych
In this article I will introduce you to the importance of planning for mental health. Please see the intro article for this blog series, which sets the stage for the next articles, and provides some important information about seeking professional help.
I can confidently say that based on my many years practicing with adults, it is almost always true that the habit of making a daily plan, in and of itself, is a foundational step to better mental health. Poor planning, and the negative thinking around it, is a major obstacle to mental health and is thankfully within our control to change.
Often, by the time people are seeking help from me their routine is quite unhealthy. It may have slowly unraveled over time as they became less well. Or maybe they never really mastered how to stick to planning a routine, and have fallen in and out of it throughout life. On the other extreme, they may plan too rigid a routine, or try to accomplish too much, leading to negative mental health consequences. While it is true that there is more to mental health than just planning, it is a foundational first step. We can all learn about strategies that help us stay mentally healthy, but if we are unable to plan, and therefore motivate ourselves effectively, it is all for naught. In session one with my new clients, we discuss that we are practicing planning to help them feel better today, but also, we are creating this habit for life, to help them in the future when they are not feeling well or motivated. What we plan to do is often less important than the plan itself when we aren’t at our best. This habit can carry us through a difficult time, like being thrown a life preserver when we start to have trouble treading water.
The thing about creating a daily plan is it involves consciously choosing what we’re going to do and when, rather than letting the days or weeks unfold according to our unconscious whims. The first approach is proactive, and preventative, the latter is not. You might think, why not just make good choices as I go through my day? Surely I can make healthy choices if I know what they are? While this is theoretically possible, it is my experience that it is much harder for people to make healthy choices in the moment. This is especially true when we are not feeling at our best. However, before we get to planning, lets discuss important factors that get in the way.
Unhelpful Assumptions That Get in the Way of Planning
I’ve learned over my years of practice that many people don’t like discussions about “how to” plan for a variety of reasons. I often hear, “I can’t believe we’re talking about this, I’m an adult, I should know how to do this!”. Thoughts like these cause shame or embarrassment that interfere with working on planning and with therapy in general. I’ve had many clients say that they don’t really like to have a detailed plan. They are worried about writing it down as they may fail to meet the goals they set, or because seeing everything they have to do on paper could make them feel overwhelmed. I’ve also heard, assumptions that “it will be a waste of time or too much effort” to plan. By the time clients come to therapy they have often been suffering for some time and want to get right to what they need to do to feel better! This is understandable, however taking a bit of time to review planning can make all the difference in being able to carry out the steps needed to feel better. So, when I notice any unhelpful assumptions coming up, we work on them first, to get them out of the way. Before we get to planning steps in the next article, I’ll invite you to ask yourself a couple of questions:
What are your initial thoughts about making a daily plan?
If your answer to this questions includes some negative assumptions, I’ll invite you to make a list of some advantages and disadvantages associated with continuing to believe your assumptions.
Here is an example: Planning doesn’t work for me, it causes anxiety, it is better to take the day as it comes.
|I don’t have to feel anxious if I don’t try to plan||I never learn how to get over my anxiety about planning if I don’t ever try to do it|
|Maybe the way I’m planning is part of what is creating the anxiety-if I learn new skills it could lessen anxiety|
|If I don’t plan things I am less likely to reach my goals (this causes me anxiety)|
What are your negative assumptions about planning? What are some advantages and disadvantages of continuing to hold these assumptions? I encourage you to complete this step before moving on to the next article which will be coming soon!