Very few things put me in a more positive frame of mind than checking things off a list does. I am 100% that person who will write down things I’ve already done, just so I can feel a sense of giddy accomplishment when I check them off.
I have lists for everything.
Books I want to read. Books I have already read. Which songs I listened to the most during the summer.
I have lists of jobs I’d like to have and skills I’d like to acquire.
I also have a list to help keep my mental health, well, healthy.
There are multiple components of good mental health; unfortunately, ones like in-person therapy, intellectual health and environmental health are not always accessible to everyone.
They certainly aren’t always accessible to me.
I know that I cannot easily change my living situation. I cannot easily commit to in-person therapy. Setting boundaries is very difficult for me, but I’m working on it.
Perhaps the reason self-care is so popular is because we find the things that we do have control over and make them work for us.
However, two other components of positive mental health (community and physical health) don’t get talked about as much. I think they may be somewhat more accessible and I have made it a point to focus on them.
Mental health is just like any other type of health; it’s better if you work on it a little every day instead of trying to make up for it and overload yourself every few months. My goal, therefore, was to add small, easily achievable things that would make a positive difference to my mental health and then on the weekend, I could choose a somewhat larger item.
Further, I only added things that related to physical or community health to my list…it isn’t that the others aren’t important or useful, but I know these are the easiest for me to accomplish. Do what works for you.
Being someone who likes to add things to their list I’ve already done, my first entry for each weekday was: get up before 7 am. This is definitely cheating, as it’s probably been twenty years since I slept past 7 am; however, I also know that it’s good for my mental health to have a
consistent sleep schedule and to get to start every morning by crossing off the first item on my list.
Make it easy for yourself. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Make your goals, especially the first one of the day, easily achievable.
Another physical component was to leave my house and take a walk. Like many people, due to the pandemic, I’ve been working from home since March 2020. It’s rare that I get more than 2000 steps a day and if I’m being honest, most days it’s closer to 1000-1500.
Here again, I set myself up for success because the only thing I need to do to cross off ‘take a walk’ on my list is to make it to the end of the block and I live in the house second from the end of the block, so really, I only have to walk one house away. But I live next to a park so I often just wander through there for a few minutes…it’s leaving my house that’s difficult. Once I’m out, I find it fairly enjoyable.
To go a Along with walking, my list also includes ‘say hi’ and all I’m required to do here is say hello to anyone I happen to pass on my walk. Fostering a sense of community is important for mental health and when you’re inside alone for 10 or 11 hours a day, it can get kind of lonely. If I don’t see anyone on my walk, however, I can also say hi to a neighbor or someone else in my building. The list items aren’t meant to achieve perfection. If you are unable to cross off an item one day, try to do something similar. It all counts.
Hydration is the last thing on my daily list. I know drinking water is important yet, more often than not, my beverage of choice is coffee so the last thing on my list is to finish three 16 oz. bottles of water. (I put a tally mark for each one completed and then get to cross off the whole thing when the third bottle is finished.)
So, each day I have the following items to bolster my mental health on my to-do list: wake up before 7 am, take a walk outside of my house, ‘say hi’ to someone and drink water. That’s it.
It might not look like much on paper, but these small acts, and getting to check them off once I’ve finished them, have really made a positive improvement to my mental health.
Finally, I try to do something community-oriented over the weekend and it could be any number of things that fill this requirement. I have a large list of ideas that I can pick from and choose whichever fits best on any given weekend. If you’re looking for ideas some of mine include having coffee with a friend, helping a neighbor with a project, volunteering in my community, attending community events or taking free classes at the local library.
The most important thing is to set yourself up for success by not putting things on your daily list that you want to do but are more difficult to achieve. Once your mental health is thriving then that is the time to start reaching for some goals, but make sure to start with things you can do. Some weeks the first thing on my list is simply getting out of bed.
Dana L. is a long-time volunteer for RPSV. Each week she completes a much-needed project for our outreach team. We appreciate her determination and organizational skills tremendously. RPSV encourages you to consider volunteering as a way to improve your mental health, as Dana does. Her other tips and strategies are fantastic too.
Guest blogger Dana L