This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 192.
Welcome back, everybody. I am really excited to do this episode with you. It’s a little bit different to episodes I’ve done in the past, which might be why I’m really excited about it, but it is a skill I have been practicing for several months. No, maybe more than that. I would actually say closer to six months to a year, and I was reflecting on, what are the things that... I took a lot about mindfulness skills and a lot about therapy skills and cognitive behavioral therapy skills, but is there something I haven’t really talked about in terms of just lifestyle? And I thought this, of all the topics, is probably one of the things that helps me manage my anxiety and depression the most, literally the most. In fact, I would go as far as to say it has been probably one of the most important things that has helped me recover in my recovery, and I’m really excited to share it with you.
Today, we’re talking about how activity scheduling and managing your schedule can be a really important anxiety management tool. Before you completely sign off and say, “Oh my gosh, this is not for me,” please just hear me out because there is so much greatness to being really intentional about your schedule and scheduling.
A couple of reasons I say that is because, number one, if you are somebody who has a job or goes to school or has a mental illness, and that’s really, really debilitating and taking up a lot of your time, or you have children or all of the above, it’s really easy for the day to just come and go. And before you know it, you haven’t gotten done what you wanted to get done. You’re feeling more and more anxious about tomorrow. You’re feeling more and more depressed about yourself and what you’ve got to do. You’re feeling bombed out because you didn’t get to prioritize your time.
And that was exactly me. Every time I opened my eyes in the morning, I had this sensation of dread because I just was like, “Oh my gosh, today’s going to be another huge day. I’m going to run all day. I’m in a rush all day,” or “I’m going to feel anxiety all day.”
Let me tell you a couple of skills that I teach all of my clients because, as I’ve said before, this is something that they talked to me about, at least once in their treatment, is how to manage their time.
Okay. I have learned and I have practiced this, like I said, for almost a year now – the art of scheduling in a way that is in the intention of benefiting my mental health. I don’t schedule because I want to be super time efficient. I don’t schedule because I want to get a ton done. I schedule for my mental health, literally. Forgive me, if you can hear beeping car alarm, it’s been going all day. So I’m sorry if you hear that in the background.
I literally schedule for my mental health. And what I have learned, I took a whole course on this, is one of the biggest mistakes we make with scheduling is we schedule what we have to do first, and that basically means we’re prioritizing work and school and to-do’s, instead of scheduling pleasure first. So that is what I want you to practice first.
That already might be mind-blowing to you. You might be like, “Wait, what? Like pleasure? That’s important?” Yes. Schedule your pleasure time first. Look at your schedule, even write it on a piece of scrap paper. What do you love to do? Make sure you schedule that something. Even if it’s for 10 minutes, you schedule it every single day.
Once you’ve done that, then you schedule what you need to do for your recovery. It may be different for every person. Some of you may need to schedule exposures, and again, be very intentional. Let’s say you have a driving exposure. You have to go driving for your exposure and practice having intrusive thoughts, or you have to practice going and doing a certain thing that concerns you or scares you. You’re going to schedule that time first.
If you’re not someone who’s doing exposures, maybe you have to schedule time to correct your thinking or schedule your time to meditate. Schedule your time to read your mindfulness book. I have almost all of my patients read some kind of book that will complement their treatment all the time, meaning throughout treatment. Once they finish one book, I send them a book to read after that, and I tell them, “You don’t need to read all day every day.” I might ask you to read a page a day or a chapter a week, or whatever works for you, but schedule that in because really literally, I’ll give you an example.
I have a private practice and an online business, two complete businesses. I’m managing up to 15 to 20 people a week. If I worked at scheduling my to-do list first, I would never take care of myself. Never. I would only work for other people. I would only be doing a million to-do’s. I would never get any exercise. I would never meditate. I would never have any time because I would have just clogged up my schedule with that.
Reverse it. First, schedule your pleasure and then schedule your mental health practices, whatever that may be – your self-compassion practices, listening to a podcast, whatever it may be.
Now, when it comes to the things you have to do, this is going to go against some of the advice you’ve been given. I know it will. But hear me out and you can take what you want and leave what you don’t want. What I do is I sit down with a piece of scrap paper and I write a to-do list. Every Sunday, I do this. I write a list of all the things I need to get done this week. I write a list of what emails I need to write and what phone calls I need to make and what bills I need to pay, and who I need to talk to, who I need to consult with, and so forth.
Now, for those of you who compulsively list-write, we’re not writing things that are daily activities, like I’m not going to write “Brush my teeth.” I’m not going to write “Have breakfast.” I’m not going to write “Lock the door.” I’m not going to write things that I would be doing anyway. I’m going to be writing the things that I have anxiety about and that are important that I get done and that I value. I’m not writing down things that are compulsions or things I’m doing to make my anxiety go away. These are just really logical things that I have to do.
Once I’ve got everything down, I don’t keep that list. I transport that list into my schedule. Of course, I have to see my clients. Of course, I have my clients in my schedule weekly. But then from there, let’s say I needed to make an email to, let’s say my website programmer, I would put that in the calendar. Tuesday at four o’clock or Monday at six o’clock or whatever it may be. I take everything from the to-do and I put it on the calendar.
If you’re noticing now that the calendar is full, something has to go, because what’s happened in the past is you put all the to-do list in, and so the thing to go is your mental health, is your self-care. We can’t do that anymore. That’s why I’m telling you, like, that’s why scheduling is so important because if you don’t, you’re going to realize that there is actually no time for self-care and there is no time for your mental health. If that’s the case, like the whole saying is “Nothing changes if nothing changes.” So this is so important.
You may need to ask for help. I’m always talking with my patients about asking for help. Okay, you need to go out for a drive. You need to do your homework, but you also need to take the kids to school. Can you ask someone to help you? Can you pay someone to help you? Can you find creative ways where you take your kids and someone else’s kids one day and they take their kids and your kids the next day? Again, I really love to do this on the cheap, so I don’t want this to cost you money. Can you find ways to prioritize your mental health in your schedule, on the books, and open up time so that it becomes the priority?
I know I’ve told you this story before about, I was at a lunch and I was with my friends and they didn’t have children. They were all talking about these beautiful hikes that they were going on. I said, “Well, I can’t go on a hike because I have children.” He’s like, “Yes, you can. You just haven’t prioritized taking a hike. If you really wanted to, you would take your kids on a hike or you would find some time or find someone to take care of the kids so you could go on a hike. But you haven’t prioritized that. You’ve prioritized being with your kids or working or taking a bath.”
There’s no judgment. There’s no judgment to what he was saying. He was just saying, “You can do it. It’s just that you have to figure out what is a priority.” For me, that was shocking because I was like, the truth is I say my mental health is a priority, but I don’t. That doesn’t show up in my schedule that way. This was many years ago, and it was a crazy aha moment where I was like, “Huh, I say self-care is important, but it’s totally not evident by the look of my schedule.”
The other thing that I have found that’s so fascinating is, once I started doing this, I started actually realizing how much I was working or how much I was doing behaviors that bring me no pleasure. I spoke with a client about this just the other day, is I wasn’t feeling so well. I went to bed early. I laid in bed. I opened up Instagram. And two hours later, two hours later, I come out of a thick fog of Instagram and realize that I’ve lost two hours. The thing to remember here is, number one, that’s neither good nor bad because some people love Instagram and it brings them tons of pleasure. But in that moment, as I checked in with myself, I didn’t feel any better. If anything, I felt more stressed.
So what I was doing was I was engaging in behavior that I could have done that would have felt so much better and aligned more with my mental health, which again is why I say to you, please, please, please, if you take one thing away from today, please schedule your pleasure. Please schedule your pleasure, the things that bring you joy.
Now, some people say, “I can’t do those because my anxiety has taken those things away from me.” Even more reason to schedule them. If you love to read and your anxiety or your depression has sucked the joy out of reading or writing or whatever you love to do, schedule that and work at what’s getting in the way. Talk with your therapist or journal or try and figure out what’s getting in the way and work at making sure that fear isn’t your scheduler. Fear isn’t your assistant who schedules your day. That’s not cool. That’s not kind to you. Do not let fear schedule your day. Do the best you can is what I should say, because there will be times it will. But just do your best to make a deal with yourself.
We’ve talked about transferring your to-do lists onto the calendar. You rip the to-do list up, you take it away. And then your job is to do your best to stick to the calendar. It’s not going to be perfect. In fact, it’ll be far from perfect, but really look at the end of the week or at the beginning of the week, and look at your calendar and make decisions with that.
Now, of course, I understand that there is some degree of privilege involved here. I want to make sure we respect that some people don’t have control over their schedules, and that’s true for many people. But what I want to ask you is, if that is the case, where you have control, can you implement really good exercises and activities during that time, like really resting.
I just read an amazing book where they were basically saying “Schedule rest.” If you’re someone who’s working a double shift and money is tight and life is really difficult right now, maybe the first step is you just schedule rest. Maybe the only step is for you to schedule rest. Maybe we start really simple. This is a lot of change. I encourage you to take baby steps, even if you’ve got full control over your schedule. It’s really important here that we take baby steps and empower ourselves to prioritize your mental health. Believe me, it is going to make such a change.
The other thing is, and I’ll say one more point, what was really interesting to me is, I really then, once I started scheduling, noticed all the “shoulds.” Well, I should work out five days a week and I should go and help other people, and I should be putting this in my schedule, and I should be calling this person.
As you do this, ask yourself, do you really want to? If it’s not a “have to,” meaning you have to go to work and you have to go to the staff meeting and you have to show up for school and so forth, really check in with yourself. Are the things you’re doing on your schedule because you feel like you should do it, or because you want to do it, or because you have to do it? Be honest with yourself about that, because I found on my schedule a bunch of stuff. I would even say a bunch of swear words, a bunch of crap that I really didn’t have to do. I was only doing it because I’d made up a story about the fact that I should, and it wasn’t even a fact and I was doing it out of fear.
That’s why I really, really wanted to chat with you about this. Easier said than done, like I said, but really think about this. Look at your schedule. If you can – I schedule on Google calendar, it’s free –look at your schedule and ask yourself, is it reflecting the level of recovery that I am wanting?
Make small changes. This is really important. If you’ve learned one thing from today, it’s please schedule your pleasure. Really schedule your wellness. Schedule your rest. Work the rest around that.
Okay. I love you guys. Have a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful day. I believe in you. I believe you can do this hard thing. Do the best you can with what you’ve got. I am so grateful for you spending your time with me and being on this journey with me and taking me along with you. Thank you. I know your time is valuable and I’m so grateful.
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