I've lived with a severe anxiety disorder for over a decade and tried several different strategies to reduce it, manage it and eradicate it. One thing I learnt is the importance of routine.
What's a routine?
So when you hear the word routine you immediately go straight to boredom...I certainly do. I start thinking of negative connotations associated with the word routine and actually, they bring my mood down a little. "I bet those people off surfing in Australia or base jumping off skyscrapers don't have a "routine".
But in reality, everyone has some sort of baseline, some sort of routine or ritual they stick to remain grounded.
When you have anxiety there really is no such thing as a routine because things you had planned to do or places you need to visit become "up for interpretation" or "at the will of the illness" A whole day can be lost if anxiety is running rabid and you don't feel like you have a choice in the matter.
Everyday with anxiety is a fight and one thing I learnt that worth fighting for is routine because without it I would succumb to the thoughts and feelings that rise up in me if I give in.
2. My Routine
A routine does not have to be a set of tasks or things you need to get done in a day, my routine is about discovering myself. I have learnt that watching too much tv or being sedentary for too long makes me anxious, tired and very very grouchy. I have learnt that if I set up my computer immediately while I'm making my morning cuppa I will not have time to put myself off the work I need to do. Gradually this learning creates its own routine. If you know what activities create what emotional and physical responses you can better plan your days (hopefully more anxiety-free days!)
3. Create a plan based on you! Not on "advice from google search"
We all do it! I do it! If I'm feeling a particular way or want to achieve something I'll google search it and find out the advised course of action. Take exercise for instance... The majority of searches will tell me I should exercise first thing in the morning because doing so will:
- Get it out of the way
- Give me more energy for the rest of the day
- Put me in a clearer, better frame of mind
But this is just not something that works for me. If I get all my sports clobber on and have a work out a couple of hours later I feel tired, but I can't nap cause I'm full of endorphins and I struggle to concentrate on my work. It just doesn't fit into my routine of who I am. I exercise in the evening about 6 hours before bed. I've completed all my work for the day and now it's just a last push before wrapping up the day.
4. Treat Yourself
I live my life based on a reward system, I find I become more motivated if I had something to look forward to. Take the exercise again, once I've completed my evening run and had my shower I reward myself for a day well spent by getting into my jammies and watching a bit of tv before bedtime. The word treat does not have to mean something indulgent or bad for you, it's just things or activities that soothe you, calm you or put you in a good sense of mind. I know that if I work hard in the day, I can have a restful evening without thinking I have forgotten something or having a sense of guilt from doing nothing.
My little treats will range anywhere from just having a relaxing few hours before bed to a full-on day off in my pyjamas, curtains drawn with a pizza and a movie. The emotion of gratification is one of my favourites. I love to feel like I have accomplished something, knocked something off my list; completing something reminds me every day I have the strength to overcome my anxiety even if it's just getting out of bed that day!
5. How You Can Start Treating Yourself
So when I was creating some of the tools for Discovery Journal, I ultimately implemented techniques I have used myself to overcome my anxiety, broken it down and created tools to help others. I sort advice from friends and family who had experienced mental illness as well as teachers and professionals who deal with many people across many factors of mental illness.
The Anxiety Rip Pad is something that I created based on this theory of self-treating and routine. It gives you the ability to implement forethought into your plans and follow them through easily without the looming anxious thoughts getting in the way.
Instead of completing the rip pad in one sitting, the idea is to complete some sections the night before and some on the day, so you aren't doing everything in one moment because that one moment could be shrouded in anxiety, fear or stress and therefore affect what you write down.
Spanning a week you set yourself treat goals as you go along, giving yourself something to aim for as well as giving you an understanding of what obstacles prevented you or helped you achieve them.