Using Lists To Manage Anxiety

Open notebook and hands

The very existence of this blog is good evidence that I find writing to be an extremely therapeutic part of the healing process, but in addition to this I also use various lists to strengthen myself emotionally and help fight anxiety. I wanted to summarise these ideas below in case they are of help to others.

Gratitude Journal

When struggling with Anxiety & Depression life can often feel entirely black or grey and finding the strength to count your blessings can be very difficult. In my older post The Importance Of Thankfulness I talk a great deal about practicing gratitude and what a key role it can play in lifting mood and keeping perspective. Keeping a list of everything I’m grateful for, big and small, really helps me to pull myself out of very bad moments.

Kindness Journal

This is a newer idea for me. One of the worst parts of suffering from poor mental health is that sufferers can continually beat themselves up for feeling the way they do. As if the illness itself doesn’t make you feel awful enough, we then tend to load feelings of guilt, self-criticism or impatience on top. I have particularly struggled with these feelings this time around. The anger and frustration I direct at myself for not being able to see the signs of an oncoming relapse after all this experience has been a huge part of the problem.

In an effort to counter this, and along a similar vein to the gratitude list, I’ve begun to keep a self-kindness list too in which I write statements of praise to myself each day. My mind doesn’t always want to believe them but I write them down all the same and this helps a little.

To Do List

I’m an enormous fan of the To Do list in general life but what features on my normal list of daily tasks compared to what’s listed on my list when I’m struggling is, of course, very different.  I’m not talking about moving mountains here, simply a short list of small tasks that you can refer to when you first wake to try to give some purpose and motivation to your day.  It can be a little as “put on a load of washing” or “get the kids to school” but I find having that list helps me to focus outside of my own mind for a minute.

In addition, Anxiety can play havoc on your ability to concentrate so To Do lists are also a really handy, practical tool for making sure you don’t forget to do something important.

Daily Achievements

The sister of the To Do list, this is what I write at the end of each day to note down what I’ve managed to accomplish.  This is another way of practicing self-praise and self-kindness.  When you’re living in the darkness you must give yourself credit for any small thing you’ve managed to achieve, or for simply surviving the day!

Three Good Things

I’ve spoken about this many times in the past but for me this is by far and away the most useful list I have.  At bedtime I list at least three good things that happened that day.  They don’t have to be huge and you don’t have to have enjoyed the moment even but just something small and positive.  As your recovery progresses, you’ll be able to look back over these lists and see how much your perspective has changed on the highlights of your days, which is really encouraging.

Evidence Of Recovery

This is essentially a journal.  Throughout each day I note down in my phone all the good moments and progression that I notice.  This then acts as a reference for you to track your recovery.  I find mine especially helpful on bad days when I instantly feel I’ve not made any progress at all; flicking back through previous entries helps me to keep perspective and feel a little more positive that good days will once again return.

Fear vs. Fact

This is a CBT method that I’ve used countless times over the past four years.  My good friend Sarah of Lotus Petal Family Support does something similar called “taking the thought to court,” which has the same aim.  Anxiety is primarily based on irrational fears; I divide a sheet of paper in half and write all my fears down one side.  I then counter each one with facts, rationality and hard evidence which helps to demonstrate the irrationality behind many of my worries and negative thoughts.  You can find out more and see an example on the Anxiety Cheat Sheet post.

I’m not suggesting anyone try to do all of these at once as I imagine that would be pretty overwhelming, but hopefully this has given you some ideas for how writing, noting and making lists can aid recovery.

Related posts:

Mightier Than The Sword; Writing & PND

12 Tools For Managing Anxiety

There’s Always Something New To Learn About Anxiety

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