A Planner, Stickers, and Breaking The Cycle of Stress

I wasn’t planning on writing this now at 22:30, but my brain will not let me just rest for an entire afternoon. I went to sleep at 18:30 and the plan is to sleep again after this. I’ve been exhausted lately and tonight my goal was to give myself some much needed rest.

The more I learn about myself the more I realize that I am not only a perfectionist, but I’m a workaholic in the sense that I have to feel productive 100% of the time. That’s problematic because I also have a heart condition that makes being productive 100% of the time extra exhausting. I’m talking weak arms and legs, pass out in the hall because you’ve been studying non-stop for a week, exhausted (yes, that’s happened before).

Lately I’ve taken some steps to make self-care and rest more intuitive, but I have a feeling this will take a while. Here’s what I’ve done:

First, I love using my phone for to-do lists. It makes sense to me to keep my priorities in the thing I carry around anyway. Which is why I started a planner in a non-virtual notebook. Sounds contradictory, I know.

Using a paper planner means I can place it where it’s going to “haunt” me. On my bedside, by my workstation, in the car, in front of the TV, everywhere I look is a good place for it.

It’s working.

I’ve used the planner every day and it’s helping me remember everything I need to do as well as move my priorities around as needed.

Next, this planner is not designed to make me follow the schedule, it’s designed to help me break it when needed and still feel okay about it.

I had this pack of stickers that I think are adorable but never used because when the heck, as an adult, are you going to use stickers??? At least I never had a use for them before. Now I do, because every day that is a “good day” from a productivity standpoint gets a sticker in the planner.

This is inherently rewarding for my crow-brain (crows collect things they find asthetically pleasing) which enjoys giving me cute stickers, and serves as a visual tracking of my general productivity/positivity trends.

From a Spoonie perspective, tracking your health is pretty much standard. This is part of my mental health and I want to see if it fluctuates in any patterns. If it does, is there a reason, and is there a way I can use that information to help myself be healthier? When you have a physical illness, your mental health becomes even more vital to your energy levels. For cardiology patients, this is something you learn right away. Stress or lack thereof could be the difference between having the energy to make it through lunch, or needing to lie down so you don’t pass out.

The stickers give me solid reminders of the days when I was either healthy enough to be productive, or healthy enough to forgive myself and view the day positively when I wasn’t. A sticker means: great work, you had a good day either by knocking out your to-do list, or by taking time to relax. This way, both are encouraged and wavering in a state of anxiety between the two isn’t.

I also included a list of daily goals in the planner. At the end of each day I list which goals I completed and which I didn’t. The idea is to give myself a sticker anyway. This ensures I don’t beat myself up because I didn’t complete a goal, but I’m also motivated to see the not-done list get smaller each day. Plus, it’s a good way to build a habit one task at a time.

Overall I think it’s working because I never would have felt comfortable going to bed at 6:30 PM, at least not with the only productive thing completed after work being a single blog post. I feel a little less stressed but it’s going to take a long time before I see permanent changes to my mentality.

I’m excited to see how things turn out!

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