woman in white long sleeved shirt holding a pen writing on a paper
My Take

How to Set Priorities for Mental Health

Hi everyone, today we’ll discuss how to set priorities for mental health. I think it makes for a good follow up after my last blog, which was about breaking bad patterns.


I happen to have hit a fairly significant down that began on Tuesday July 4th. Yup…I know when things changed. Prior to that I was riding an increasing high that I didn’t notice until my social worker pointed it out. The events during my last blog make more sense to me now that I’m out of the muted ‘hypomania’:

  • Applying for a job with too many hours.
  • Registering for a College program where I’d probably last around 34.7 days.
  • Beginning a 6-week certificate course on Social Media Marketing.
  • Entering the world of affiliate marketing.
  • Embarking on a window renovation project.

It’s a good thing I’ve been practicing how to control my cycles and break bad patterns because there were a lot of potential pitfalls in the past few weeks. But hey, it’s an excellent opportunity to practice what I’ve been writing about.

Side Note:

This is a side note and update but fits into our topic of priorities:

One of my priorities was to reassess my mental health situation considering that it’s been too long without a reevaluation. It’s been a few years now with new symptoms lumped into an old diagnosis. That’s why I use words like Bipolar, hypomania, rapid cycling, etc. to describe what I’ve been going through. Despite this, my psychiatrist focusses on the Borderline Personality Disorder I was diagnosed with at age 18. Thankfully, my social worker listened to my concerns and gave me a test for Bipolar spectrum illnesses. We went over it together afterwards and she agrees that it’s likely. (Social workers can’t make an official diagnosis though.) If this makes sense, I’m grateful that she treated me as a ‘sane crazy person’ – full irony implied.

Long story short, she sent my psych the test with her observations but it was futile; he still says it’s BPD and not Bipolar despite some serious discrepancies. Perhaps it doesn’t seem like a big deal but I’m still disappointed by how things turned out. I have my reasons which require their own blog to properly explain. The point is, I’m still going to talk about high’s and low’s because that’s my reality, whatever they want to call it.

Back to Priorities

When I felt really down about a week ago it was hard to do things. I worked two shifts which helped get me out of my head but left me pretty drained and unmotivated for the weekend. Productivity became a joke when I got up at 9, had a coffee and said nope – I’m going back to bed. Mia was totally on board with the idea so… fast forward to 1 p.m. and my lengthy to-do list basically went down the toilet.

Or Did It…

Prioritizing for Mental Health, Here We Come!

This leads us perfectly into what I’d like to talk about today. I should probably switch to writing about it though, or you might have a hard time hearing me. (Forgive me if that was only funny in my head.)

Lately I’ve been feeling a little too close to ‘the edge of what I can handle’, and I don’t like that feeling! Could it be anxiety from memories of past failures? (Cough. I mean learning opportunities?) It’s possible though maybe I am finally learning my limits. I really don’t want to fall backwards but I know now that rushing forwards isn’t the solution. (Maybe if I just stick with doing the opposite of what I’ve done in the past, I’ll be on the right track.)

The Pitfalls of a Typical To-Do List

When my to-do list seemed utterly scrapped, it very well could’ve been. But instead of letting my mood ruin the rest of the day, I actually learned something. One of those things is the insidious danger of a typical to-do list. You might be wondering what I’m on about now, but please stick with me for a sec. Lists equal organization, right? It’s smart to put down what we have to do so as not to forget. So far so good.

Before I go on, I’m going to ask you to read the grocery list below. (Only the first one please!)

Grocery list 1
Grocery List #1

Do you see the problem with this list? If you don’t, don’t worry. If I hadn’t come up with it as a comparison, I wouldn’t have seen a problem either.

Let’s take a look at the second grocery list now and look for differences. (I feel so clever and cryptic right now, it’s just plain silly.)

Grocery List #2

What Can We Learn From the Way We Shop?

Grocery lists and to-do lists might seem like apples and oranges…pun very much intended, but I think they’re siblings. A good list of either kind is dependent upon how we organize it! The problem with the first grocery list is hidden in plain sight: Who enjoys walking back and forth between sections? Would we get cheese and move on to another section without picking up the rest of what we need from the dairy isle? Would we return to the fruits and vegetables section three times?

I think you get the point and I’m taking too long with this example. The first list will have us zig-zagging across the grocery store while the second list is ordered, efficient and guaranteed to take less time. To me, a randomly ordered vs. effectively categorized To-Do list has a very similar effect. You might have everything written down, but do you know what’s due first, what will take the most time and what will require more than one work session?

Maybe YOU do, but I don’t. In fact I’ll probably tackle the task(s) that most intrigue my ADHD hyper-focus, resulting in excessive work on one or two tasks while the others are neglected. Then Guilt will show up unannounced and invite Anxiety to the party. They’ll order the worst IPA’s without consulting me and Depression will arrive far beyond ‘fashionably late’. And like everyone’s favourite houseguests they will – of course – overstay their welcome. That’s it in a nutshell. My nutshell-brain, to be specific.

Hence, my Second Revelation About Lists and Priorities

Learning how to skillfully set priorities (and carry them out) is an absolute NECESSITY for anyone living with a mental health issue or mental illness. I think this is particularly true for those with mood, anxiety, and/or ADHD-type disorders.

My Reasoning Behind Prioritization for Mental Illness

  • Let’s start with mood disorders. Someone depressed will likely have low energy and motivation. This and a sense of pointlessness can make it very difficult to get things done. To remain functional, it’s critical that we direct our limited resources into what is most urgent and important.
  • This is also true of mood disorders with highs and lows. The drastic change in energy can result in inconsistent efforts towards
  • Someone suffering from severe anxiety is likely to become overwhelmed. This can easily turn into paralyzing uncertainty, self-doubt, etc. Once again, it can become difficult if not impossible to keep up.
  • ADHD is a complex one, with many of us struggling to prioritize from the get-go. Combine selective hyper-focus with significant under-focus and you get much activity with little accomplishment. (I’m referring to embarking on unrelated personal projects while neglecting overdue priority tasks/responsibilities. Avoidance can play a big role which is why I strongly believe that ADHD is nearly always coupled with anxiety.

Time for the Good News

Enough with the bad news! Here’s the bright side: Extra challenges don’t make success impossible. Sometimes we just need to find creative work-arounds to achieve our goals. Prioritizing correctly can be the key to staying organized and in control. With the right system in place, it becomes easier to navigate through our daily responsibilities; without becoming overwhelmed and burned out! Making this a regular habit can really boost our confidence and self-esteem. Imagine a full month without missing a single payment, due date or appointment; no double-bookings or embarrassing last-minute cancellations and you stayed on budget – that’s empowering!

Prioritization is Power!

I’m discovering the power of prioritization and effective organization every week that goes by without incident. I’m learning how to ‘adult’ and keep my sh*t together! Instead of having a bunch of priority 1’s, I’ve been working on a system to discern the real 1’s from the 2’s and 3’s.

Priority 1: To be done first.

  • Anything past due. (Which we never want!)
  • Anything due the same day.
  • Anything due the following day.
  • Completing half of any long task or obligation due in the next 48 hours.

Priority 2: To be done when Priority 1 tasks have been completed.

  • Completing the rest of anything due in the next 48 hours.
  • Tasks that will become Priority 1’s within a day or two.
  • Making progress towards anything due within a week.
  • Essential tasks without a deadline.

Priority 3: To be done when Priority 2 tasks have been completed.

  • Semi-essential tasks that should be done sooner rather than later.
  • Semi-essential tasks without a deadline.
  • Getting ahead on anything else / working on personal projects.

Trying this out has been helping me keep my head attached. It’s great when you realize that certain tasks aren’t as earth-shatteringly important as they appear! It also really helps if you have a tendency to catastrophize and imagine the worst. Catastrophizing is one of many ‘cognitive distortions’ and it can really help to know which ones you have a tendency of experiencing. If you’re interested, I recommend you read my past blog on cognitive distortions for more info.

Prioritization of Energy and Effort

I’m finding it difficult to find the time to write but I’m proud to share something happy with you now that I’m back: I successfully completed four consecutive work days! (6 – 8 – 8 – 7 hours, respectively.) It might be no big deal to a lot of people but it’s an achievement for me. It’s the first time after a long while and represents considerable progress.

My current tightrope journey towards Stability-Land requires careful prioritization of energy and effort which goes beyond list making. I’m referring to the daily decisions that either help or hinder our success. Success in what? Progressing towards / achieving the goals we deem top priority.

A great example is my goal to work more hours at the pet store… sustainably!

Work takes a lot of mental and physical energy. Getting enough sleep is super important which means choosing an early bedtime over binge-watching a series. It means planning food and clothes the night before to outsmart ‘residual medication fogginess’. It also means not spreading myself too thin with projects, activities, travel time and a lot of other time/energy traps.

Understanding Oneself Might be the Biggest Priority of All!

When we’re in a more vulnerable state such as coping with mental illness(es) and trying to rebuild, it can be easy to forget about the smaller details I mentioned above. Some people can get away with things like less sleep and a higher energy expenditure outside of work, school or whatever the case may be. I’ve learned the hard way that for others, taking such factors for granted can have an amplified negative impact. That’s why it’s so important to understand and accept our specific situation so we can adjust accordingly. Without this self-awareness it can be easy to hold ourselves to unrealistic standards. What happens when we miss the bar? I can tell you how it goes for me:

I become anxious and discouraged by feeling like a failure and then become highly unmotivated. Unfortunately that can escalate into a sense of pointlessness and depression, which I don’t recommend.

The takeaway of this blog is that we all have our challenges. If we just stop there however, we’re not likely to discover a ‘method of living’ that brings us closer to stability, happiness and fulfillment. I have a feeling this topic is going to come into future blogs and I look forward to next time.

Mia and I wish you a happy and balanced week with low stress! I would also love to hear about your own priorities and tricks for maximizing limited time and energy. Bye for now!

What's YOUR take?