Hey gang, how’s it going? I swear, the weather is about as sure about how it feels as I am. Which reminds me; it’s fine that my psychiatrist disagrees about me potentially having Bipolar. I’m a multi-polar extravaganza. The DSM can’t catch up with me, so **** it.
Anyway, I’ve been feeling pretty tired lately while dealing with a significant amount of anxiety. (A level of anxiety which, in combination with a psycho-stimulant medication side effect, has been causing tremendous noise sensitivity.) I’m even stressed as I write this blog! Why? Because it’s Sunday, my first full day off in what feels like a while. Even when I don’t work a full shift it’s difficult to be productive with the rest of my time because I’m tired. I’ve also had quite a bit of marketing to get done at home. I enjoy it, it’s just quite time consuming. There’s only so much time and energy in a day and it’s frustrating!
I need to be super careful so I can sustain the hours I’m putting in at work. I desperately don’t want to fall off track!
Speaking of Time
Time is a significant yet frequently underrated resource. I’m coming to learn that my time management (or lack thereof) has a huge impact on my well-being. I also need money…who doesn’t? But it’s hard to make money if you don’t have enough time. It’s also hard to be consistently employed if you don’t have time for self-care.
I think it’s fair to say that effective time management is an essential part of achieving balance. This is probably old news by now, but stability and balance are my primary goals right now.
Our Topic Today
What I’m hoping to explore with you are the components of stability. What is a stable vs. unstable life/lifestyle? Which are we living? And if we’re in a state of instability, how do we transition?
Big questions, right? I think we have enough material to get going! Surely this won’t be my only blog on the topic of balance and stability.
What is Stability vs. Instability?
I recommend we begin with a definition. Here’s the best way I can describe an unstable lifestyle: Staying within range of a natural disaster. It’s no exaggeration and explains why anxiety runs rampant when we’re in a state of unbalance. There’s a hugely preoccupying fear of impending doom which can paralyze us against working our way back to stability. How bitterly ironic?
Aside from my personal definition, here’s a table that compares a few aspects of life on both sides of equation:
|Comfortable with making well-reasoned decisions||Fear of making decisions or impulsive decision-making|
|Arriving early or on time is pretty easy||Scrambling for time or arriving late|
|Scheduling appointments without double-booking ourselves||Time conflicts, cancellations, etc.|
|In control of finances||Not in control of finances|
|Aware and in control of where our time and energy is spent||Unaware of our time and energy expenditures|
|Comfortable maintaining personal needs||Difficulty or inability maintaining personal needs|
|Healthy and stable relationships||Difficulty with relationships / toxic relationships|
These are just a few examples to get us started and help us recognize the spectrum of balance.
What Causes Feelings of Instability?
While the answer depends on each individual, there are common contributing factors that make it more likely for someone to experience instability. We might have one or more of these factors workings against us:
- Having a mental illness. (Especially Bipolar, Borderline Personality Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder with or without Hyperactivity, other personality disorders, etc.)
- Having a substance use disorder.
- Growing up in an unstable environment. (Parental conflicts, frequently changing homes and/or schools, etc.
Important note: The difference between mental health and mental illness was covered in a Mental Health First Aid course I completed in February. (Amazing course offered by the Mental Health Commission of Canada! Speaking of commissions, I’m not making one by recommending the course. I just think everyone should be more informed on these subjects!)
Mental health refers to the capacity and resources to overcome challenges as they arise. It doesn’t imply a lack of difficulty and even those with mental illness(es) and substance use disorders can achieve it. I’m taking the time to say this because I don’t want people like to me to believe that a happy, stable and successful life is impossible if you have a condition. I’ve believed that for such a long time and still do when I’m in the depressive part of my cycle. Objectively however, it’s not true. ANYONE and EVERYONE can improve their life!
The Transition to Stability
Let’s assume that you believe me. If so, you probably have some questions about regaining stability; something alone the lines of
and more specifically,
“How and where do we start?”
I wish I could give you a precise answer but all I can share is what I’m personally trying. Half the time I don’t know exactly what I’m doing or why I keep trying, but I’m feeling a little more capable as time goes by. I definitely didn’t feel that before.
So how does it feel to learn stability in the context of mental illness? It’s strange and uncomfortable and confusing and depressing and exhausting and encouraging and discouraging and uplifting and…I’ll stop. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t end there! But don’t let me discourage you because if what I’m doing works, it’ll probably end up being one of the most worthwhile things I’ve done.
Building Blocks of Balance and Stability
I want to highlight the significance of small elements that bring us closer to balance and stability. I kept waiting and/or looking for big things, big changes, big opportunities…only to realize that it’s the tiny changes I’m implementing that are making the biggest difference.
What makes a structure solid and capable of withstanding the elements? A heavy and unbreakable top? Nope – as any architect would tell us, the strength and stability of a building comes from its foundation. It stands to reason that humans are quite similar. (Minus a few tons of concrete.)
It think it stands to reason that becoming sustainably functional is a big deal! For example I’m beginning to take pride in the most menial and mindless of chores; doing the laundry, vacuuming and cleaning my car are some good examples. Even showering and brushing my teeth regularly feeds into the feeling of being capable. Am I achieving something very complex? No. But I’m keeping up with personal hygiene, tasks and responsibilities that are often some of the first to go when we encounter a mental health crisis.
This point requires an important side note.
An important point needs to be clear: I don’t think that recovering from mental illness is a simple matter of keeping up with chores, hygiene and the like. I don’t believe in
Components of Stability:
I’m not talking mansion and Ferrari rich – really not. I’m pretty sure maintaining that kind of stuff gets pretty stressful. I’m refering to peace of mind, which does have a price tag unfortunately. To me that price tag includes:
Hand in hand with the above, stability includes regular employment. (Or another stable means of income.) It doesn’t simply mean a job that pays enough; the job has to be something personally sustainable in the long term. It also doesn’t have to be a dream job with zero problems because that’s unrealistic.
Components of stable employment:
- Not job-hopping.
- Not in a toxic environment or with toxic people.
- Sustainable hours.
- Manageable stress (both mental and physical).
- Low probability of being fired, laid-off, downsized, etc.
Personal example: I love my job and the larger paycheques I’ve been getting from working more hours. It would be easy for me to fall into my usual pattern of biting off too much. That’s why I’m doing my best to keep things moving slowly but surely, giving myself time to adapt. I could work more to get paid more but how long before I hit the wall again? If that happens and I need to stop working altogether, no money will come in. The risk simply isn’t worth it. Hence, stable employment is much more than just having a job.
A stable environment can mean many things. For our purposes I’m not going to write about geo-political sources of instability.
A stable environment is one where we feel physically and emotionally safe from threats. We want our place of dwelling to be a stable environment, including the certainty that we can go home to it. This is an example of converging factors because without stable employment and finances, we’re likely to have housing instability.
I hesitate to say that a stable environment is one without change because change is natural. Still, change within the context of stability is likely to be less drastic and threatening. Even better, we would ideally be the instigator of such change. And if we happen to face an unexpected change (or hurdle), we would have the ability to react appropriately.
A stable environment is also one that aims to avoid personal triggers. For example someone with Alcoholism or Substance Use Disorder will benefit from staying away from certain locations and influences.
An unstable lifestyle might include unstable relationships. This can look like many things: Bouncing from one romantic partner to the next, unsafe sexual encounters, sabotaging healthy relationships, staying in unhealthy relationships, isolating oneself, and more.
I believe this is a category that fits in with the other components of stability and stands alone.
Being of an internal nature, the qualities of a stable self are more elusive:
- Stable self-image – perceiving ourselves rationally and without dependence on external opinion (positive or negative).
- A healthy level of confidence in which we acknowledge our strengths (without egotism) and work on improving our weaknesses (without harsh self-criticism).
- The self-respect to identify our needs and assert them politely.
- A deep understanding of ourselves and how we tend to interpret and react; using this to act and react appropriately and proportionately.
I’ve been writing a fair bit about finding the right routine and schedule because I find it incredibly important. It really fits into the previous component of a stable self because our routine/schedule is foundational to our day-to-day state of being. Self-awareness allows us to discover a stable routine that works for us. Stray from that routine and the dominos start tumbling!
Let me explain why I’ve been putting so much emphasis on scheduling:
Finding the Root(s) of Our Instability
When working on any aspect of our lives, it’s often a good idea to begin with what’s causing us the most difficulty. Finding and methodically tackling the biggest culprits can make it easier to maintain positive change. (And correct undesirable changes before they solidify in habit!)
For example: I’m acutely aware of the generalized anxiety I carry on a daily basis. Accepting this brought me closer to a solution – or an improvement at the very least. It’s going to sound funny but I feel better when I micromanage my life. Kidding aside, writing EVERYTHING down and dummy-proofing basic things for myself has eliminated a source of stress. I have backup alerts for my alerts, if that gives you an idea. I have a bulletin board of essential, at-a-glance info. On top of that I have my colour-coded planner with motivational stickers that I record everything in. I may not mentally retain a single appointment but with my phone calendar, bulletin board and planner, I’m aware of everything.
Planning for Stability
How does planning help? Here’s my reasoning: If I’m going to have senseless and/or disproportionate anxiety no matter what, I might as well de-stress everything else that I possibly can. This was a major lightbulb moment for me!
Why stress if we don’t have to? And even if we don’t experience chronic anxiety, why not simplify life’s tiny details that somehow manage to cause big problems? I’ve woken up. Adulting is hard work and that’s coming from someone who barely qualifies as an adult. 5 years in and I already miss being a kid. For so many reasons.
Speaking of which, I’m not ashamed of my multi-coloured-sticker-stuffed-planner. It WORKS for me and that’s more than enough. Not to mention that creative solutions such as this are proving to help certain neurodivergent groups. I do my research and try things out. Whether they help or not, you’re likely to hear about them…haha.
The more I think about it, the more I think that life is about finding what works for you. I’d like to find out sooner rather than later.
Speaking of sharing what works and doesn’t, I’m excited to share something with you that I discovered on Etsy. They have great stuff! In my research on planners I found the most comprehensive one I’ve seen to date! By the way I don’t look at typical planners, I look for ones that include mental health goals, prioritization, etc. I’m particularly interested in schedulers for those struggling with ADHD for example, which is the case for this one. Why? Because I want something tailored to my specific needs, which I recommend everyone try to find.
What I love about this ADHD planner is its tremendous versatility. ADHD, anxiety, or not, there’s something incredibly useful for everybody. It’s also 60% off, making it less than 10 bucks (when I purchased it).
With 170 pages, it really is the “Ultimate Printable ADHD Planner” … but don’t let that intimidate you. After the instant download, you can choose exactly which segments you want and need from the planner to create a unique formula. I can’t spill all the beans but here’s a spoiler of the many categories:
- Tasks – cleaning, laundry, groceries, etc.
- Health Trackers – mood, sleep, medication, water, etc.
- Workout/Weight Loss – fitness planner, running log, meal planner, body measurements, etc.
- Self-Care – ideas with checklist, gratitude journal, positive affirmations, thoughts journal, etc.
- Financial – expense lists, budgeting, debt thermometer, etc.
- Other – goals, reading list, project planner, bucket list, etc.
What I find particularly smart is that you can plan all the above plus your to-do list, appointments, special events, priorities, etc. on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. In other words this planner is just as much for the “hour-by-hour planner” as it is for the “big-picture/long-term scheduler”. How clever is that?! I’ve really gotta hand it to PlannersUpStudio!
I used a combination of the above on my bulletin board to create a super effective, at-a-glance display for my desk. The best part? I can change it up next month at no extra cost! My plan is to plasticize the final version I want to use each month so I can simply wipe off the ink and start again. (You can get plasticizing sheets for cheap at the dollar store.)
I know this was a pretty lengthy blog but thanks for reading…I hope you find it useful!
I’d love to hear your stability strategies in the comments and what you think of planners like this. Feedback makes my day! Have a wonderful weekend everyone!