by Liberty Stembridge, Health Columnist
Published in Health on 9th November, 2018
One of the worst ways that mental illness affects lives is its effect on your ability to do what you love, no matter how much you love it. Whether it's a subject you're studying, or a job, or you're trying to increase your fitness levels, mental illness can stand in the way of you and what you want, but it doesn't have to. Everyone is different, and has varying levels of severity when it comes to mental illness, but these seven tips can applied to anyone who wants to try and increase their productivity.
It might seem trivial, but as with anyone who wants to get anything done, you need a to do list. For those of us who struggle with mental illness, to do lists are even more important - an invaluable tool to help keep you motivated and on track. Many mental illnesses come with symptoms such as confusion, apathy, memory problems or lack of concentration and a to-do list will help to combat these symptoms. It doesn't have to be fancy, you can keep it on your phone or computer, or write it on a scrap piece of paper, so long as it's with you and you regularly check it throughout the day. There's no guarantee of course that a to-do list is going to magically transform you into a workaholic, in fact it's unlikely, but it may help you get just a little bit more done in the day when you otherwise wouldn't have.
A common mistake many people make is setting too many goals in one day, or setting unachievable goals during the day. If you look at your to-do list and you feel overwhelmed or instantly unmotivated, this is probably a sign that you aren't setting achievable goals. For anyone struggling with mental illness, setting goals that you can easily achieve means that you're less likely to feel daunted by the prospect of actually doing them. Studies have found that starting out with smaller, more achievable goals leads to a "snowball" effect of sorts where the gratification you feel from completing a smaller task spurs you on to complete some of the more difficult tasks.
Make sure to tailor your goals to yourself and never compare your daily tasks to anyone else's. If you're goals for the day are to get out of bed and go for a shower, that's perfectly okay. The important thing is that you feel like you can achieve them, with maybe just a little effort.
Many people struggling with mental illness get caught in the trap of feeling unproductive and unmotivated, not doing any work, and then beating themselves up for not achieving anything. This doesn't help anyone, least of all you. Try as best as you can to nip this negative thought spiral in the bud whenever you notice yourself falling into the trap of feeling bad for not being productive. Remind yourself that your worth does not rest on whether or not you get any work done, or even if you get out of bed. Each day is a new day and treating yourself with some kindness and respect, just as you would a struggling friend is equally as important as being productive, if not more so.
A good routine can save you on a bad mental health day. Slowly developing good habits can have a huge impact on your life and overall mental health. Habits such as a good sleep routine, eating well, taking the right medication on time, exercising, drinking plenty of water, meditating and so on may sound like small things that don't make a lot of difference in the long run, but they all add up. Creating a routine full of healthy habits means that you are far more likely to keep those healthy habits up, and slowly it will become a part of your everyday life, you won't even have to think about it. Studies have shown that people who incorporate even just a few of these healthy habits such as better sleep and meditation are generally more productive.
We all lack motivation sometimes, no matter how passionate we are about our work, education, family etc - a little pick me up is necessary to get us back on track. This is where a motivation board comes in. Similarly to a vision board, a motivation board inspires you to complete whatever work it is that you want to do by reminding you of the outcome of the work and the enjoyment you find in the work itself.
Sites like Pinterest are an excellent resource for creating a motivation board, since they are literally made up of mini virtual "pin-boards". If, for example, you want to create a board to motivate you to workout more, all you'd need to do is search for pictures on pinterest of fitness routines, people working out, transformation posts and save them all to one board that you can come back to whenever you are feeling unmotivated.
Some people find that a virtual board just isn't effective enough, and prefer to take the pictures and print them out to stick up above their desk or somewhere they look often. You may even want to include past achievements (such as test scores or promotions) you have in the area you're working on, to inspire you to gather even more.
If you are struggling with your mental health and haven't already enlisted professional help, do so if possible. Of course, for some, professional help is not easily accessible or affordable, but there may be services offered through your school or workplace that could help. Oftentimes even just taking the step to seek help can improve your mental health. Your doctor may also be able to offer medications to help you deal with any issues you're having and increase your productivity.
It should go without saying that your physical and mental health and well-being comes before anything else. If we don't look after ourselves, it's only a matter of time before we burn out, and this can make the symptoms of mental illness drastically worse. Taking the time to look after yourself and work on important relationships in your life will help to keep you stable and much more able to work than anything else.