Getting out of bed, brushing your teeth or having a shower can feel like a colossal feat when you’re going through a mental low. But alas, things just need to get done.
To-do lists can feel mountainous when you’re in the pits of a depressive episode and as humans, we are wired for seeking pleasure - so any task that isn’t going to deliver on those goods is easy to put off.
Thankfully, there are ways to make completing those tasks easier.
The Eisenhower principle is one such concept that could help. Typically used to boost productivity at work, the method can also be adapted to ticking off everyday activities while you’re experiencing mental health issues.
Inspired by the 34th US president, the principle consists of separating imperatives into ‘urgent’, ‘non-urgent, and ‘important’, ‘not important’.
You can then further adjust the grid to include sub-categories: ‘Do it now’, ‘plan it’, ‘delegate it’ and ‘drop it’. This ensures you’re compartmentalising the immediate responsibilities from the less urgent ones, making tasks seem more manageable.
Cognitive behavioural specialist Jessica Adams says a growing number of tasks can especially overwhelm depressed and anxious people.
“When dealing with high-functioning anxiety this kind of task may be helpful to work on time efficiency and addressing the priority level of each task,” she says.
“This can lead to higher levels of concentration, feeling calmer and organised as well as encouraging one to slow down. For people who suffer with high-functioning anxiety, stopping completely will cause an anxiety flare up. However, slowly addressing everything they wish to accomplish, even if it is to delegate or let it go, will be helpful to maintaining mental health.”
While the Eisenhower principle can help break to-do lists into manageable tasks, it can also have drawbacks, says Adams.
“Low productivity is certainly a symptom of depression, however to-do lists and task orientated activities can cause those with depression to quickly become overwhelmed and thus have lower productivity rates. This may then lead to engagement in negative thought spirals,” she says.
“A better way of dealing with low productivity for depression and anxiety would be to write down things as they have been accomplished, and to celebrate each thing that has been done, no matter how small. For example, making the bed and brushing your teeth. Practising being proud of small wins and achievements helps solidify a higher mood, sense of calm and achievement, and reconnects the person with their own internal validation.”
One to try next time.
Help and support:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
- CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.