Make a List of “Firsts” [Mental Health Monday]

At the time I had planned on writing this post there were a lot of things in the world that didn’t exist – COVID-19, to be exact. In fact, I held off on writing this post because I didn’t think it would be relevant for 2020. I think this is something that everyone can hear regardless of what’s going on though.

I have a couple of bullet journals because I like the idea of them. But they’re not really for me. I keep trying to find different ways to use them and fall up short. There’s one thing I use them for though that I’ve been consistent with and that’s making a list of “firsts.”

Mental Health Monday: Make a List of Firsts | Mental Health | Mental Health Matters | RachelPoli.com

What is a list of “firsts?”

I did a lot in 2018. I traveled six months out of the year. Granted, four of those trips were weekend getaways, three of them being to the same place, and five out of the six was to a place I’ve been before. Still, it was a lot of traveling for me and I did go to someplace and new and try something different.

It was that year that I decided to keep track of a list of firsts. So, it’s sort of like a simplified journal but also a list of accomplishments.

I can’t exactly what made me think of the idea in the first place but I did it for 2018 and have been doing it every year since. (Admittedly, I don’t have much written down for 2020 since… well, we can’t exactly go anywhere.)

Why I think having a list of firsts is important

It’s such a simple task that requires little thinking and takes about five seconds to write down. Whenever you do something new, something different you never saw yourself doing before, or something that you’ve put off on doing because you were afraid to, for example, keeping a list of those things is important.

You’re acknowledging your accomplishments

I went to Canada in 2018. It was my first trip out of the country, it was my first trip without my parents, and my first trip on an airplane. (Sure, I had been on a plane once before but I was three-years-old and I don’t remember it.)

Not only that but the trip was totally spontaneous. My sister and I saw an opportunity and we jumped on it. That’s not how I roll. I’m a planner and I need to figure everything out to the last, precise detail before doing anything.

While there’s nothing wrong with being a planner, I think being spontaneous once in a while is good for anyone. It was an accomplishment for me because I jumped out of my comfort zone and you know what? I had a blast. It may seem simple to someone else but it was a huge deal for me.

You can see how much you’ve grown

I’ll tell you that there are things I did in 2018 that I never thought I would do years prior to that. I would talk about it, of course, but never thought I would actually do it. Or, not until I felt more like an “adult,” if that makes sense.

On the days you’re feeling extra down, you can also look back at the list of firsts that you’ve done in the past or that you’ve done recently. Trust me, it makes you feel better.

You can clearly see all the things you thought you “couldn’t do” but you did them anyway. Even if it took you a while. I didn’t drive on the highway until five or six years after I got my license. Even then it was with a friend and I’ve only gone on the highway once or twice by myself since then.

But I can still say I’ve done it and I can do it.

See how far you can go

I like to keep one continuous list for the year and then restart it for the following year. I write each new thing in a different color because it’s prettier that way, so why not? I don’t even bother to break it up into months. Normally that’s something I would do but I like to just see all that I’ve accomplished over the year rather than each month.

I think part of that is because if I see that I did five things one month and none in another month it’ll feel uneven and I’ll start to wonder why one month was “better” than the other. Of course, no month is better than the other. We all try new things when we’re ready to try them.

Try keeping a list of firsts and see how much you can accomplish in a year. Don’t push yourself – just note the little things.

Take care of yourself.

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How I Use the Calm App [Mental Health Monday]

There are a lot of apps out there to help with anxiety, depression, or mental health in general. A lot of these apps are like journals or they track your mood. These are things you can easily do in a notebook or a bullet journal, but apps normally track the patterns for you as well.

Calm isn’t necessarily one of those kinds of apps that is a journal or tracks your mood. It’s just as it sounds – calm.

Mental Health Monday: How I Use the Calm App | Mental Health | Mental Health Matters | Calm | Apps for Mental Health | RachelPoli.com

What Calm can do

Okay, I kind of lied earlier. Calm does track your mood. I forgot it did that because I don’t use Calm for that. But, if you want, you can check-in with Calm. You can choose a mood and write about what’s going on and why you feel the way you do. However, you do need an account to do this.

There’s a free version of Calm and a paid version of it. I have the free version and it does just what I need it to do for now.

Calm has yoga and meditation as well as breathing exercises. There are also soothing music and bedtime stories. Most of this you need the paid version for. Which is why, eventually, I’ll probably pay for the app. For now, I mainly use the two free things I can: the breathing exercises and the scenes.

Breathing

Calm has a cool part of the app where it’ll guide you through a breathing session. You can choose how long you want to breathe for and it’ll show a bubble that will enlarge and tell you when to breathe in, then shrink and tell you when to breathe out. It’ll also ring a small charm when you’re supposed to begin breathing in or out if you need to sit and close your eyes for a couple of minutes.

I’ll admit, I haven’t used this feature too often. I sometimes forget it’s there so I get too wrapped up in something else to think about it. But it’s a good idea and it’s definitely helpful to have something to guide you through breathing exercises depending on what you need it for.

Scenes

This is what I mainly use the Calm app for. I use it when I work sometimes, when I read, when I’m doing a Sudoku puzzle or something, or just when I need to lie down for a few minutes, close my eyes, and relax.

These scenes create sounds on a loop such as rain on leaves, thunderstorms, a fireplace, ocean waves, and so much more.

The best part about this is that you can play the scenes with the app closed. So I typically have it on in the background on my iPad when I’m reading a book from the Kindle app.

I love the Calm app

I’ve had this app for years. I can’t even remember how I came across it or what made me want to download it in the first place. I use it all the time though and I won’t go back.

Calm is a great app for whenever you need to relax for a minute or an hour or longer. I highly recommend it to help with your mental health or just to have. I hope the get the paid version soon so I can talk about it even more.

Take care of yourself.

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Daily Self-Care Ideas [Mental Health Monday]

Everyone needs a break. We all need downtime. This isn’t just on the weekends, either. This is something we should be doing every day, even if it’s only one thing for an hour or so.

Mental Health Monday: Daily Self Care Ideas | Self-Care | Mental Health | Mental Health Matters | RachelPoli.com

Call a friend

I have to admit, I’m not the most social person there is. I’ve been more social in the past year or so than I’ve ever been, ironically enough. This is a good thing, of course, but there are times when we don’t want to socialize. We love our friends and family but we’d rather stay home in our pajamas, shutting out the rest of the world. This is okay too, once in a while.

However, something to do on a daily basis is to call a friend or family member, even if the conversation is only ten minutes. Check-in with them, let them check in with you. Let them know you’re thinking about them and you miss them.

Do not text them, either. Call them on the phone or FaceTime them. I personally hate talking on the phone, but you’ll feel better after hearing their voice or seeing their face.

Read a book

As a book reviewer, I’m always needing to read books. I’m always getting review requests from authors. I enjoy this and I love reading, so there’s no complaining about it over here.

However, sometimes you need to sit down and read a book you want to read. Don’t read something because you’re aiming to write a review on it for the blog. Don’t do it because an author is waiting for you to get through it. Read something that’s been on your TBR list for a while.

Of course, I try to review every book I read whether an author inquired about it or not, but when you’re reading something you picked up for yourself, try not to think about it. Just sit back and enjoy it.

Make a list

I don’t know about you, but I love making lists. It helps me feel organized and that calms me down. I make a list for everything – I have daily to-do lists, weekly to-do lists, and monthly to-do lists. I create a list of tasks for my jobs, a list of events I need to remember for the month and so on.

What I don’t make lists of often enough are positive ones. This is especially good to do when you’re having a rough day. Sit down and make a list of things you’re happy about. List the things you’re grateful for. List the things you love. List positive traits about yourself. List goals or make a bucket list.

Journal

This is a great place to store those positive affirmation lists you create. On the other hand, a journal is a great way to keep track of your good days as well as the bad ones.

Write down something that upset you and turn your thinking around to put a positive spin on it or things you can do to let it go.

Write down something good that happened to you to preserve the memory. Allow it to be something positive for you to look back on when you’re having a rough day.

Listen to music

Sometimes we just need to sit down and listen to some music. I personally love classical and instrumental songs. Those can be, for the most part, calming in themselves. However, if you prefer something more upbeat and hardcore, that’s fine too.

Take the time to put on some headphones, lay down, and listen to a couple of your favorite songs. This will allow you some alone time, decompress from the day, and meditate for a bit.

Color

I don’t know what it is about coloring, but it is so relaxing. Take a coloring book and work on a page or two. Alternatively, you can break out all the arts and crafts supplies you have and create something from scratch.

Whether you do it alone or you have a friend beside you, it’s a lot of fun, relaxing, and carries your worries away.

Take a bath

Throw in a bath bomb or bubble bath, light a candle, and soak in some warm water. Put on some light music or read a book, but soaking in a warm tub is one of the more glorious things ever. At least, in my opinion, it is.

I’ll admit, I don’t take baths in the summer (because who wants to sit in a cold tub regardless of the temperature outside)? Still, it’s a great thing to do when you have the winter blues or you just need some time alone.

Alternatively, you can sit in the shower for a long period of time as well. But the hot water will run out and that’s a sad thing, indeed.

Take a walk

If it’s a nice day outside, you might as well go for a walk and soak up some sunshine. A little exercise does everyone good. The vitamin D will help as well. You’ll feel better after getting up and moving for a bit.

On the flip side if the weather is lousy or it’s too cold, get up a move a bit in your house. You don’t need to have an in-home gym or exercise equipment. Just do some stretches or yoga. Not only does it keep your body in shape but it also takes your mind off some things.

Watch a movie

Put a movie you haven’t seen in a while. Watch one of your favorites. Watch something that makes you laugh. Or, put on something that will make you cry (sometimes you just get in that mood to have a good cry).

For me? I normally put on the Harry Potter movies. I always cry in movies six, seven, and eight. I laugh during every single one. It’s great storytelling with wonderful characters and actors. Plus, it’s just something familiar and makes me feel at home and at peace, despite them preparing for war.

Unplug

This is the most important one. Turn off your phone. Don’t watch the news. Stop checking your email. Don’t refresh any of your social media accounts. If you need to talk to someone, don’t text – call. If you’re going to read a book, pick up a paperback or hardcover. Give your eyes a break from the screen. If you’re home with family, get out a deck of cards or play a board game.

The possibilities of not having a screen in front of you are endless. Your brain and eyes will thank you for it later.

Take care of yourselves.

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What Is Dysthymia? [Mental Health Monday]

In January 2010, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Ten years later, in January 2020, another diagnosis was added to my list: Dysthymia.

Mental Health Monday: What is Dysthymia? | Mental Health Matters | Mental Health | Depression | Dysthymia | Self-Care | RachelPoli.com

When I left my doctor’s appointment last January, I checked my updated chart and noticed a new diagnosis. My appointment was a routine check-up but I also wanted to touch upon my mental health.

Since being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in 2010, I never understood it. I didn’t take the time to learn about it, to learn about myself. I thought a diagnosis meant something was wrong with me. There’s no “cure” for such a thing, but I wondered how I could “fix” myself. It was until 2018 or so that I started to dive into researching this mental illness. I started to understand the way I think and why I think that way. I read stories from other people with similar problems and it was nice to see I’m not the only person who would react in such a way during a certain situation.

2019 was rough

This is no secret. I probably complained about 2019 as a whole, countless times – to friends and family, on the internet in live streams, social media or blog posts, and more. It was a weird year where a lot of things happened and my mental health wasn’t great on top of it. What bothered me the most was that I didn’t know what was causing my dip in mental health.

Was it because of all the hardships that 2019 brought with it? Was it my anxiety finding a new way to present itself? I wasn’t sure, but I was sad. All the time.

I still worked (for the most part – some things fell to the wayside, like this blog), I still went out with friends and family. Deep down, I was sad and moody though. Some days there was a reason for feeling like this and other times, there wasn’t. On most days it didn’t matter how I felt, I was tired. I was beyond drained all the time.

Anxiety does this to you but I had never felt like this before. I wasn’t sure if it was my anxiety getting worse for some reason so I tried all I could to keep it at bay, dong things I learned from my therapy sessions years ago. I wondered if I needed to go back on medication for my anxiety. I toyed with the idea of going back to therapy. I hoped I could figure it out on my own though.

In the end, I waited for my physical to arrive and I would get my doctor’s opinion.

From April 2019 to January 2020

The end of April was when it started. Each day, I kept thinking it would get better. A lot of real-life things were happening and I figured I was stressed out and my anxiety was having a field day because of it. Some days were better than others, of course. On those better days, I thought I was good and there was a light at the end of the tunnel, but it never lasted too long.

My grandmother was in and out of the hospital from November 2018 to February 2019. My sister had a baby in March 2019, which was great. Then my grandfather was in and out of the hospital from April 2019 all the way until December 2019. As you can tell, 2019 was filled with a lot of hospital visits, a place that already gives me anxiety regardless. So, as you can probably tell, this is why I thought I felt sad and stressed all the time. Things were weird.

I want to take a quick minute to apologize to 2019

I’m going to interrupt myself for a second.

2019 sucked, but I have to admit that I’m grateful now for all those things happening when they did. My grandparents are both home and well (as well as they can be, at least).

I can’t imagine my grandparents and my sister having a baby in 2020 in the middle of the Coronavirus. 2019 took one for the team, I have to say. If my grandparents didn’t have their problems in 2019, they would have had them in 2020.

Due to the virus, I wouldn’t have been able to visit them. My grandfather’s immune system is shot and my grandmother’s fragile. Both of them probably would have caught the virus and not been here with us today.

So, despite my complaining and nasty words to 2019, I’m changing my perspective and apologizing for being rude to 2019. It was rough, but my family got through it, and I’m thanking my lucky stars that it happened then and not now.

I’m lucky enough to save my thoughts and prayers for all those who are being truly effected by the virus right now.

I suspected I had depression

Anyway, I knew anxiety and depression can go hand-in-hand. I wondered if I was depressed (it was a question when I was diagnosed with anxiety ten years ago) but some part of me didn’t think that was the case. 2019 had a lot going on. (There’s more to it than what just happened with my family, but I’m not going into the other details.)

When I talked to my doctor, he mentioned Seasonal Affective Disorder – which is something else I’ve noticed about myself. I tend to get down more so in the winter months than any other time. However, since this was going on for nearly a year and it started in spring, he was hesitant about it.

Dysthymia was the conclusion

We had a good discussion and, honestly, I’ve felt better since talking to him. I still have my days, of course, but the sadness wasn’t as prominent once I officially was diagnosed.

Of course, I looked at my chart and noticed “Dysthymia” was listed. I didn’t even know how to pronounce it – my doctor never mentioned it. I Googled it when I got home and, according to Google, Dysthymia is “persistent mild depression.”

So, there we have it. After ten years, ironically to the month, I have a type of depression. After ten years, my suspicions about myself were right.

I knew there were different types of anxiety but when I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, I hadn’t heard that specific type before. Dysthymia is the same way. I know there are different types of depression but dysthymia is not something I’ve ever heard of.

What a decade

While so many people were looking back at their decades from 2009 through 2019, during the month of January 2020, I looked back at my mental health from the last decade. I feel like I was just beginning to make strides and truly understand generalized anxiety disorder and myself. Now I feel like I’m going back to the drawing board.

This isn’t a bad thing – it’s who I am, it’s the cards I was dealt. I’m older and have a clearer head on my shoulders now at the age of 26 rather than when I was 16. I won’t shove my diagnosis aside and try to be “better.” I won’t wait eight or nine years to learn more about my mental illness and myself. Yet, while I feel a little better having an official diagnosis, I feel sort of bad at the same time. I thought I was doing great and, while I suspected this for a while, it seemed to have come out of nowhere.

But I’m okay and I’ll figure it out.

Mental Health Monday

This is another reason why I decided to turn Mental Health Monday into a weekly feature instead of monthly. I want to learn more about my mental illnesses. I want to learn more about myself.

I know I’m not the only person dealing with mental illness. I know I’m not the only person who’s trying to figure things out. I know I’m not the only person who is confused by their diagnosis. I know I’m not the only person who hates their mental illness one day and then is at peace with it and accepts it the next day.

I know I’m not the only person who sometimes feels I’m the only one in the entire world with generalized anxiety disorder and dysthymia.

Let’s learn about it together.

Let’s cope together.

Let’s talk about it.

Take care of yourself.

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Pace Yourself [Mental Health Monday]

Something that has always been hard for me is pacing myself when it comes to work, family, friends, and life in general. I’ve always had a hard time relaxing and this particular situation with COVID-19 has ironically helped me to slow down a bit.

Mental Health Monday: Pace Yourself | Self-Care | Mental Health Matters | Mental Health | RachelPoli.com

My old routine

It took me a long time to get into a routine with running a blog. Between creating content, adding images, social media marketing, engaging on social media and the comments, and everything in between, finding that right routine for it all was hard. There are only so many hours in each day.

I used to work on one project each day. For example, Sundays are for my Double Jump blog while Mondays were for this blog. The other days of the week had a specific project assigned to them as well. This worked for a little bit but it slowly tapered off. Once I checked something off my to-do list, it seemed I had added another three tasks to it.

Before I knew it, I was stressed and overwhelmed trying to get so many things done in one day. On top of that, I had to nanny in the afternoon, I’d get emails from my church of things to do there as well, plus other last-minute tasks that would worm their way onto my daily list.

How this lockdown has helped

I’ve fortunate I’m not sick and I don’t know anyone who is sick. I know people whose immune system is compromised (such as myself) and I have grandparents whose immune systems are shot. I know what it feels like to be scared that something may happen and we’re all doing the best we can to stay home and distance ourselves from friends and family. It’s hard, but it’s for the best.

I thank my lucky stars each day that I’m healthy and everyone I know is healthy. I pray for the people who have been affected by this virus physically and mentally and for those who know others who have been affected by this virus. It’s a terrible thing and we all need to do our best to stick together, do the right thing, and be kind to one another.

In a weird way, I feel as though this stay-at-home order is forcing me to slow down. The circumstances are weird and not good, but it’s allowed me to take some time to really look at my daily routines and figure out that I need some changes.

My workdays before quarantine 

I normally wake up early and jump into work right away (after grabbing a cup of coffee, of course). This work is blogging, writing, freelancing, business, book reviews, church stuff, anything and everything. Because I nanny in the afternoon, I cram it all in within five to six hours before leaving to get the kids from school. Then by the time I get home, it’s dinner, shower, and just about bedtime because I’m exhausted from the day.

Now that everything has been canceled and closed, I don’t need to nanny in the afternoons. Both parents are home so the kids and I FaceTime once in a while to keep in touch but that’s about it until this is over. I miss them and I miss the routine of going out every afternoon, but I now have four to five hours added back to my weekdays. For the time being, I no longer need to compress all my work into a few hours. I can stretch it the whole day.

The first week was rough

I didn’t know how the handle everything the first week. I buried myself in video games and ignored the outside world all the while constantly refreshing the news and getting mad at myself for it getting more and more stressed and scared. I got no work done so, on the second week, I knew I needed to do something. I needed to ease myself back into my routine, even though it was going to be a different routine.

I no longer needed to nanny in the afternoon. I no longer had to worry about church. (I’m still working for church, but I don’t need to worry about my Sunday school lessons at least). I work from home anyway, but now my mother was home. My sister was home every other day. My dad, unfortunately, still needs to go into work every day. My family is fine and they don’t bother me while I work, but it’s still odd to have them home anyway, especially when I’m on video calls or live streaming.

I needed to ease back into it

In between the news and getting used to being stuck inside the house all day with my family who are supposed to be at work, I realized I needed to ease myself back into working and also to find a new routine, even if it’s a temporary one. Well, this “temporary” routine seems to be working great for me.

Not only am I feeling productive throughout the day but I’m also finishing with enough time left over at the end of the night to play games with my family, watch a movie, have some “me” time, or chill with a video game or a book. The way I’ve changed my routine is the simplest thing too.

Pacing myself

I work on a lot of different things. I run two blogs, started a podcast, I live stream, I work at my church, I have my creative writing, do freelance work, and so much more. This is why I originally decided to dedicate one day to each thing, but that’s obviously didn’t work. The to-do list for each project is miles long and it’s so hard to get it all done within one day or even just a week or month.

I started looking at all the tasks I needed to do for each project and prioritized them. I started doing one task from each list every day. For example, I write one blog post for here a day. I write one blog post for Double Jump. Soon, I create a backlog of posts so if I ever need to skip a blog post for a day, that’s okay.

There are some projects that I don’t work on every day. There are some projects I do multiple tasks for each day depending on when they’re due and/or how time-consuming the are.

I don’t know why I haven’t done this before. Doing one task for each category has, somehow, allowed me to get so much more done during the day. I’m even back into my routine of working on my novels daily. (That’s also a huge thanks to Camp NaNoWriMo but it’ll keep going through May and beyond… I assume it will, anyway.)

Pacing yourself is so important

I rambled a bit in this post and I didn’t mean to. I mostly meant to discuss the importance of pacing yourself and what I’m doing. I threw so much backstory in there, but… this isn’t a novel. I’m not editing it out. If you read it, good for you. Thanks. If you skimmed and skipped to this part, good for you too.

We all need to work so we can make money and survive in this weird world. However, in order to work smart we need to take care of ourselves. That includes getting a good night’s sleep, eating healthy, getting a decent amount of exercise… but it also means taking care of your brain. You can’t expect yourself to work on everything at once and do it all in one day.

I don’t know why I always thought I could. I’ve been finishing my day around dinner time if not before. It’s been a normal work day for people with day jobs. I start between six and seven in the morning and I’m done around three or four in the afternoon. It’s a great feeling. I’m less stressed about my work because I feel like I’m making progress on everything throughout the day. Not to mention I’m able to spend more time with my family and have some downtime to relax, something I rarely do.

My sleep schedule is still off (it always is) but I feel somewhat refreshed each day. There have been days where I’ve worked so much that the next morning, my brain doesn’t want to do anything. It doesn’t matter if I slept well or not, I overworked it the day before and it still wasn’t ready to get back into it. Now I’m able to wake up and keep that timely routine of getting my work done in a good time.

Take this time to take care of yourself

Some of us are stuck at home. Some of us are still working. Some are taking care of others, some are worried about their family and friends. The best thing we can do right now is to adjust to this new (but temporary) “normal.” A great way to do that is to find a good routine to keep things as normal as possible but pace yourself in doing so. Take the time to hang out with your family and enjoy the nicer weather.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go practice what I preach.

Take care of yourselves.

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