Adaptability, or our SECOND KEY TO SUCCESS, simply means responding effectively to change; whether that is conditions, the environment, or within yourself. It is so important because it touches on not only what we are already good at, but what we need to improve and be on the lookout for. As we move though this article, I will mention some things that I recommend for a self-evaluation. I call this the “Strength or Struggle” Evaluation as this is meant to show what your strengths and weaknesses are while you are going through a mental health struggle. This way, you can see what you really need to focus on when a crisis or a downslide comes along. I will advise how to write your own Strength or Struggle Evaluation in this post, but if you would rather have a completely ready-to-go printable, that will be offered at the end of this post.
The most important factor to remember when looking at adaptability is taking care of yourself. This is first and foremost the priority here. So you had a full day planned and you wake up feeling like the depression monster is going full Godzilla on your brain? Well, its time to adapt. No, it’s not about pushing through, trying to climb the building and rescue the girl, even though all you want to do is curl up in bed. It’s also not about curling up in bed for the next week, even though blankets are your happy place. It’s finding what you can do, with what you have, right now. Today, that might be focusing on eating healthy meals, reaching out to your support system, meditating, reading, and taking a nap. But because you did those things today, tomorrow you’ll likely be able to do a little bit more- even just one more thing. You don’t move the mountain by throwing your shoulder into it. You move the mountain one handful of dirt at a time.
Be Kind to Yourself
Depending on where you are mentally and physically, go back to building up those base level needs first- making sure your physiological needs are met. According to Maslow, these included things like breathing, food, water, homeostasis, and sleep. If that’s where you are—and hey, I have been there. Many times, and I’m sure I’ll be there again, so NO judgement here—start with good nutrition and hydration, assuring your safety, taking your meds, making necessary appointments, resting, meditation or deep breathing, reaching out to your support system, and trying to work in some coping mechanisms as you feel able. I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t know. I’m just reminding you to adapt your plan/day to where it truly needs to be-even if that feels like it’s all the way back to the beginning. It won’t last forever (click here if you need a reminder); it is just what your body and mind need at that moment in order to recover. Pay attention to your bodily cues. Your body will let you know what’s going on; when its had too much, or when its ready to take on another challenge. Practice mindfulness. It will bring you back to the present, and you’ll have a much easier time listening to your body and what it’s whispering to you.
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection” Buddha
Focus On Your Priorities
Remember how last week’s post talked about prioritizing three of your overall goals per month? Well, this is exactly where it comes in handy. You can always reach for meeting more goals on a good day—and you should—but on rebuilding or down days, this is why you only picked three. Once your basic needs are being met, focus on those three goals to start getting important and meaningful tasks accomplished, which will lead to feeling better about yourself, and help kick that depression’s ass! Make sure you break down your goals in specific, measurable, and manageable goals during this time. I recommend thinking of daily goals within the goal category to make sure that you can reasonably accomplish the goals you’re setting. For example, if you have a goal of getting a job, instead of listing that, try “fill out 2 applications today” or “look online for jobs for 30 minutes” or “update work section of resume”, etc. These are specific, limited-time, manageable goals that you can complete in a day before thinking about what you feel up to trying tomorrow. That is the beauty of adaptability: tomorrow is a new day, and a new try.
Obviously you cannot plan for these days, right? Wrong. If you have a mental illness, you know that they will happen. So plan for them! Whether that means saving sick days at work, getting an intermittent FMLA in place, and having an honest discussion with your boss; or having a trusted babysitter, family, or friend’s phone number(s) available to come over and help with your child; to getting a psychiatric emergency kit in place. Yes, I realize that many situations are more difficult than these, but many can be made easier with some creative problem solving when you’re NOT in the middle of a crisis- that is the key…talking about solutions when you’re stable, not in crisis. Not every problem will have a solution, but some will. You may not have the solution, but maybe someone else will — problem solve with your loved ones, care team, support group, local NAMI, friends, whomever you can! The more minds the better! Try to plan around your most functional hours or time of day. For instance, I am naturally much more productive in the evenings, which is why blogging and writing is a great fit for me. If you know when you’re most functional, make full use of that time, and rest and relax during other times of the day. Ask for help. I’ll say it again—ask for help. There’s just no need to go through this alone. People care. I care. Ask. For. Help. Take short breaks. Get up for 10 minutes every 30-60 minutes. The movement will keep your brain fresher while working, and the movement will produce natural endorphins to boost your mood!
Making a Strength or Struggle Evaluation will help you plan ahead as well. I recommend including the following four categories in your evaluation: Medical, Psychological, Behavioral, and Emotional. Within each category, list several different items that would make sense to you within that category. For example, medical could include nutrition and taking meds. Psychological possibilities could be using support system and coping skills. Behavioral ideas might be setting boundaries and self-care while emotional could include confidence and serenity/peace. Identify if each is a strength to you- are you good at that particular item, even when your mental health deteriorates? Or is that item a struggle? Do you identify items or areas that you should be especially gentle with yourself, that other people may need to help you and/or be extra understanding if it’s an area such as communication? I recommend writing comments whenever possible, like if cueing helps, doing the item with another person, if you can do it after 1-2 days, where any needed items may be located, etc. This will go in your Psych Care Plan Emergency Kit, if you choose to make one, when it’s completed. Personalizing is always recommended, but if you would like a fully-made, printable version, you can purchase it here:
I know. I just told you to break routines. Some routines. And sometimes, that’s exactly what you need when you’re feeling down. Routines are great, and I believe they lead to good mental health…but you cannot be so regimented that it controls your life or holds you back! Get out of the house to work. The change of scenery just may be the inspiration you need to start feeling rejuvenated, and more like yourself. Challenge your comfort zone boundaries. Even if it means just trying that new smoothie place, or smiling at the stranger on the street, stretching outside your comfort zone can sometimes snap you out of a depression, or at least give you an extra boost. For a more dramatic example: After a lengthy period of depression, my husband and I took off on a two-week, wandering, tent-camping trip across the Southwest desert in late July 2013. The experience showed me the spirit, strength, and marvel that I continued to possess inside of myself and that trip remains a truly soul-finding mission that I will always treasure. I’m not suggesting that you run off to the desert every time you’re depressed, but sometimes a change of scenery, or location (even if it’s just a car-ride away) can do a world of good.
Challenge Negative Thinking
I find that in order to remain adaptable, or flexible, you have to challenge your negative thoughts and try to retrain your brain into a more positive muscle. Have you ever met an incredibly flexible super-negative person? I doubt it. Negativity and rigidity seem to go hand-in-hand. I whole-heartedly believe in the power of positive psychology, I just believe that you have to do more than think positive—actions need to follow!—in order for actual, real change to happen. Challenging the negative thinking is the first step. Don’t just let the negativity run rampant in your head gaining traction-do something about it! There are many ways to challenge negativity, including playing out the worst case scenario, so that you see that you’re likely over-dramatizing the end result in your head; questioning what you would say to someone else in your situation or what someone else would likely say to you; learned optimism, which is viewing the situation as a whole and realizing the outside circumstances that likely impacted situation; and constantly challenging the thought by thinking up alternatives.
The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude.Oprah Winfrey
If you put these ideas together, they will begin to help you practice flexibility, or adaptability. Being able to easily adapt to different situations when you have a mental illness is invaluable for so many reasons; I don’t even think that I need to list them. So I’ll just say this: with a mental illness, you never know how you’re going to feel when you wake up from day to day. Some of the things that I talk about are designed to give you a better idea, but that does not change the fact that one random day you can wake up feeling like shit even though you’ve been doing all the right things. So adaptability really is a super power for those with mental illness. To be able to change everything at a moment’s notice, and be okay with it, and know that we might have to do it all over again tomorrow, and the next day, and not know how or when “our normal” is coming back? Super. Power.
To download the Adaptability Strengths & Struggles Worksheet mentioned in this post, follow this link: