Planning for Anxiety Reduction
Updated: Jul 31, 2021
Our brains share some qualities with web browsers, including the ability to have "too many tabs open." Like a browser, when a human brain has too much going on, it's performance can slow or crash. Sometimes, people have an unrealistic expectation that they should remember everything important, plan their future, and manage responsibilities without writing a lick of it down. Okay, I confess that "people" used to be me - there was a time when I made unreasonable demands of my brain. But my brain doesn't work that way, and neither does yours (most likely).
You don't have to spend much time in my counseling office before you hear me preach the gospel of writing things down and "externalizing brain function." When we lean on the super cool tools of paper and pen, we relieve our brain of needing to remember too many things at once. This in turn reduces our stress and prevents crises - like blowing deadlines, forgetting birthdays, and sabotaging our own plans. When we write our plan down, more of our brain is available to be mindfully aware of the present moment.
Before I joined "Club Planny Plannerson," I was chronically missing important things in my life. I felt like life was out-of-control, and I struggled to execute plans or see them through to completion. When I got REAL honest with myself, even though I didn't want to be undependable or irresponsible, I also wasn't yet willing to do the necessary stuff to NOT be those things, thereby allowing myself to be those things by default. Using a planner facilitates rigorous honesty and personal integrity that is a struggle for many, well into adulthood, as it was for me.
Its important to add the caveat that sometimes people struggle with starting or keeping a planner due to brain differences, ADHD, trauma, grief, and mental health issues. I want to be clear that my story above is not intended to heap shame on anyone struggling with this, merely to point out that sometimes there often is a gap - between knowing better and choosing to do better. I certainly knew better, and although I had struggles preventing me from attaining much command over my responsibilities at first, there was a point where I could have applied this knowledge but refused to for a time, because I continued to over-identify with my prior struggles. We all deserve some compassion and patience when we are learning new things and changing old patterns.
My goal to improve my personal integrity motivated me to start using planners, and it was a great success. I'm usually dependable and responsible most days. I'm more compassionate to myself when I fall off plan, which makes it easier to get back on plan when I need to. But even better than that, my brain works better! I have fewer tabs open, so more of my brain's limited resources are available for paying attention and problem solving. On top of that, anxiety and that out-of-control sensation has dissipated dramatically.
I don't judge people who don't use planners, but I admit I might be overly enthusiastic about the benefits of planners - because I sincerely hope for people to find a similar sense of relief my planner has given me. Now, over-planning and perfectionism are a risk of using planners that can harm our well-being too, but that can be detected and managed (pro-tip: don't let lists get ridiculous long, we aren't robots). Planners don't solve all of life's problems, but they sure do help prevent some very preventable ones.
If you want to get started using a planner, I can't tell you which planner is right for you. The right planner for you is any planner that you will actually use, that you can take with you everywhere, and that doesn't distract you from your planning focus (such as cellphones or other electronic planners). And my best tip for getting started is being willing to get back on the horse as many times as it takes. Inevitably, your planner use will be interrupted or forgotten, and as soon as you notice this (with self-compassion please), get back on the horse, and resume command of your plan.