Building a Life Plan
Creating a life plan may help you feel more in control, but so you don’t try to take on too much at once it may help you to prioritise:
- Ensure your basic needs are met first – these are physiological (for example, food and water, shelter, and rest) and safety (personal security, employment / resources, and health).
- Then consider your psychological needs of love and belonging (which may take the form of friendship, family, or another sense of connection) and your esteem (feelings of accomplishment, or respect).
- You can then focus on other self-fulfilment needs, known as self-actualization, which may be more creative activities, and are linked with a desire to grow and develop.
You will need to address your priorities daily, so it is important to balance the pressures of achieving your physiological and safety needs with time for your psychological and esteem needs.
Making steps to deal with negative thoughts and situations requires a conscious effort, which can understandably be hard to muster, so it’s important to recognise the difficult reality of the situation, while using healthy mechanisms to cope with it. There are some suggestions below to help you.
While, these steps can help, if you are struggling with your mental health, remember that professional help is also available. Please see the Links section for more information.
Using the DPAS steps
An effective way of putting change into action is to follow these steps:
- Decision – what change do you want to make?
- Plan – what steps do you need to take to make that change happen?
- Action – actually put the plan into action. Enough planning! For the change to happen you have to do something!
- Stick with it – sticking with your plan can be tough for many reasons and realistically we are bothered if we receive criticism or are discouraged by others, and sometimes we then stop aiming for change. So you need to make sure your Plan stage has prepared you for the negative as well as the positive. Here are three steps to help you prepare to stick with it:
- Defend – this doesn’t mean being passive by getting defensive, it means to actively defend. Remind yourself why you want to put this change into action and how you plan to do it
- Avoid – Some days we have down-days where we are a bit weaker to criticism and discouragement. Identify where this may come from, and take the option to avoid the source of this if you’re not up to powering through or defending
- Power through! – Be confident in your change and feel positive about where it will get you; you don’t always have to explain yourself to everyone about everything!
Things happen to us. Developing acceptance of this can help in daily life; when dealing with worries; when sorting out disagreements; and in relation to light in our lives.
This acceptance is linked to ourselves:
- You have your good points and your bad points
- There is no reason why you would get everything just right, despite your best intentions
- Despite this, you are no more or less important than anyone else
This acceptance is also linked to other people:
- Other people may treat you unfairly sometimes
- There is no reason why they must treat you fairly all the time, because everyone has bad points, bad times, and different priorities and perspectives
- The person who treated you unfairly is no more or less important than anyone else
This acceptance is also linked to life:
- Life doesn’t always turn out the way you’d like it to, or as you thought it would
- There is no reason why life must go exactly as you’d like, or as you thought it would
- Life is not always pleasant (and sometimes it is awful) but there are things that can help you bear it
Pursue a hobby or learn a new skill
It’s important to focus on enjoyable things that you can do, rather than the you cannot do. So why not think about hobbies that are actually achievable right now? But don’t load unnecessary pressure on yourself.
How about volunteering for an organisation or cause that interests you, such as animal charities or organisations offering support?
Or perhaps further your knowledge in things that interest you in the world around you, like conservation or history?
It is said to take 20 hours to learn a new skill, so that could be just an hour each day for less than a month. So what would you like to do?
Listen to music
88% of people use music to help improve their mood and overall mental well-being. [Consumer research conducted by Spotify in partnership with the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)]
You can incorporate gratitude in your life by listing things you are thankful for each day. You could just spend time thinking of this in the day, or you could keep a journal.
Spend a few moments to really listen and to look at the things around you.
Limit your time following the news
If you are anxious about the state of the world and are overwhelmed by the news, resist the temptation to continually check your newsfeed.
Exercise, or dance
Studies have shown that exercise can help boost your mood by producing the endorphin hormones. Exercise can take many forms, whether it is a workout, dancing, yoga, or something else that takes your fancy.
Consider your health – not just what you eat (or what you don’t eat) but also about fitness, which brings strength, control and freedom of body movement. This relates to being active at any level, and in any form.
Reframe negative thoughts
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour. It teaches you coping skills for dealing with different problems. It combines cognitive therapy, which examines the way you think, and behavioural therapy, which looks at what you do.” [Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind]
CBT works by helping you recognise common downbeat thoughts (“I can’t socialise anymore”). It replaces them with alternative perspectives (“I can’t socialise the way I’m used to, but I can do it virtually”).” [Dr Andreas Michaelides, Chief Psychology Officer at Noom]
It’s crucial to pinpoint the source of your stress. It may be about going back to school, to work, your friends, family, or something else. Once you’ve identified each individual stressor, you can explore different ways of coping with them separately.
Take time to try and interrupt or quieten intrusive or troubling thoughts.
The added benefit of helping others is that it is good for our own mental health and wellbeing. It can help reduce stress and improve your emotional wellbeing. [Mental Health Foundation]
A small act can go a long way – whether it’s dropping a note to your neighbour, ordering from a local business, or checking in with a friend.
You can use your life to demonstrate to others that there are kind people in the world
If you are able, you could also consider giving to a charity – many rely on donations, however small. Charities cover a wide array of areas such as health, wellbeing, animals, the environment and justice.
Research has shown that the mere act of smiling may have an effect on our mood. Expressing a so-called “Duchenne smile” is associated with a “true smile”. It activates the entire face (muscles in the cheeks and around the eyes), causing an increased sense of positive mood and happiness. Unsurprisingly, a “fake smile” (activation of the cheek-muscle only) does not have the same positive effect. [Johanna Scheutzow, Business Psychologist at Thrive mental wellbeing platform]
This theory is supported by a 2019 study conducted by the Psychological Bulletin. This analysed more than 50 years of data and concluded that smiling makes people feel happier, while frowning makes them sadder.
Think of the bigger picture
It’s important to have both short-term and longer term objectives to work towards. Identify one or two positive short-term goals you want to achieve. This may be scheduling a video catch-up with your friends over the weekend, or planning a long walk one evening.
You can also make more longer term plans and goals. This may be to be able to dance all night for a wedding next year, or a career objective. These longer term goals are something that you work towards over time, and can be broken down into attainable steps along the way.
Once you’ve reflected on your big picture goal, lay out the steps you’ll take to get there. Exploring and writing down the ‘why’ behind that goal will help you understand what’s driving your desire for change, keeping you motivated over time. It’s important to start small; biting off more than you can chew, especially in the beginning, can be unmotivating and unmanageable. [Dr Andreas Michaelides, Chief Psychology Officer at Noom]
More steps you can take
Samaritans Self Help App – so you can keep track of how you’re feeling, get recommendations for things you can do to help yourself cope, feel better, and stay safe in a crisis.
Ideas of things to do – other suggestions for distractions, hobbies and exercise
Ideas for being kind – more suggestions for ways to show kindness, and distractions
Team Body Project – movement and fitness videos you can do from home, at any level
Health help – guidance on how to help with your health, as well as more ideas for getting active
If you need further guidance from specific organisations, have a look at the Links page