A few months ago, when sirens were near-constant background noise in New York City, I found myself asking, “Who will I be at the end of this pandemic?” Maybe you’ve wondered this too—what will be left of your old life once the new coronavirus has torn through Earth. I asked this a lot, to friends, to family, and eventually to my therapist, who reminded me that there might be a better question: Who will you be during this time?
My therapist’s question wasn’t asking me to “make the most” of this Unprecedented Time. It wasn’t a nudge to learn a language or take up a pandemic hobby. Her substitute question tempered my catastrophic thinking. It was an invitation to be a little more present. As SELF has previously reported, when we find ourselves in anxiety spirals, it’s helpful to find ways to connect with the present moment. Fixating on who I’ll become post-pandemic was doing nothing to calm me down in real time.
Ever the overachiever, I took her question literally and created a Good Day/Bad Day survival plan. Planning for more immediate concerns, it turns out, is good for you. “When you think about things in advance—scheduling them and planning for the obstacles that are going to come up—you’re more likely to engage in that behavior [when the time comes],” Marisa G. Franco, Ph.D., counseling psychologist and friendship expert, previously told SELF. Planning, strategizing, and exercising some control (in moderation) can make the good days a little more frequent and the bad days a little easier.
Bad day plans make sense, but good day plans are useful too.
Prepping for bad days might seem reasonable because, well, bad days suck. Plus, when we’re in the throes of a bad day, it’s often hard to see clearly. In a recent SELF article on loneliness, Franco mentioned that we should plan for feeling a little isolated before we experience it. Why? Because “a state of loneliness actually alters how we view the world,” Franco said. “We perceive threats and slights where they may not be,” Franco explained. If we think of bad days as being similar to loneliness (let’s face it, some bad days include heaping portions of isolation), then planning is super-helpful in providing a safety net.
That said, thinking about good days is helpful because then you can use them more intentionally. I’m not suggesting that you squander your good days by powering through your to-do list (unless you want to), but putting a little structure around them might set you up to savor the vibe. I’ve also found that seeing my good day and bad day plans on the same page reminds me that both experiences are, well, normal.
So what does a good day/bad day plan look like? It’s more than just a vague sense of what you’ll do in the event of a good or bad day. I suggest you sit down with your laptop (or a pen and paper) and craft a document that you can refer to repeatedly.
Each good day/bad day plan should have these five basic components.
I encourage you to get as creative as you’d like with these plans. Dedicate an entire chalkboard wall to your big, beautiful agenda if you’re inspired. My plan, however, lives on a piece of raggedy loose-leaf paper. It focuses on getting me through the mornings. Why? Because that’s my biggest challenge; if I can get out of bed, there’s a solid chance I can participate in the rest of my day. Some folks might have trouble navigating evenings or issues focusing on tasks in the afternoon. If that’s where you need support, focus your plan on those aspects of life. My five basic components are as follows:
1. Decide on a few daily non-negotiable activities.
I live alone in a studio apartment, so my non-negotiables don’t include walking my dog or feeding children. Instead, my list has tasks like opening my curtains (a little light helps my mood) and feeding myself (even if it’s just a breakfast bar).
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