Let’s look at a typical month in your mood cycle for a minute. The average 30 days in your life, with the absolute minimum of self-care work and no external mitigating factors, break down something like:
2-3 Black Days – Unable to function. We talked about these last time.
10-14 Grey Days – On these days you’re basically functional but not doing great. You can accomplish most basic tasks, spend time with friends, but are easily worn out by social situations and often overwhelmed. You feel worn out or numb most of the time punctuated by crying or going to bed right after work.
7 or so Blue Days – You love blue, so, in your case Blue Days are a positive. On Blue Days you feel pretty well; you can enjoy fun things, don’t break commitments, you get writing done. You even cook. You’re not bouncing off walls but you feel about 70% capable and cautiously optimistic.
2-3 Teal Days – The coveted Teal Day is one in which you feel completely like yourself – and you are aware that being you is a good thing. These are the days that you feel switched on, even hopeful; you come up with ideas, you’re excited about coming events. Now, Teal Days can edge into hypomania, which is distinguishable by the underlying anxiety; hypomania is slightly agitated, more of a “I HAVE TO GET THINGS DONE WHILE I CAN” that leads to overscheduling, making grandiose plans, and eventually crashing. But true Teal Days feel natural and expansive, not edgy.
4-5 Red Days – These are bleeding days, in which case, who the fuck knows? Red Days, along with the transitional days that lead from one color to another, are unpredictable. When you were younger your hormones were a much better predictor of how the overall month would flow, but as we head toward your 40s they’re getting less reliable. Sometimes you feel great while you’re bleeding and sometimes you feel homicidal. The only real constant is that on the days you’re bleeding the most you tend to feel horny as a ten-peckered owl. You already know the self-care for that.
Now of course this is all a simplification – depending on the outside world, your physical health, and the whims of the meth-addled trickster god in charge of your neurotransmitters, any of these phases can be longer or shorter, and your cycles don’t run in a perfect monthly rhythm. This is just a visual aid.
The goal of self-care, for you anyway, is to shift each of those colors into the next best shade or at least extend the span of Blue and Teal days so the calendar looks more like this:
Of course you’d love to get rid of the Black altogether, but let’s be realistic here – those days have always been with you. As I said before, accept that they’ll come, plan for them, try not to judge yourself for having them.
The obvious place to start is with Grey Days. Faithful self-care routines have the most noticeable effect there. When you’re feeding and moving and offering kindness to all the various parts of you, Grey Days turn into a soft grey-blue, and then into full Blue. You feel stronger and more stable and from there you can even turn some Blues into Teal – just beware pushing too hard, or those Teals will tend more toward hypomania than happiness.
Self-care also helps the Red Days skew a bit less chaotic. If nothing else, movement and intentional eating can cut down on physical symptoms like cramps and body aches, and that’s always good.
That’s pretty reasonable, right? The cool part is it doesn’t take a herculean effort to do this, just some small changes here and there.
But where to start?
You start with The Daily 3.
What are three small, measurable things you could do to feel like you made a decent showing for yourself on a Grey Day?
Remember, we’re talking about a day when you feel essentially functional – you wake up pretty sure you can get out of bed, make it through work, come home, feed yourself, and maybe do a thing or two off your endless non-self-care to do list. You don’t feel particularly jazzed about any of it, but you know you can do it.
Aim majorly low on the tree at first. Maybe three minimums for you would be
- 1. get out of bed
- 2. brush your teeth
- 3. don’t get back in bed before 9pm
So, make it a goal to do those three things every day for a week during Grey Days.
After a week take a look at those three things again. Were they all way easy, left you feeling a little silly for checking them off? Or was one of them much harder than you anticipated?
Your next step is to drop the easiest one off the list and replace it with something a little harder. Not a big leap, just something that requires you to stretch a tiny bit. If you know getting out of bed on Grey Days is a given, replace it with something like Eat a Vegetable. Still not difficult, but requires a bit more effort.
Just take those three minimum things and play with them. If you want you could even expand the list to four or five items when you’re feeling a little better, and have your minimum three plus something more ambitious that week to see how you like it. That way if that fourth item is beyond your stretch you’ve still accomplished your essential three. I wouldn’t go much bigger than that yet, though, lest you get overwhelmed. Maybe make it “three things plus one” where that one is something off your bigger to-do list. Remember, we’re starting tiny but solid, to give you something to build on.
An important note: Not accomplishing all three every day is not the end of the world. In fact, one of the benefits of this activity is it can help you realize ahead of time that you’re sliding back toward Black, which can happen for a variety of reasons. If you see that your 3 aren’t getting done for several days, it might be an alert from your brain that you need to take a step back and see where you really are. As soon as you realize you’re in a bad way, stop worrying about your Daily 3 until you feel better. Do NOT make this a way to judge yourself. Just back off and start over. Every day you wake up still breathing, you have a chance to try again. This whole thing is meant to help you design a self-care practice that’s both dependable and flexible, that both responds to your life and can help shape it. There are no absolutes here, only adaptation.
Your goal at first is to get to know yourself better. Some of the things you try on your Daily 3 are going to be really important for a long time, and some you’ll drop almost immediately when you realize they’re just not a priority for you. You will likely surprise yourself with what you are able to do and how good it feels to check things off.
Eventually that Minimum 3 can evolve into something pretty awesome, because you can use it to help you achieve long-term goals and create a more ambitious self-care practice through the almighty power of the LIST. *maniacal laughter*
Till then, love much,
PS – Perhaps you’re a planner sort of person and want a way to keep track of your Daily 3? You’re in luck – I’ve made some printable stickers for you. You’ve got three options:
They’re sized to fit in the sidebar of a great many planners and calendars.
If you’re less of a planner sort, or if you use an A5 binder, you can download and print out this version which is a half-sheet sized tracker you can hang on your fridge, tuck in a notebook, or whatever tickles your fancy.