How To Design an Advanced Custom Self-Care Checklist

Jan. 21st, 2019

So anyone reading this blog probably knows about the importance of self-care. Without it, even the best of us cease to function, or at best functions at far less than our greatest potential. And while everyone needs self-care, what that looks like varies as much as we humans do.

A very dear friend of mine, who also has ADHD and has worked hard to understand and function with it, can operate on 4 hours of sleep a night. Her ideal is around 6 hours a night. I’m pretty sure if she got the 9.5 hours of sleep I optimally need, it would not work out well for her, even were it possible. And if I got a “mere” 6 hours a night, I would not be pleasant to be around, to put it nicely.

So if we all have these varying needs, how do we go about meeting them? My method is to systematically check them off each day. I’ve already written about more fundamental types of self-care here. Now I’m going to outline some steps for how to design a checklist for some other, in some cases, more advanced forms of self-care. They can be more challenging and sometimes need to be applied after the fundamentals are in place.

For each item, the idea is to consider how it applies to the specific case of your life. Then come up with an action that can be enacted regularly, daily in most cases, to make sure to meet that need. You can find more ideas on this concept here.

1. Breath

Obviously, all of us need to breathe. Without air in our lungs, we die. This is not the only way to nourish your body with the breath, however. When we breathe and have long, slow exhales, our brain calms down. It is a physiological response. Concentrating on taking long, slow breaths out causes us to feel calmer and reduces overwhelm and panic.

Another example of advanced self-care is meditation. Guided meditations often focus on breathing as well. Even just taking three deep breaths whenever we remember to can help us feel better.

So how to go about incorporating mindful breathing into our lives? Connecting them to routines is one way. Add an item like “take ten deep breaths” into a list for a morning routine. Change your phone wallpaper to a reminder. Sign yourself up for a yoga class. You could even write a blog post that includes advice on breathing and its benefits, that has worked wonders for me.

Note: I have a friend who finds breathing exercises of any kind to increase their panic. It does not enhance her life to concentrate on her breath. We are all different.

2. Homeostasis

Homeostasis is one level up in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and is roughly equivalent with stability. In terms of healthy stability, I interpret that to mean having trust in your environment and the other details of your life being reliable and supportive. However, it can also mean stability of an unhealthy situation. Someone who is living with some form of abuse suffers from the opposite of the healthier homeostasis. They never know when things are going to change and have no trust that they will receive support. However, they are familiar with the abuser’s patterns and that in and of itself becomes a kind of stability that is an enormous challenge to break away from. This is an oversimplification.

How can we achieve positive homeostasis? This is even more complex than understanding what it is. For me, this boils down to choosing that which will remain reliable and supportive. In order to choose things that are healthy for us, we must also, by definition, say no to things that are unhealthy. This is scary and uncomfortable for so many of us. That is why so many of us stay in unsupportive and unhealthy situations. The fear of change is so great that we are willing to put up with pain and discomfort because that specific pain and discomfort are familiar.

It also takes energy to actively choose things that move us toward our chosen goals and to say no to things that do not. When we are already depleted and feel like we have no energy for anything other than surviving, we do not choose to expend this energy. And so we stay in one place, not progressing.

Another important note is that other people, who have a vested interest in our current state of being, want to protect their own homeostasis by keeping us from changing. If we chose to become healthier, and started saying no to unhealthy requests of theirs, they would have to change. This is uncomfortable and so they sometimes actively or passively prevent us from achieving that change.

The complexity of this paradigm means that I would encourage anyone who is seeking a healthier homeostasis to partner with a professional. Getting feedback from someone who actively supports change can make an enormous difference in our progress. I know I’ve found someone who supports my change when they sometimes tell me things I don’t want to hear and are backed up by logic and fact. Being challenged on the beliefs I hold that are holding me back and causing me pain is an essential part of how I’ve achieved my current positive homeostasis. People in my life who always agree with me have had little to do with my progress toward a healthy life.

3. Green space

The human brain reacts differently to being inside a building as to being outside. The concept of “indoors” is relatively new and we have not yet adapted to it. We need to experience the natural world. Scientists aren’t sure what happens when we look at the world outside, but it is all good things.

No matter where you live, it can be difficult to get some green time into a given day. Unless you’ve designed your life to include it or your occupation organically (no pun intended) exposes you to it. Heat, cold, humidity, dry air, these can all interfere with our time exposed to the natural world.

Exercise is the best way I’ve found to get more green time in my life. And similarly to the breathing item, even taking two minutes to step outside can improve things. It is one of those items I see on lists of self-care and things to help reduce anxiety and ease depression. Once again, including it in a routine, maybe during a time of day when the temperature will be less of a barrier.

4. Specific care

I suffer from nearly chronic pelvic torque. My pelvis is constantly shifting out of alignment and this causes discomfort and pain. For a long time, I had no idea what was going on, partially because the pain was mostly in my legs, which naturally lead me to believe that was where the problem lay. In the past couple of years, working with an osteopath and chiropractor have helped enormously. The things I can do to help myself don’t end when I come home after an appointment, however.

I have a handful of exercises and other interventions that can and do improve things for me. So I make time to do those exercises and enact the other recommendations. Once again, this comes back to a routine. Before I invested time and effort into establishing a routine for myself I was not able to do anything regularly. I am by no means perfect now, but I am far better and happier.

What things have you discovered help or have been advised to do by a professional? Here I mean psychologically as well as physically. Things like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy need regular and applied practice to be effective. Those are the things I mean here. Having something that improves our lives, but not doing them, doesn’t help.

To get them to happen, I return to the old ADHD standby: other people, external reminders, rewards, habit, and ease. Getting other people aware of and involved with our activities increases our likelihood of doing them. Having something else, be it a bullet journal or a mobile app, that draws our attention where it needs to be, also increases the likelihood. Increasing our motivation by keeping the reward, intrinsic or invented, in sight also helps. Having something formed into a habit is one of the top ways to guarantee something gets done. And finally making that self-care as easy as humanly possible to do (my yoga mat and other equipment are stored in one place, never moved, right next to floor large enough to spread out) is the cherry on top.

5. Fun

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: fun is self-care and fun is a need for those of us with ADHD. Honestly, I say it in this blog somewhat to remind myself, because I constantly forget when it comes to my own life. And again, what that looks like is different for everybody. I find organizing things fun. For others this is torture. Other people love sports or strategic and competitive board games. Not me.

For a lot of us, it doesn’t take much to write even a five-item list of the things we find fun. For others though, it can be a challenge. If you aren’t sure what’s fun for you, this is something to bring to the attention of a professional. Especially if there were things you found fun in the past that no longer interest you, but haven’t been replaced with other things. We all have interests that shift and change, especially with ADHD, but a lack of anything we find fun or want to do is a symptom of depression and is important to address.

And even fun can be inserted into a routine. In some cases, it needs to be! I am often so focused on, well, trying to stay focused that I neglect myself in this area. So I’ve included an item in my end-of-the-week routine to make sure I have something fun and social coming up. This is because if I just schedule a time for fun by myself, I am likely to ignore it in favor of catching up on things.

One of the best ways I’ve found for getting me to have fun is running Dungeons and Dragons. You can play D&D if you have a couple of players missing, but as far as I know, you cannot play with a missing Dungeon Master. I bet you could play where all the players collaborate as the DM, that might be super fun! But if you had a DM, and they’re not there, you have no game. Knowing other people are depending on me for their fun motivates me to show up and have my stuff ready.

TL;DR: breathing, homeostasis, green space, individual care needs, and fun are all things that contribute to a good life and can be inserted in small and regular ways by means of a routine.

How can you incorporate some of these into your life?