Predictability isn’t something you could say I’ve aspired to embody. It doesn’t exactly have that ‘cool-kids’ kind of ring. I’ve never sought it out. That is, not until after 13 years of traipsing around the chaotic territory of bipolar disorder, psychosis, anxiety and disorder eating. Hell, even without mental illness, my plain run of the mill every day kind of struggling that I was going through was getting to me.
But when I finally faced my mental illness (and my life) head on and began on this road of awareness and recovery, I started to experience the rich results of routine, ritual and rhythm. I saw what good ol’ boring consistency could offer myself and others who felt the intermittent overwhelm that naturally happens to us human beings.
Three of my ‘Predictable’ Tips to Reap More Serenity:
1. Create Routines versus Schedules:
I need enough latitude to be successful, but enough structure to stay well. Schedules feel suffocating. Routine on the other hand inspires me. For me, stability comes from the routine of doing the same activities over the course of a week, as opposed to the exact time on particular days. This may not be for everyone, but if you’re struggling with your schedule, try a routine instead.
For example: Exercise. I need it. It’s essential to keeping my mood level. So I run (well, more like jog really). I aim for 3 times/week; often Tuesdays, Thursdays and one day on the weekend and with my good friend Guy. The time and duration are flexible, but usually 30 minutes in the mornings.
When I travel or my schedule gets hectic, this doesn’t always work. So during busy phases, I give myself leeway to define exercise as any type of movement (walking from terminal to terminal in airports will do just fine), and do it when I can even if it’s once a week instead of three. It works for me because it gives a wide window for victory and the wiggle room to avoid perfectionism, guilt and the ‘shoulds’ of an unyielding schedule.
2. Discover and Schedule Meaningful Rituals
In apparent contradiction, I’ve discovered some activities are most beneficial when done around the same time every day. For me it’s prayer and meditation. I can go without a morning shower, even my morning decaf coffee, but it’s rare I go without morning meditation and prayer. It’s something I look forward to; something that centers me and gives me meaningful perspective. And it’s always before I have breakfast and start my work day.
Meaningful rituals give a sense of personal connection, renewal and ‘grounded-ness’. Even if we don’t consider ourselves spiritual, they are centering activities we naturally do at the same time each day. And no I don’t mean that 5 o’clock cocktail. It could be eating together as a family or walking your dog with the neighbors at the same time every morning, even listening to that favorite radio spot as you drive to work. In her eloquent blog post about ritual, Tracey Jackson explains her ‘must do’ is making her bed every day.
3. Establish and Identify Healthy Cues
The power of predictability lies in the fact that certain habitual behaviours act as cues for our bodies and our minds to relax or be attentive. We each have bedtime rituals, ideally ones that help us unwind (as opposed to revving us up, like working at the computer until just before lights out). Most of us (I hope) brush our teeth prior to hitting the hay. This cue reminds our bodies sleep is coming and helps us to slow down. My husband and I usually brush and floss my teeth around the same time every night. We leave enough time so we can read in bed for about a half an hour and we turn off our lights at the same time. Within 15 minutes we’ve both nodded off.
One of my other cues: my boring, but reliable breakfast. With few exceptions, I have multigrain toast with Smucker’s ‘Double Fruit’ strawberry jam and natural peanut butter and a decaf coffee every morning. This same old, same old signals my day is starting and infuses me with a subtle sense of possibility (really). Even the preparation of it is calming. My dad (a gruff meister to be sure, but also my protector) always had toast and jam with a mug of (lukewarm) coffee for breakie. So it gives me a feeling that no matter what, things are all right. Like children, we adults are comforted by ritual.
In the terrific DBSA conference workshop 'Getting in the Rhythm' about Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT) I learned what I already intuitively knew: routines can have profound positive influences on individuals living with mood disorder. IPSRT posits that regulating our sleeping, eating and other activities helps lessen symptoms. Although not ‘sexy’, predictability is a potent mood stabilizer and formidable stress management tool. Even more, reliable rhythms are beneficial for everyone. Patterns of predictability help create peace in our lives and center us in the eye of the storms that we are all bound to weather while living in this world.
Some ‘Predictable’ Questions to Ponder:
- What is your reaction to the word ‘predictability’?
- How do define the difference between schedule and routine?
- What are your weekly routines?
- What are your ‘daily do’s’ or ‘night time necessities’ that are healthy cues?
- What are some of your meaningful rituals?
- What new habits, if any, will you cultivate?
© Victoria Maxwell 2013
Victoria Maxwell BFA, BPP* is creative director of Crazy for Life Co. an educational and consulting company offering workshops and stage plays on a range of mental health topics. Her acclaimed solo shows about her personal experience living with bipolar disorder and psychosis, tour internationally. To contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.victoriamaxwell.com
*Bachelor of Fine Arts / Bi-Polar Princess