As I talked about in my article about The Dark Mother, this time of year always sends my anxiety into overdrive and makes me feel very off-kilter – like walking-on-eggshells-through-a-minefield off-kilter – and it doesn’t help that everybody around me is probably feeling the same way, so they’re just as keyed up and touchy as I am. When my anxiety starts doing the driving, it can be hard to elbow it aside and remind it who’s in charge. To help myself with that task this year, I’ve made myself a balancing routine that’s made up in equal parts of self-care and self-motivation strategies.
My first line of defense is diet, exercise, and mental and spiritual stimulation. I know that when I eat well, move moderately but consistently, keep myself engaged with people and things that interest me, and keep myself grounded and in touch with nature, I feel better than I do when I don’t. And I have systems in place to do all of these things: the DASH Diet eating plan, gentle but rigorous tai chi and walking regiments, lots of Pagan and other new-age spiritual practices to study, plenty of books and media to consume, and a lovely wooded town with a cozy home and garden to play in. This is the stuff I usually write about here on the blog, so I won’t go into major depth about them in this post – suffice it to say that when I do have my shit together, things hum along pretty darn well.
Unfortunately, I also have a body and a brain and a family and a society who don’t always allow me to keep my shit together so nicely, so those systems need constant maintenance, or else they fail.
My second line of defense, then, is my stable of planners and journals. Yes, I said that in the multiple – I have several planners and several journals, all for different purposes, and all of which help to keep my support systems working for me.
In the past, I’ve tried bullet journaling with mixed success – I love the fun of laying out ideas in pretty spreads and changing up the format of how I track my ideas, and I respect the idea of having everything in one place, but I also really hate having all the parts of my life smashed into one little notebook and then having to recopy all those parts into the next book when I fill one up. As far as habit tracking goes, I’ve tried many of the various daily trackers for said bullet journals, but most of them were either too detailed or not detailed enough for what I wanted to follow. To solve these problems, I switched to having several separate books for each facet of life I need to manage. To some it may seem complicated, but to me, it makes good sense – I can use each book for exactly what I need to use it for, then put it away and move on to the next thing I need to take care of, without figuratively and literally carrying the baggage of all my other roles with me as I work.
Here’s the method I’ve found that is currently working for me:
Planner 1: Mundane/Housekeeping Planner. My most traditional planner on the list. I use a combination of Google Calendar and a pre-printed two-year desk calendar to keep track of current and upcoming important dates and events, (mainly because I’m paranoid about technology failure and want to have my bases covered). I also use, in tandem with this calendar, a disc-bound journal (like the Happy Planner or the Staples Arc system), and I make my own sections to handle budgets, bill paying, medical visits/insurance EOBs, online orders, library loans, and other things that get lost in the shuffle otherwise. I have a section in this planner for recording past events as well (such as when we replaced our furnace, anniversaries of family deaths, etc.). This keeps me honest for annual repairs and service calls, but also reminds me of events and circumstances we have dealt with before, which often settles my anxiety when I start worrying about what’s going to break or go wrong next. Having everything important to my household in one place is essential to my mental well-being. I’m not perfect at keeping it up to date, but it’s a lot better than allowing my family’s everyday business to devolve into chaos and clutter.
Planner 2: Pagan Planner. This is probably the closest to a traditional bullet journal that I get. Again, I use a disc system, and I populate it with everything I need to plan and celebrate each spoke of the Wheel of the Year individually. As I write this, we’re in the season of Mabon, so my Pagan Planner firstly includes my calendar and weekly planning sheets for those six(ish) weeks that I use to sketch out how I want to celebrate the season and what themes I want to explore in my journaling, kitchen and green witchery, and spellcraft. I also include sections for general information about the Sabbat, my meal plans and the thematic recipes I want to try for the season, herbal concoctions I want to prepare or diffuse, crafts I want to make that celebrate the themes of the season, and any prayers or rituals I want to perform during this season and its corresponding moons. Lastly, it includes a notes section for ideas I’d like to use on future Sabbats.
I’m currently using this one to plan out my blog posts as well, since the vast majority of them have to do with my Pagan practice at the moment, but it’s just about time for me to create a new, dedicated blog planner of its own.
Journal 1: Mind/Body Journal for Physical and Mental Well-Being. Now we’re moving more into tracking/recording territory. In this journal, I keep notes on how I’m feeling physically and mentally and notes about the most influential factors that can change those feelings. To make this Mind/Body Journal, I used a modified Blue Sky Teacher’s Weekly Lesson Plan book, since it gives me lots of sections for tracking the various factors I want to monitor. I broke it into the following sections:
- Pain/Fatigue: I try to keep a general pain scale, symptoms felt, and influential weather.
- Mood: I particularly watch my anxiety and motivation levels, as well as known causes of spikes and dips.
- Activity: I keep track of the movement I planned to do (exercise) as well as passive movement (grocery shopping) – all of it adds up, and if I do too much or too little, I feel the result.
- Diet: My husband and I are half-assedly trying to stick to the DASH diet, since it worked well for us when we put in the effort before, but food is good and I like to bake. This section at least keeps me honest and reminds me of what I put in my body to make it feel bad.
- Sleep: This is where I track the length of my sleep, whether it was interrupted by anxiety or pain, and whether or not I had to take a painkiller to rest easily.
- Cycle: My section to follow the Seasons of my Lady Garden and note when my hormones decide to come in and crash the mental and physical party.
Since drastic changes in my physical activity and in weather systems can wreak havoc on my body, which can then wreak havoc on my mind, it makes sense to track trends this way. There are lots of things my body does that are beyond my control, but there are lots of choices I get to make myself, and every choice I make counts with my oversensitive system, whether I want to ignore them or not.
For example, let’s say I’m feeling very stiff and sore and my hands are hard to close one morning, but I know I haven’t injured myself or overexerted myself in any “big” way recently to warrant these feelings. Depending on the day, I might panic, wondering if my temperamental body is finding a new way to be a pain in my ass and being afraid that I can’t do what I need to do because of this new jackassery. Looking back on my tracker, though, I can see that I’ve eaten considerably more salty foods over the past few days, or that I had to run double the errands yesterday because I couldn’t find something I was shopping for. When I can see in black and white WHY my body’s doing what it’s doing, I am much more likely to relax and get back on track.
Journal 2: Spirit Journal for Spiritual Well-Being. In this slightly modified vertical big Happy Planner, I use much the same layout as my Mind/Body journal to make sure I’m giving ample time to all the things I need to feel fulfilled and satisfied in life. This journal is not strictly “religious” in nature – when I talk about spiritual well-being, I don’t just mean a connection with the Divine, although that is certainly a major proponent of that feeling. I also mean the things that make me feel good and whole and able to love and nurture my family the way I want to – something I strive for in my Everyday Magic Challenge. Keeping all these areas in balance, whether magical or mundane, helps me keep my own proverbial cup full so that I can fill those of my loved ones a lot more comfortably when I need to:
- Nature: Here’s where I track my connection with the Divine through the elements, the moon, sunrises/sets, flora and fauna in my garden, or just take note of something beautiful I saw outside.
- Crafting: Not always witchcrafting, but sometimes. 😉 Most often it’s just making something with my hands, whether coloring, scrapbooking, baking, or sewing.
- Physical: A bit of a crossover from the first journal, but this one not only notes what activities I did, but also physical self-care like taking a bath for relaxation, painting my fingernails, or using lotion to care for my dry feet and elbows – things that make me feel peaceful and pretty. When I’m hurting physically or feeling fatigued and I perform a spell to help with that feeling, I mark it here.
- Mental: Again, slight crossover, but this time this section shows me what I’ve been doing to fire the old synapses – what books I’ve been reading, what shows I’ve been watching, what games I’ve been playing, what halfassery I’ve been writing, etc. When I’m feeling anxious and I perform a spell to help with that feeling, I mark it here.
- Hearth and Home: This is where I keep track of both what I’ve enjoyed about my home each day and what I’ve done to make my home enjoyable each day. When I clean house or get groceries or make a new comfort food recipe, it gets marked here – and the same goes for when I do a home protection or family well-being spell. In the winter, my boys and I call this section “Hygge Time” – whatever makes us feel warm and cozy and feels like home goes here.
- Human: Here’s where I note my contact with the rest of humankind. As a stringent introvert, it can be really hard for me to peek out of my turtle shell and interact with others, and too much interaction (even of the good kind) drains my energy fast. This section helps me balance my need for socialization with my need to seal the hibernaculum and burrow in for the duration.
As part of my spiritual practice, I also use the GLAD technique to count my many blessings: I note daily something that I’m Grateful for, something I Learned, something I Accomplished, and something that Delighted me. Rather than keeping a separate list for this practice, I just highlight or star a note in my Spirit Journal that fits the bill for each category.
I’ve been using this Spiritual Journal for almost 6 months now, and it really helps me remember that life in general is pretty damn good even when parts of it may be pretty damn bad.
Journal 3: Deep Thoughts and Gratitude Journal. This is my more introspective, “deep-dive” journal, so I generally only use it once or twice a week. This is more of what the internet thinks of as a traditional journal these days – a place for me to explore my feelings and answer those ubiquitous personal growth and self-care challenge questions like “if I were a tree, what tree would I be?”. I joke a bit about the touchy-feely nature of such pursuits, but self-care and introspection is really important, and I do the prompts that resonate with me right along with everybody else. This year, to explore my newly-reawakened spiritual side, I made my own gratitude journal prompts and added some witchy and Pagan topics to consider as I go.
Some folks go absolutely crazy with such lists and journals. I went whole-hog with it last year with a gratitude journal – I made my own traveler’s notebook, populated it with pretty autumnal scrapbook paper and embellishments, and even printed and colored little note pages to paste inside it. It is a thing of beauty, but on top of working on my blog and keeping up with my family right now, doing such a thing again this year gives me anxiety just to consider.
This time around, I made a knock-off of a horizontal big Happy Planner using Microsoft Word (yep, it’s just a table with colored cells for dividers) and am using some seasonal and motivational stickers to dress it up as I answer the prompts. So far I’ve worked through thoughts relating to the themes of Mabon and am starting on themes of Samhain, but on days when I’m feeling less spiritually inclined, I have plenty of mundane areas of life to consider my gratitude for as well. This exercise is a fun and necessary one for me in the Fall because counting my many, many blessings always helps push my anxiety and depression back into my lizard brain where it belongs.
Journal 4: Art and Lettering Journal. This is another that I play in a couple of times a week rather than daily. One of my goals for this season of life is to learn fancy methods of hand lettering and to get better at doodling, just for the hell of it. (Right now I’m focusing on the lettering, so I’m using a standard horizontal Happy Planner, but may move to a blank notebook for the sketches in future.) I’ve used prompt lists from all kinds of folks on the internet before, but this year I decided to make my own lettering and doodle prompt lists for Mabon and Samhain by finding quotes that appealed to me and matched up with the themes of the Sabbats as well as Fall and the traditional autumn holidays. I’m not sure that this one can be strictly counted as a self-care journal per se, but it does foster my creativity, which makes me feel good, so I’m putting it in that category.
So…that’s my system, for now, anyway. The best part about using this bullet/disc journal method of keeping your shit together is that you can rearrange your shit and expand the area of its keeping at any time, so I’m sure it’ll change again before too long.
How do you keep yourself balanced, particularly in terms of tracking and planning? Let me know in the comments, or come over to the Half-Assed Circle on Facebook to join the discussion. Hope to see you back soon!