Wellness Plan – Stressors

If you’ve been reading this blog lately, you know I’ve been working on my Wellness Recovery Action Plan – WRAP. I invested in the guide from Mental Health Recovery – it gives more explanation, details and examples than the WRAP app did. I’m really glad I bought the book – I’ve found it very helpful, and have added to my Wellness Toolbox and the next step in the process, The Daily Plan.

The Daily Plan is an outline of what I look like – my moods and attitudes – and what I “do every day to stay well and stay on track with my goals.” (Reference: WRAP app) It includes an outline of a typical day of wellness. It was fairly easy to write.

The Stressors section was much more difficult. Stressors, sometimes known as triggers, are “things that happen that can cause a reaction. Sometimes they are reminders of specific events, or they may evoke a feeling that takes you back to a time when you felt helpless, scared, or out of control.” (Reference: Wellness Recovery Action Plan – Renewing Your Wellness Your Way, copyright 2018)

The first step was to write down “things that might make me feel unwell or throw me off track if they happened” (Reference: WRAP app) and just the question sparked anxiety in me. I started with a list of five stressors – certain times of year, when my husband travels, when my meds stop working, grief, and major life transitions. But as I worked on this section with help from the book, I came up with seven more. That’s a total of twelve potential stressors! Argh!

Thinking of these stressors was difficult – indeed, it caused a stress reaction in my body. Heart racing, shallow breathing, a lump in my throat. I put the list away several times to take mental breaks from it – had to calm down before I came back to it.

Working on the relief to those stressors brought relief to my physical reactions. Again, originally I had twelve stress relievers, but with the help of the book and deeper consideration, I came up with a total of 22 tools to use when stressors hit my life. Things like walking around the block, savoring a cup of tea or coffee, reading fiction, sitting in my glider, practicing deep breathing techniques, writing in my gratitude journal. These are good wellness tools to add to my mental health toolbox.

I know the process of writing the WRAP will continue to be difficult. The next two sections are When Things Are Breaking Down or Getting Much Worse, and Crisis Plan, which first caused me anxiety when I read about it. And while the point of the plan is steps toward mental health, it’s anxiety-producing in the process of writing it. But I’ll take my time and persevere, because I’m sure the end result – my personalized detailed wellness tool – will be worth it.

Post script – in an effort to be transparent and maybe helpful to someone else writing a WRAP plan – here is a complete list of my stress relievers:

  • See therapist
  • See psych doc
  • Tell husband, sister, and friend that I’m struggling
  • Nap
  • Walk around the block
  • Dance
  • Savor a cup of tea or coffee or mocha
  • Journal
  • Pray
  • Watch Netflix
  • Read fiction
  • Coloring books
  • Knit
  • Listen to playlists (I have several made for my “moods”)
  • Gratitude journal
  • Tell folks at Fresh Hope support group and ask for prayer
  • Coffee date w/friend
  • FaceTime w/my kids
  • Take a break from obligations (work, volunteering)
  • Practice deep breathing, relaxation techniques
  • Rock in my glider
  • Have a date with my husband
  • Take a trip to see the kids

Wellness Plan Toolbox

The first step in writing my wellness plan is determining the helpful steps I already have in my daily life. When I am healthy, what is it I’m doing to make me that way? What are my day-to-day activities that signify health and wellness for me? “What things do I already do to help myself be well, stay well, and live in the way I want to live?” (reference: WRAP Plan app)

This toolbox of activities is critical to my Wellness Plan, as I’ll draw from this list at different stages along my path from wellness to illness and back again. When I feel stressors, or triggers, that might signify a depressive episode is coming, what can I do to alleviate it? Are there any tools in my toolbox that I can pull out and implement to avert an episode?

If I’m further down the path toward depression, and an episode is imminent, which activities can I use to lessen the severity of the episode?

If I’m on my way out of a depression, which tools will I use first to help me post-crisis?

My initial list was 14 wellness tools:

  • time alone with God in Bible reading and prayer (TAWG)
  • taking my meds
  • journaling
  • eating well
  • good sleep hygiene
  • spending time with friends
  • sufficient down-time
  • seeing my therapist regularly
  • keeping my psych doc appointments
  • blogging or writing
  • taking naps
  • reading
  • watching movies
  • Fresh Hope Support Group

But as I thought about steps I can implement in a pre-crisis, I realized I have several more tools, even though I’m not currently using them. Things like savoring a cup of tea, or coloring, or taking a walk in nature. I certainly need to tell my support team that I’m struggling, so they can help me watch for warning signs.

One thing I’ve learned about depression is that it clouds my thinking. I can have this wellness toolbox, but in the midst of a crisis, I’m paralyzed and don’t know how to get out of it. That’s the reason for writing a wellness plan when I’m mentally healthy: so when I’m not thinking straight, I can look back and see what I recommend to myself.

I intend to share my wellness plan with my support folks (husband, sister, therapist, friend) so that they can help me remember to reach into my toolbox when I need to. As soon as I’m done writing the whole thing, I’ll pass it on to my care team.

Wellness Plan

I started working on a wellness plan for my mental health. It was inspired by a video from Fresh Hope, and I did a little research on WRAP. While it’s not an official WRAP plan, since I’m not in the class (it’s copyrighted), I have the components.

A wellness plan addresses my mental state when I am healthy, what my triggers are, and how I intend to respond if my mood darkens. It’s designed to outline in detail the steps I will take to remain or return to health. It’s to be shared with support people, so there’s accountability to taking those steps when they’re needed.

I was doing fine filling in the blanks until I got to the question about my crisis plan: how I want to be supported if I experience crisis.

I got to this section and felt my heart rate speed up and my breathing become more shallow. I remembered my times of crisis, and a wave of anxiety hit. I suppose that’s natural; reflecting on negative experiences brings back negative feelings. Still, I was caught off guard.

I don’t want to experience crisis again. But considering past ones makes me think I’ll go through it again. This is silly, since the whole point of a wellness plan is to put steps in place to keep a crisis from happening. Yet the possibility always exists that my wellness steps won’t be enough to avert the crisis, and I could find myself in the depths of depression again.

In recent years, any dip in my mood for longer than two weeks – any journey back into depression – has been mild, quickly treatable, and short-lived. But what if I go through a big one? What if grief brings back depression? What if I can’t handle a life transition? What will I do to keep depression at bay?

That’s the point of the wellness plan – to address those “what-ifs.” To have steps in place in the case of triggering events. Which tells me that, as difficult as it may be, I need to write these steps down and share them with my trusted others, so I’m not left without direction, without actionable steps toward mental health.

I’ll finish writing it all down – my health, my triggers, my warning signs, my crisis and post-crisis plans. I’ll share it with my husband, sister, and best friend. I might even blog it, as an example so someone else can write one.

And I’ll pray that I never have to use the crisis portion of the plan.

Discipline

Discipline – not a word that I like; I suspect many people don’t. But I’m finding that I need more of it in my life. I need discipline if I’m going to stay mentally and physically healthy, and reach my personal goals. I need good habits.

I’ve become more consistent lately at having my time alone with God in the mornings. The Lectio Divina Journal has helped with that immensely, as do the daily devotional emails I receive and read each morning over my cup of coffee.

I’ve started Morning Pages (The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron), which is three pages of stream-of-consciousness thinking put on paper.  It’s supposed to clear my mind to make way for creativity to shine through.  I’ve only been at it a few days – even for a writer, it’s harder than it sounds! But this is another discipline to my morning routine.

Now I need to schedule my writing – for my book as well as this blog. I’m hoping I can be consistent with writing each morning for at least an hour. We’ll see how this goes, since I tend to blog at night; that’s when my blogging thoughts come together. But even that seems a bit haphazard – as the mood strikes – so I want to plan for it with more intention.

I also need to set aside time for activity. I hate to say it – exercise. I need to put it on the calendar, and walk every day, at least around the block. Slip on my tennis shoes and put on my headphones and head out the door. How else am I going to get my 10,000 steps?! Besides, all research points to the many benefits of regular exercise, for both physical and mental well-being. Indeed, many studies have shown that regular exercise is as effective as a mild antidepressant medication. So why don’t I do it? Lack of discipline.

I want to be more thoughtful about eating, particularly in the evening. As I mentioned previously, I’m using Noom to help me with my calorie intake. Unfortunately, I’m consistently blowing it every night, with after-dinner munchies.  Now to replace that glass of wine with a cup of tea, and the crackers with low-cal popcorn. And one piece of dark chocolate – not four!

I want these areas in my life where I need discipline to become habits, not chores. That’s going to require consistency and effort on my part. But the benefits will be worth it.

“No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” Hebrews 12:11, NLT

Am I Supposed To Write A Book?

In my last post, I mentioned writing a book. And I decided that I don’t need initials after my name to be an expert – particularly since it’s my story. Who knows it better than me, besides God? (“You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” Psalms‬ ‭139:16‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

Ted first suggested it, many years ago. He said it during several of our therapy sessions. He thinks “I have a book in me.”

While living in Florida, my then-therapist Elizabeth told me that she, too, thinks I should write a book. She said it almost every time she saw me – that I should write it all down. And she’d buy it!

Carol and Anne and Stacy have been encouraging. So has Jane. Even Dad a little. I have support from several friends who think I could do it.

From where will I get my story? I began journaling consistently in March 2008 – right at the beginning of my depression journey. And I wrote lots! Some days I wrote several times throughout the hours, especially when I was in the depths of the darkness. How do I even begin to sort through them? I’ve developed a color-coding system with 3M sticky arrows, to highlight different entries I wrote that might be significant to outlining the book. Now to read through all 17 journals and flag them appropriately!

I also began to write email summaries of my appointments with Ted, often with questions for clarification, and I kept a copy of most of them. I wrote in Docs at work when I didn’t have my journal, so I have those notes. And finally, I joined WordPress to try blogging. Maybe I should print out these things and flag them as well.

I can add to this what I learned when I facilitated the depression support group at my old church. My friend advised when I shared with the attendees, I should simply start with my current situation. “Start with where you are.”

So, is that what I do if I want to write a book? Start with where I am now? Or start with the beginning of the journey? How will it be different from blogging? How do I know to whom I’m writing – who is my audience?

I’d like to write a memoir or devotional of the time of my life when I first experienced depression, up to present-day struggles. To explain to Christian women with depression (there’s my audience) that it’s possible to have hope in Christ in spite of having a mental illness. That I am not my depression – I’m a beloved daughter of the King, and so are they. I want to offer them this hope, as I found it in my journey through the desert of depression.

There are many tools and organizations available to me to help me write this book. A friend of mine just recently published his first book, and he recommended a writing program. Perhaps I’ll use one of those to keep me organized and on-task, and to give me regular feedback in the process. I took a one day writing workshop a few months ago – I need to get the workbook out and finish those exercises. They’ll help me be disciplined, too. Perhaps these tools can give me an idea of the order in which I tell my story.

No matter what, I think I know what my next adventure is. Let the writing begin!