As a journalist, I feel like I never really stopped having homework. There are countless times I’ve not been able to fit all of the tasks on my to-do list into the 9 a.m.-5 p.m. time slot and ended up researching or writing away into the night.
Living with anxiety and depression is very similar, and often linked to my job in my case. With anxiety, and I’m sure many other mental health conditions, there is a kind of emotional homework that can become helpful, if not necessary, to do.
Lately I’ve been incorporating this more and more into my life. Ironically, a lot of the things I do as emotional homework would make many people I know more stressed out, but for me they are calming. I’ve found a lot of people with anxiety are not only very high functioning, even on the brink of nervous breakdown, but also are somewhat Type A. S and I are prime examples.
One of my number one ways to combat stress is to budget. Yes, I said budget. While money issues can be difficult even for me, planning out my expenses with the help of my best friend Microsoft Excel, can make me feel like I’m truly in control of my life. This is crucial given the fact that most of my anxiety comes from a feeling of being out of control.
So, when I’m really stressed I often end up updating my budget spreadsheet to reflect any of my new plans for the future, or sit down to make sure than every foreseeable event is in my planner and calendar. Planning is my emotional homework. It centers and grounds me, and empowers me to move forward.
Like I said, a lot of people would see this activity as stress-inducing. And some people when they hear I’m budgeting worry that it’s a sign I’m not in a very good place emotionally.
Because I am the way I am though, you should really be more worried if I’m not planning ahead, right?
When I was truly depressed about two and a half years ago, I didn’t plan ahead very much. It was a feat if I just got out of bed in the morning and made it through the day. Putting out the weekly paper was a small victory. And not everyone understood that. I don’t always announce my bad days to the office. I don’t stand on my desk in the middle of the office and dance around saying “Look everyone, I managed to not kill myself AND do my job this week!” — that would probably make me seem even more insane than I already am, right?
Those small victories for me, though I’m in a much better place mentally and emotionally now, are still a big deal. But because I’m happier and mentally healthier for the most part, I am planning ahead and making larger goals and eventually larger victories for myself. And it’s all linked.
I do the emotional homework so I won’t go back to that dark place. Subsequently, I also hope to find larger rewards along the way.
The largest reward is really this: I’m still here. And I plan to be for a long time, doing my emotional homework and freaking people out with my love of Excel spreadsheets.