There are days, some of us experience them more often than others, where we are just so bogged down by things that we don't have a clue what to do. I've been having days like that lately. February can be a tough month for so many of us with mental health challenges.
When a day like this rears its head, overwhelm induced paralysis can set in and become yet another thing dragging us down. So what can we do when we have no idea what to do? Ask questions.
1. “What’s the smallest, easiest thing that can currently be done?”
One of my favorite anti-procrastination techniques is instead of making the task “do this thing” change it to “start this thing” or “do 10 mins of this thing”. It can make a world of difference in how it feels to approach a task. Knowing that the plan is only to start or to work only for 10 minutes can be a great relief.
I saw it put another way in some advice on getting out of bed in the morning. “I don’t have to go to work, I just need to stand upright. I don’t have to go to work, I just need to take a shower. I don’t have to go to work, I just need to eat some breakfast.” Making the task only one step, instead of the end goal (in this case, going to work), can help remove the pressure and anticipation of effort.
2. “What will make the biggest impact on the current situation?”
This one is a somewhat inverted concept to the first question. It all depends on what seems most motivating in the moment. The question is intended to figure out what will give the most bang for our buck. What will improve the situation the most of all the options available?
Be wary of perfectionism when asking this question. Trying to figure out the absolute best course of action can be another source of paralysis in itself. If it feels as though this is happening, consider moving on to another question.
3. “What did I do before?”
So many times when working through a challenge with clients, and we arrive at a tool or technique, they say to me “Yeah, I used to do that back in the day.” Sometimes we forget about really useful things, especially in a moment of strong emotion. Pausing to remember what helped in the past can give us the jog we need.
4. “What needs aren’t being met?”
When basic needs aren’t being met, human beings find it difficult to function. When it comes to ADHD and other mental health challenges that is even more the case. When I talk about needs, I don’t just mean air, water, and food. Every person is unique and, along with those universal needs, has a set of other needs which are almost as important.
For example, I need routine. When my routines and habits are disrupted, I find it very difficult to function and decide what to do next. Others recoil from such concepts and feel their lives would not be improved from structure like that. Figuring out what our needs are, through reflection, research, and experimentation, is a necessary first step toward meeting them and functioning better as a result.
5. "How am I standing in my own way?"
While ADHD and other mental health challenges are not our fault, nor under our direct control, it is important to look for ways we aren't helping the situation. To everything, there is a season, a time to rest, and a time to take action. One of the circumstances impeding me in the past few weeks is the uncertainty as to when to switch between those. Working ourselves into the ground isn't helpful, and on the other hand, too much sleep can cause fatigue, for example.
One way to assess this is by observing patterns. What has been the foremost state recently? Rest? Or activity? Moving toward a balance -reducing extreme states of being- will help our mental health.
What question has helped move you forward, in the past?