I formed a dependent relationship with my bullet journal around the same time that quarantine began — when I was laid off from my job. My sense of routine was stolen, and much of my life’s stability was gone in the span of a few weeks. It wasn’t until that moment that I fully realized how much I count on structure.
The morning after my layoff, I started using my journal to plan my every move for the day. This included obvious daily tasks like taking a shower, making lunch, and washing dishes. For some reason, writing down these to-dos gave me the sense of clarity I needed to get out of bed that day.
This has remained my main anti-anxiety coping mechanism throughout lockdown: Whenever I feel myself spiraling with a panic, I open my bullet journal. The binds of this black notebook are my safe space where I have complete control. Not only can I track my tasks, I can also keep tabs on my moods, random ideas, goals, and literally anything else I’d like. The fact that its completely customizable is the main selling point for me.
Here’s how my bullet journal has helped me cope with anxiety throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and how you could benefit, too. (Wondering WTF a bullet journal is? Check out our explainer article for how-to insight, and this piece on how it can make you more organized).
1. Small Wins
I’ve been quoted as saying, “Did you even complete the task if you didn’t cross it off your list?” My obsession with lists is longstanding (as is my love of beautiful pens and notebooks), but this year has made that appreciation evidently clearer. For me, this habit really comes down to self encouragement and motivation. And it serves a particular purpose right now: this recent New York Times article about “low-stakes productivity” discusses how important it is to celebrate small wins during this challenging time. Leah Fessler writes, “This reality magnifies the importance of recognizing and briefly honoring the more mundane — but much more common — instances of progress among ourselves, our family and our colleagues.”
These days, I rely heavily on the self-made schedule in my bullet journal throughout my day. Each Sunday evening, I map out my week, and then every morning, I like to write out my to-do tasks in detail, sometimes even including an amount of time next to the task. For those of us working from home, having a structured schedule can help separate work time from leisure time, especially if they’re done in the same room. And as someone who’s now self-employed as a freelancer, this is a crucial part of staying organized and on task.
2. Brain Dump
The phrase “declutter your mind” may sound a bit lofty, but in my experience, it has merit. The concept of a brain dump page is simple: It’s a place to jot down your thoughts so you can concentrate on the task at hand.
This is really where the bullet journal melds its personalities as a diary/planner/to-do list at once. You can use the brain dump page as a complete jumble of wants and dreams as well as things you need from the corner store — then organize your thoughts on separate pages if you’d like. My mind is always running faster than it probably should be, and I find this activity especially useful for staying on task. It keeps me from opening a million new tabs while working, and from getting up from my seat every five minutes.
3. Mood Tracker
A mood tracker is kind of self explanatory — it’s a page in your bullet journal which allows you to track when you’re feeling happy, angry, sad, tried and so on. Write down the days of the week and use a color-coded key of moods to fill in each day.
So how can a mood tracker be useful? Essentially, it can help you get in touch with certain triggers that might alter your mood. For example, you might notice that a particular kind of work makes you feel happy or that Zoom meetings make you very tired (I feel you). This knowledge can make you more self-aware and give you the power to shape your days with a sense of control. For example, you can factor in time to unwind before and/or after triggering instances occur.
4. Creativity as a Coping Mechanism
During periods of mental health struggles, it can be helpful to channel your energy into creative pursuits. Studies show that artistic therapy is proven to reduce anxiety and depression. And if you don’t prioritize much time for creativity in your daily life, a bullet journal is a simple and low-stakes way to introduce that practice.
Personally, I find it truly therapeutic on a Sunday to set my intentions for the week using a variety of colorful pens and highlighters and my little black bullet journal. Maybe you would, too — it’s certainly worth a try.
Ashley Corbett is a communications professional and freelance writer based in Halifax, Canada. An avid traveler, she recently settled on her native Atlantic Coast where she loves to read, try new things in the kitchen, and get outside. You can learn more about her work here, and can follow her adventures on Instagram @ashley_corb.
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