I’m a Resilience Peer in the Resilience Peer Network (RPN) at UCLA. If you haven’t heard of them, they’re a part of the university’s Depression Grand Challenge that offers students with mild to moderate depression and anxiety support through internet-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (iCBT). The goal of these efforts is to reduce the rate of Depression by 50% by the year 2050– talk about a grand challenge.
The skills that iCBT covers range from controlled breathing, thought monitoring and challenging, exposure step ladders and everything in between. All of the above mentioned skills are useful in everyday life, and can benefit everyone, not only people who have depression or anxiety. Even if you personally haven’t suffered in these areas, chances are that you know someone who has, and by learning the skills to better combat these issues in mental health,you can spread your knowledge to those around you that need it. That’s one aspect of being in RPN that I enjoy so much, helping others learn and better understand ways to help them reduce their stress or worries, two common aspects of life that we all face.
One of the things that we cover in the iCBT is the importance of Activity Planning. What is Activity Planning? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like– strategically and purposefully planning events into your day that you find enjoyable. These events do not include things that you feel you have to do in your day ie: studying, going to the gym, writing a paper, going to the grocery store, etc. These events are ones that you incorporate into your day out of the pure joy they bring you. Yes, you read that right, incorporating things that you like into your daily life is actually good for reducing stress and mitigating worries. Some people might think that this is a no brainer, but others may not. Either way, science says it’s so, because it will influence your mood, which will then influence your physical feelings and behavior.
In my group last week, all of the participants, myself, and my fellow facilitators made promises to plan fun activities into our week to practice the skill of Activity Planning. One thing that is also good about facilitating groups is that we’re all practicing the skills together, equally. Whatever the participants are learning and experimenting with that week, facilitators are doing it along with them. The people in my group seemed genuinely excited to have a “fun” homework assignment from the study, instead of something that is a bit more lackluster like controlled breathing practice. We all went around and shared what fun events we were planning on doing that week. I wanted to read my new poetry book I just bought every night, several people in the group were planning on watching Avengers: Infinity War, some wanted to visit family, one wanted to participate in a 5K, others were gonna play video games. It seemed like the Activity Planning was already boosting their mood just by talking about having fun things to look forward to throughout the week.
Activity Planning is such a simple thing that we can all incorporate into our schedules to improve our overall well being. It’s so easy to get caught up in the storm that is college, or work, or midterms season that we forget to take care of ourselves the way we should. Life is taxing, but there are small things that we can do to help alleviate the weight it puts on us.
Another important part of activity planning (I would say it’s the most important part) is to not feel bad about taking time to do something simply because you enjoy it. This can sometimes be a hard thing to do, but it’s imperative to actually feeling the enjoyment that your fun activity should bring. If you aren’t feeling enjoyment, then there will be no reduction in your stress or worry levels, so you aren’t benefiting from the skill. If you go get ice cream with your friends, but your mind is stuck worrying about how you should be spending that time studying for your class or writing your paper, it’s going to detract from the benefits of Activity Planning. This brings in the aspect of being present in the moment, and in life in general, really. If you go out for ice cream, actually be there physically, mentally, spiritually and whatever other descriptive ‘allys’ you can think of. Sample all of the flavors, pick the specific cone style you want, take a picture of it for the internet, and then enjoy the time you are spending eating that frozen sugar with the people around you. Enjoy the time that you set aside for yourself.
As I said before, I know that this sounds like something that is easy and that you wouldn’t have to give much thought to, but that isn’t the case. Go ahead and open up your planner right now, or open your Google calendar. There’s probably a lot of stuff already plugged into your schedule as it is, and some of those things act as stressors on our lives, even if they are necessary. It takes true dedication and compassion for yourself to set aside time to do something enjoyable. Being that schedules can get very hectic, it may mean that you need to make a change somewhere. Maybe view fun activities as if they were as important as you would that extra shift at work, or that extra hour of studying. We all constantly treat those things as priorities, but what about the things that make us happy? Imagine how different things would be if we all weighed the obligations in our lives the same way we did with doing things that we actually like. You know what would happen? There would be a lot more joy in our lives, and a lot less stress and worrying. We have an obligation to ourselves to take care of our wellbeing, and it’s so easy to forget that that should come first. We should be our own best friends, and treat ourselves with the empathy and understanding we deserve. Maybe give Activity Planning a try? See what it feels like to watch a movie on a Wednesday night just for the hell of it, or go to the museum, or book store, or restaurant or wherever else that you’ve been wanting to go, but never seem to find the time. Put your happiness first. You can plan it into your life, one calendar day at a time.