When we are overwhelmed, anxious, depressed (or all the above), it can be nearly impossible to do the things we know are good for us.
Even if we are high functioning and can generally make it through the day, we may still feel wrung out and unable to add to our already overwhelming to-do list. This is especially true when we are experiencing a life change, in recovery, experiencing a loss, or healing emotional wounds.
Think about this: if you are in a car accident and are injured, you will spend time in the hospital, where only three things are expected of you: eat, rest, and heal. Eventually, your list upgrades to caring for yourself, participating in physical therapy, and making plans for your return home. As your ability to care for yourself grows, the things you are expected to do increases.
Unfortunately, we do not treat emotional illness the same way we do physical illness. We expect ourselves to keep going, keep smiling, and keep meeting our own and others’ unrealistic expectations even in the face of massive emotional injury.
Enter the “Three Things” Rule: when you are overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, or otherwise experiencing a psychological injury, make a realistic assessment of three things you can do that day, and expect no more of yourself.
If it’s a very bad day, your three things might look something like this:
If you are high functioning, able to work, and have kids, your three things might look like this:
Notice, there is no “clean the bathroom” or “cook dinner” on this list. Basic requirements of the day include feeding yourself and the kids, but takeout is acceptable, right? Again, the hard part is not judging yourself for “only” doing three things. YOU DID THE THINGS! WOO!
What I love about the “Three Things” Rule is that it forces us to pare down our expectations of ourselves when recovering from emotional injury, and it gives us a reason to celebrate what we did do instead of blaming ourselves for what we did not do. It is flexible and can be applied to any level of capability. And, most importantly, it keeps our attention on our need to heal. When we say to ourselves, “just three things today,” we are also saying, “I am important, my needs are important, and right now I need time to recover.”
Sloth’s “Three Things”: Eat leaves, get in basket, get out of basket. What a great day!