On bad mental health days, basic self care can be hard. Really hard. I designed this resource to provide gentle structure and a mood-boosting sense of accomplishment for even the toughest days.
When our minds are so troubled that basic self care feels overwhelming, and goal-setting seems like an impossibly difficult task, having a set list of really accessible goals can help.
Breaking it Down: Accessible Self Care
We all know we should take care of ourselves to feel better, but on a mental health day, sometimes the planning involved in getting off the sofa can feel like too much. Using this checklist of simple to more complex daily self-care activities may make it a little easier.
When working out or reaching out to a friend feel like too much, the momentum gained from checking off ❌ taking medication, ❌ feeding a pet, or ❌ watering a plant can create a sense of accomplishment that motivates us to tackle more complex tasks linked to improved recovery, like going outside for awhile or engaging in a spiritual practice.
Download this Printable Checklist
What Is the Daily Mental Health Checklist?
Previously the “Isolation Wellbeing List,” this resource was originally created to help create a sense of ritual and purpose during a time of pandemic-related quarantine, as users reported its usefulness beyond quarantine, a version was adapted for anyone navigating a tough day, difficult season, or making the most of a mental health day off from work.
How Can a Checklist be Helpful?
Research shows that creating checklists can be a helpful process. In 2002, researchers found that goal-setting improves overall mental health and general well-being (source). Interestingly, the same researchers found that it wasn’t just goal-achieving that improved health and well-being – simply the process of setting a goal and being mindful of why we set the goal seems to have a powerful effect.
This effect is amplified, according to this same study, when our goals are personally meaningful and related to growth and connection.
Why a Checklist?
Creating a mental health checklist for each day can help us generate motivation and move into our day with a sense of purpose- in fact, like many rituals, it can help us orient to the world and to our day (whether its a particularly difficult one or now)
Taking the time to mentally work through the day ahead, and write down the tasks that need attention – both the “must do’s” and the “desire to do’s” – can offer a sense of clarity.
Finally, at the end of the day, reviewing a checklist can help deliver a sense of accomplishment and pride. Through ticking off the mini-gals we set for our day, we can see meaningful achievements even if we haven’t had any external affirmations naming the good work we’re doing.
When Not to Use a Mental Health Checklist
For some individuals, to-do lists may be overwhelming. For others, taking the time to write down what we need to do instead of simply doing it may be incredibly frustrating. That is okay! Everyone processes shifts and changes differently, and let’s be clear: there is really no right or wrong way to move through a day and adapt to the challenges a day may hold.
If writing out a daily mental health checklist or using this printable adds a burden on your mental health or well-being, by all means, forego this option.
For many of us, however, giving ourselves structure and goals can help us move through a day with more care and a bit more grounding.
How to Use
Most users download and print this PDF as a ready-to-go handout or worksheet, but it can also serve as a jumping off point to develop your own mental health checklist. Consider: On bad days, what are the basic needs you want to attend to, small tasks that get your body moving, and practices that get your brain gently stretching? Answers to these questions may be clues to what a custom mental health daily checklist might look like for you.
For those who would like an easy print-and-fill-out PDF of this daily mental health checklist, you can download yours here for a small fee.
Our lives are constantly changed by external – and sometimes internal – factors. Whether related to our employment, our families, or our health, there are always pieces in play that cause shifts in our daily lives. For anyone, this is a challenge. For individuals struggling with mental health issues, these abrupt shifts may be even difficult to navigate.
For anyone attempting to cope and navigate with daily tasks and challenges – both known and unknown – research shows that tackling small accomplishments can help release serotonin in our brain, which boosts our mood.
Additionally, mindfulness practices – like a spiritual practice or giving intentional awareness to daily sensory experiences – can lower stress hormones.
Movement – whether aerobic exercise or a simple stretching practice – can also improve well-being and immune system functioning.
Finally: connecting with other humans – whether in person, via video, or even on the phone – can help release oxytocin, the “feel good” hormone.
These research findings have led to the creation of this resource: a Daily Mental Health Checklist.
Postscript: Is it better to use a checklist in the morning or at the end of a day?
I recommend experimenting with filling out your daily mental health checklist in the evening for the next day or filling out your checklist first thing in the morning. For some, making a checklist at night can affect sleep quality, while for others, making a list for the next day helps them go to sleep resting in the fact that they have a plan.
Forgo making a checklist in the evening if you know a nighttime-created checklist will continue to run through their minds as they try and fall asleep.
If you don’t have a sense of which category you fall into, trial and error is the best way to find out: experiment with how it feels to wake up and create your daily to do list over your morning cup of coffee, and compare that with how it feels to end the day by creating goals for the next day. In either case, it can be helpful at the end of the day to review that day’s checklist.
Checking boxes and filling out the daily mental health checklist – whether it’s in printable or journaled form – can help create a mood-boosting sense of accomplishment.
Carmody, J. & Baer, R.A. (2008). Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 31, 23–33. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-007-9130-7
Dein, S. (2006). Religion, spirituality and depression: Implications for research and treatment. Primary Care & Community Psychiatry, 11(2), 67–72. https://doi.org/10.1185/135525706X121110
Lin, T. W., & Kuo, Y. M. (2013). Exercise benefits brain function: the monoamine connection. Brain Sciences, 3(1), 39–53. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci3010039
Norman, G.J., Hawkley, L.C., Cole, S.W., Berntson, G.G, & Cacioppo, J.T. (2012) Social neuroscience: The social brain, oxytocin, and health. Social Neuroscience, 7(1), 18-29, DOI: 10.1080/17470919.2011.568702
Sheldon, K.M., Ryan, R.M., Deci, E.L., & Kasser, T. The independent effects of goal contents and motives on well-being: It’s both what you pursue andd why you pursue it. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(4), 475-486. http://web.missouri.edu/~sheldonk/pdfarticles/PSPB04.pdf
Young S. N. (2007). How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience : JPN, 32(6), 394–399. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/
Image description for screen readers:
Light purple background with a hand-drawn list drawn on it. The list is contained within a black outlined box, with multiple lines inside, and is colored in a range of light to dark purple, from top to bottom. The top line of the list is the title, which reads “Gentle To-Do List for Very Bad Days.” Underneath this are “to-do’s” with boxes beside them to check off.
The list reads:
“Essential tasks: Shower, Medication, ‘Blank’”
“Clean one thing/space.”
“Tend to something growing: Plant, Pet, ‘Blank’”
“Be mindfully present to… A sound or song, A sensory feeling, Something you see, A spiritual practice.”
“Reach out to a human beyond your home.”
“Do one thing to get your heart rate up.”
“& Do one thing you’ll be glad you did later.”
Art by @LindsayBraman