bipolar parent

How to Stop Shoulding on Yourself

Photo by Thomas Bormans on Unsplash

This post was featured on the International Bipolar Foundation website, here.

When you’re depressed, forget about thriving – you’re in survival mode.

Which means you need to be especially gentle with yourself.

If you’re telling yourself that you should get everything done on your impossibly long to-do list today, a trap that a lot of us in capitalistic societies fall into, you’re shoulding on yourself.

Shoulding on yourself is a terrible habit. Saying “I should do this,” or “I should do that,” is just piling guilt on yourself and zapping the motivation to do anything. Believe me, when I’m drowning under a wave of self-imposed shoulds, especially when I’m depressed, I go back to bed.

If you’re shoulding on yourself when you’re depressed, you’re being unkind to yourself when you’re in survival mode. You don’t have the “spoons” to do most of the tasks you think you should and you definitely don’t have the spoons to fret about it.

The Spoon Theory, a concept popularized in a personal essay by the same name by Christine Miserandino, explains the idea of energy in short supply due to chronic illness using “spoons” as units of energy.

If you’re low on spoons, an easy state to be in when you’re depressed and don’t start with many, shoulding on yourself is the last thing you need. Worry about what you should do will just exhaust you.

Don’t think, “I should do this and after that I should do this.”

Think, “I have one task to do. What would be the most effective use of my spoons? How crucial is this spoon usage? Will I be forced to do it later when I may have even fewer spoons?”

If you answer “I can do x because it will be effective,” or “this is very crucial,” and “yes,” then do the task.

The ONE task.

One task at a time. Don’t even worry about the others until that one task is done.

If you’re worried about all the tasks you have to do after the first–take a shower, prepare that quarterly report, clean out the storage unit–you’ll never finish even the first task. You’ll end up paralyzing yourself by how much you should get done.

Instead, prioritize. Think, “What is my most effective/crucial task?”

Many tasks aren’t as crucial as we believe they are. Crucial tasks are things like “feed the five-year-old.” Strip your to-do list down to its very basics, things you need for survival or for your dependents’ survival.

It’s time to choose your most effective/crucial task. And only one. When you’re in survival mode, you only have the spoons to do one or two, and especially one at a time.

You can only do one task at a time well, so choose the one that will get you the most bang for your buck. What is pressing on you the most? What do you want to do the least later?

You can conquer that task. You are smart and capable and able to conquer anything on your to-do list, one at a time.

I wish you well in your journey.

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