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The Power of Lists

listWe all have things we need to do on a day-to-day basis. These can range from huge work tasks to simple little things like showering, eating three meals and brushing your teeth.

I may be speculating here but even the small responsibilities are tough for people with a mental illness. I know that to be true just based on my own experiences living with schizophrenia.

Here’s the thing though, a few days ago I had a mini breakdown sitting in a coffee shop because I committed to several very large projects with mighty shadows that are now looming over me. These huge projects in addition to the probably fifty or sixty small responsibilities I have to worry about everyday caused me to essentially snap as I sat there looking staring at my computer unable to focus.

Here’s what I did though, I immediately left the coffee shop, went home, had a cigarette and essentially stared at the wall for a good thirty minutes. There’s nothing wrong with that. Then I decided to do something about it. That something was small but I knew I had to get these numerous stressors off my mind so I did what I do so naturally and wrote them down, one by one delving into the depths of my routine and recording every tiny responsibility that gave me stress.

After about an hour or so I had a list of about sixty things that I naturally worry about throughout my day. I purged and it seriously helped.

I don’t if it was just the act of writing them down and getting them out of my head that worked or what, but all I know is that afterwards, I felt calm for the first time in a long time.

Journaling and keeping a diary has long been touted as a form of therapy and I can see why. It does help. It’s the purge of your stressors from deftly floating around in your mind to a permanent place on the page.

It does something cathartic to get everything out of there. I’ve taken to calling it ‘clearing out the cobwebs’ and if there’s anything that seems to help me from getting overwhelmed it’s writing.

It’s simple, and incredibly effective.

Start with a blank piece of paper and just write down the big things first, getting those down clears the way for a bit more introspection and getting yourself to be conscious of the numerous tiny stressors that affect you on a day-to-day basis.

Don’t be afraid to dive deep and get even the things you’re insecure about down, you’re the only one who’s going to see this list.

Write down everything that careens through your head until you can’t think of anything else, essentially until your mind is empty. You’ll be amazed at how relaxed you feel afterwards.
Keep the list on hand then for a few days while other small things pop up and then record them too. Just do what you can to get rid of the stressors that are floating around in your mind.

Once you think you have everything you can go several ways with it. You can destroy the list and be done with it until you have another crisis or you can look at it objectively and think about the things that you can easily avoid and get rid of.

For me, a major theme was dealing with people and performing socially. Because of that, I’ve decided to spend more time at home which isn’t a bad thing given my illness. I need to take time for myself first and foremost.

The point of it though, is that in order to de-stress it takes being conscious of the things that have an impact.

Once you have a list, limit what you can and don’t be afraid to take things more slowly if you need to. Nobody is going to fault you for working on your mental health.

A list is easier to deal with and much less ethereal than having numerous thoughts popping in and out of your mind.

This is a tool that seems to help me and if you’re having trouble it’s definitely worth a shot.

Try it out, you might be surprised.

The Power of Lists

Michael Hedrick

Michael Hedrick is a writer and photographer who has lived with schizophrenia since he was 20. His work has been featured in Salon, The Week, Scientific American and The New York Times. You can purchase his book 'Connections' here or Follow his blog on Living with Schizophrenia here.

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APA Reference
Hedrick, M. (2015). The Power of Lists. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Jan 2015
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