Lists and Mental Health

Amaryllis in Window

I find list making calming. With a half-awake president wandering the darkened White House corridors at 3:00 a.m., asking his National Security Advisor about the benefits of a strong or weak dollar, tweeting edicts for the a.m. news, we are rapidly becoming a nation of insomniacs and worriers.

When I worry, I make lists—in my head, on legal or skinny sized notepads, where the eye can scan down, take note and experience a semblance of control.

First and foremost, my ever-present go-to is the grocery list. It’s comforting to use the last bit of blueberry jam and pen it on the top line. As if by magic, I have replaced it, a mental guarantor of a satisfying taste for the start of my day.

“To do” lists serve a similar purpose— phone calls to the plumber or a friend; e-mails, mostly personal, a prompt to send a birthday card or a note of sympathy.

As I writer, I list ideas, random thoughts, phrases, words which evoke, please, resonate. I list projects— essays in process, essays to submit, essays submitted— acceptances and rejections.

The most helpful and yes, the list requiring the most discipline and effort is the gratitude list. Since Trump’s election, my mental health depends on finding a balance between sources that nurture my inner world and those that direct my energies outward. I offer this week’s example.

Week of February 8, I’m grateful for:

  • My fluffy amaryllis, wide open with four striped petals and a lime green throat—a beautiful gem which opens my heart every time I stop to notice, to touch its creamy skin.
  • Breathing in the unexpected warmth of Wednesday’s spring-like day, temperature near 60, earthy smells, my clogged sinuses opening with lightness.
  • Relating to the Diane Rehms (2/10/17) blog post— “Inside The White House and Coping in an Age of Anxiety.” A well thought-out distillation on considering anxiety as a resource and the positive attributes of harnessing anxiety in the cause of resistance.
  • The 3-0 unanimous decision of the 9th circuit’s court of appeal to maintain the stay on Trump’s order to restrict travel from seven ( predominantly Muslim) nations. Relief that the checks and balances are holding.
  • Elizabeth Warren, who though silenced on the Senate floor, appeared on the Daily Show, spoke out on The Rachel Maddow Show, and disseminated a video where she persisted in reading Coretta Scott King’s letter and talking about Jeff Session’s role when African-Americans were beaten away from the polls.
  • An unexpected part-time job offer from the Team Leader at the Whole Foods Whole Body aisle with whom I often swap nutrition and supplement info. Job requirement: knowledge of health issues and supplements, check; job experience with people, check; ability to stand on feet, check; climb ladders, lift 50 pound boxes, forget it! Nice fantasy, especially at my age.

If you have experience with list making and its mental health benefits, please share in the comments section. I’m grateful for  thoughts and ideas on this timely and important topic.





14 thoughts on “Lists and Mental Health

  1. Nessa

    I love the reminder of the possibility and power of list-making. I may even do a long-term list of my own activism. Keep adding to it. Impress myself when I need to feel that I am one person doing something. Thank you for this!

    1. fayewriter Post author

      Nessa, I love that you are considering a list of your activism, a way of bearing witness to the self and the effort to make a difference. I hope you will share some of it as you move forward.

  2. Beverly Ruth Bader

    Here’s some comments from your dear friend Bev, an intrepid traveler presently in Kyoto since February 6.
    I find that my “preparation” is the key for harnessing my anxiety in a city where hardly any people whom I meet speak English. What I mean by preparation is that each morning I prepare food, filtered water ,
    a small umbrella and specific directions on where I wish to visit and how I will manage to get there. I’ve learned how to navigate on local trains and buses, which took some doing. Meditation and stretches are part of my preparation each morning. Meditation has helped me to have more patience and to be more mindful, so setbacks usually are more easily taken into stride.
    It’s ironic that Larry and I had published a paper in the journal “Group” back in the 1980’s entitled “Pre-Group Preparation for Long Term Group Psychotherapy in the Private Practice Setting that is presently being sold, and can be located under Goggle. So I believe that preparation is the key to more likely success.
    If you and Marv wish to receive stories and photos of my trip in Kyoto, download What’sApp, and I’ll share them with you.

    1. fayewriter Post author

      It is so good to hear from you.. and to follow up with your wonderful visit on
      What’sApp. I can now envision you on your special trip. Yes, I find that lists are also a way to pre-plan and to think through issues. There is something to be said for putting pen to paper and pausing for reflection in so many situations and settings. Continue to enjoy, my friend.

    2. Beverly Bader

      I must add that I carry a LIST of everyday phrases in Japanese that I can whip out whenever I need to explain myself for directions to a place, for example.
      My lists are a major part of my preparation, and have always provided me with comfort in times of uncertainty, confusion, and even chaos! Lists are a blessing, since bringing my list along is like having a dear friend hold my hand.

      1. fayewriter Post author

        Bev, love your addition, how lists can provide comfort. I certainly find that to be true. Fascinating about how your list of phrases are helping you manage the language challenges and provide certainty.

  3. Claudine

    Dear Fayewriter
    Lists and daily chores, the grocery list and putting the laundry away…such a soothing combination. Thank you for reminding me of how I preserve calm in moments. Even here in the rented house in the sun, quiet daily meditative tasks help to tame down crisis.

    1. fayewriter Post author

      Claudine, while reading your comment, I thought of you in your rented house in the sun, how quiet meditating tasks can “tame down crisis.” Fabulous phrase…. I will pass it along to others.Always wonderful to hear from you.

  4. sheila kempler

    A new job . Imagine the potential emerging from all the shoppers with questions, ideas, purchases …..
    About checks and balances. I imagine you’re feeling another sigh of gratitude with the current resignation.
    Have hope.

    1. fayewriter Post author

      Sheila, yes, when the news broke last night, I was grateful.Checks and balances are on the march and there’s sure to be more to come given the response already.

  5. Rosemary Booth

    I like how this blog itself is written as a kind of list, and moves from a specific (fluffy!) amaryllis to items from the broader world–here and now, not surprisingly, often a political one. I think of lists as containments: ways to hold in place (if briefly) what can otherwise roam wild in our minds. And I appreciate how this piece elevates simple list-making to a writer’s main task–that of storing bits and pieces of what resonates in the moment, so it might be re-created in her work.

    1. fayewriter Post author

      Rosemary, your response captured the essence of my post and I particularly enjoyed how you think of lists as “containments…what otherwise can roam in our minds.” I may follow-up with that thought in a future post…i.e., “anxiety containment” or perhaps another wild impulse!

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