Wellness has become a major buzzword, thanks in part to wealthy, blonde-haired celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow and her pal Cameron Diaz. There’s nothing wrong with that brand of wellness, but for most of us, it’s just not attainable. Personally, I don’t know many people who can afford a $16,000 at-home float tank spa, as Goop recommends. That’s why I’ve spent time trying to find a definition of “wellness” that makes sense for me. It’s not always easy to make self-care a priority, or even know exactly what self-care means for your life, but after using a wellness planner for about a month, I’ve started to figure out what I need to do to feel less stressed.
Wellness planners are rising in popularity—you can find a wide selection on Etsy, and a variety of brands have released their own versions. They take different forms, but essentially a wellness planner is a place to track your mental health and help you work through stressors. Some include mood and sleep trackers, while others will offer writing prompts or help you remember to take your medication. I used ban.do’s wellness planner, which includes advice and inspiration from experts, meal and workout planners, and an emotions tracker.
One of the things I’ve liked most about this planner is the way it defines “wellness” as a balance between doing the things that give you an instant boost (e.g. eating nachos while binge-watching PEN15) and the things that science says will keep you healthy in the long-term, like eating vegetables and moving your body. Quite possibly the best aspect of this wellness planner, though, is the way that it focuses on personalizing your daily acts of self-care, and even helps you to discover what those look like for you.
Here’s what I found in my experience with the planner.
Meal and exercise planning
Planning is really not my thing, so pairing “self-care” and “planning” together felt counterintuitive to me when I started this process, especially in regards to meal planning. Usually, meal planning stresses me out because I feel like I can’t possibly know what I’ll want to eat in a few days’ time. But this planner helped me realize that actually, what you eat doesn’t necessarily have to match your feelings. In other words, you don’t need to eat how you feel. In fact, what you eat can actually determine how you feel.
I know that making a grocery list is a well-established practice and “life hack” that’s probably older than grocery stores themselves, but I wasn’t in the habit of planning out my meals for a week and shopping accordingly. I prefer a more spontaneous approach to life, so shopping for things that looked good was more my style.
But when I realized one day that I didn’t need to think about dinner that night because I’d already planned it out, the whole meal planning/grocery list system clicked. Of course I’d heard of the time-saving benefits of pre-planning meals, but actually doing it made more of a difference than I’d expected. And even though you can write a grocery list on any old scrap of paper, having the wellness planner prompt me to schedule my meals (or at least get an idea of what they will or could be) helped me see it as an overall benefit to my life rather than a nagging chore.
Based on my experience, I would say this planner is most helpful for the times in your life when you feel like you’ve strayed from your ideal routine or abandoned a goal. It helped me get back on track with my New Year gym goals, for example. If you’re looking for a boost, having this kind of checklist can be really helpful. That said, you can always make your own checklists at home to hold yourself accountable, which I recommend doing.
As much as I loved the meal and grocery planning aspect of the wellness planner, I found the downtime/activity planning aspect to be far less helpful. I liked that the planner prompted me to come up with ideas for things I could do with friends (or alone), but ultimately it overwhelmed me to see a list of all the fun ideas that I haven’t been able to bring to life.
Luckily, this planner also has pages encouraging you to enjoy downtime and do nothing. As an introvert with clinical anxiety, I can attest to the benefits of doing nothing—recharging is not just for crystals, after all. (Oh and yes, there is a small explainer on crystals in the wellness planner, too.)
I really enjoyed the introspective part of differentiating between my moods, and as someone who struggles with clinical depression, I found that I could actually find hope in noting the different types and levels of sadness I was experiencing. By that I mean that one level of sadness, say a “one” for me, might mean I don’t want to leave my bed, but another level, say a “three,” might just mean that I generally feel bad, but I’m not necessarily at my lowest. I can look at the emotional scale and understand my emotions in a more nuanced way rather than just labeling myself “depressed,” which helps because that word has so many intense, heavy connotations.
While I wrote down a few of my lofty, long-term goals, like writing and entering a pilot into a competition this year, I also wrote down goals that promoted my mental health and well-being, and I attribute that to the overall tone and focus of the wellness planner. It includes encouraging and informative notes about prioritizing your happiness, so instead of feeling overwhelmed and ignoring the planner on stressful days, I used it to write down goals like “meditate” to help keep me calm and on track.
If you’re in a rut, I think this planner could really help you turn things around by nudging you to reconnect with the things that boost your energy. That said, the ban.do planner is far from the only wellness planner on the market, so I encourage you to check out some of the options you can shop online, like Erin Condren’s Wellness Log or a planner from Life and Apples that prompts you to write down what you’re grateful for. Just don’t let all the options stress you out. Happy self-caring.