Mental Health Budget Worksheet

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Video & audio overview of the worksheet

What is the theory behind the worksheet?

Most people don’t think twice about the energy it takes to get up, shower, get dressed, and do their everyday tasks or go to work. Most people can make plans for the day or the rest of the week…and keep them. 

Christine Miserandino lives with lupus, a chronic condition that affects her skin and joints and causes her pain and fatigue. She formed Spoon theory in 2003 over dinner while trying to explain to her friend in simplified terms how people with chronic conditions wake up each day with limited energy (spoons) to spend on tasks. Why spoons? Miserandino was searching for a way to explain how she had to budget her limited energy resources every day. She handed her friend 12 spoons. Each spoon represented a finite unit of energy. She asked her friend to describe the typical activities in her day. 

Miserandino took away a spoon for every single task: showering, getting dressed, driving to work in traffic, and so on. When the spoons were gone, it meant there was barely any energy to do anything else.

Since then, Spoon Theory has been used to explain the complex energy expenditure choices people living with chronic illness and disability make each day. Spoon Theory is also a valuable tool for the ‘spoonie’. They can quantify their energy expenditure and not have unreasonable expectations of themselves.

But how does Spoon Theory relate to Mental Health?

It is easy to spot a person with a broken leg. One is immediately able to make allowances for this person (or yourself!) when they say, “I can’t do this right now; the pain is too much, and I am too tired”.

But many chronic illnesses are ‘invisible conditions’. There are no obvious visual signals alerting others to someone’s pain or fatigue. Spoon Theory brings visibility to lived experiences. It is a way to explain to anyone how, where, and when they spend their limited energy resources. 

Why not use Spoon Theory as a tool to cope with your mental health challenges, another ‘invisible condition’? You also have limited mental reserves. Why not budget them?

How will the worksheet help?

Without trying to simplify a mental health condition, Spoon Theory can be a practical hands-on way to budget your own energy and capacities, especially when many demands are being placed on you. 

You can use Spoon Theory if certain tasks or activities cause you to experience anxiety. Maybe dealing with meeting new people, answering your phone, or being in a crowd causes you great anxiety. Spoon Theory can help you budget your energy and exposure to situations on certain days when demands are high.

Someone with depression may have days when getting out of bed costs them one spoon on a good day, but three spoons on a bad day. Using Spoon Theory will help them budget the rest of their spoons over the course of the day so that they don’t crash before the end of the day.

Neurodiverse people can use the Spoon analogy to recognize and explain why some tasks cost more spoons than others. And why they may need more spoons for a particular task than a neurotypical person.

In terms of Mental Health Budgeting, remember that if you had a bad day yesterday, or did not sleep well, then you are already starting the day with a spoon deficit! Be kind and gentle to yourself.

Maybe Spoon Theory can help you explain to a partner why one day you paint a room, make an extravagant dinner, and go for a two-mile hike, and yet on another day, you consider yourself a hero for getting out of bed and dressed!

How to use the worksheet?

Part One: The Budget

Before you begin any budgeting exercise, you need to recognize the total amount of whatever it is you need. This Part of the worksheet will take you a few days to complete. You will need to mindfully record your levels of anxiety, for example, when you are doing different things. Translate the level of anxiety (or energy) into a number of spoons. The more spoons, the more taxing the task. Some activities, like watching TV, may require no spoons and can add feelings of well-being.

Part Two: The Tracker

Now you will go about planning how you intend to use your spoon budget each day. Remember, each day will be different!

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