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Tips for avoiding the tilt

Every Sunday morning my email inbox contains a message from Maria Shriver. You may remember her. Kennedy family ties. Media commentator for NBC News in the late 1980s. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s former wife — they had that unsettling marital break-up.

Maria and I are friends — well, it feels like we are. Her weekly outreach is gentle and observant. She offers reflections that speak to faith and family (https://mariashriver.com/sundaypaper).

This past week her “Sunday Paper” offered something unexpected. She introduced me to the “Personal Craziness Index.” The concept was originally developed within the addictions field in an effort to examine and monitor individual resilience. But it turns out that it is useful in ways other than maintaining sobriety — and may be particularly relevant right now when politicians, pandemics and environmental disasters make us all more than a little crazy-feeling.

The “PCI” is described as a “universal tracking tool” that focuses on the fact that, as individuals, we respond to situations differently and more positively when we feel we are “in balance.” Understanding balance can lead to better overall understanding of self and avert a downward “tilt.”

The PCI is referred to as a “build-it yourself” tool. It offers 10 “major life areas” for consideration, but you are advised to choose seven of those to attend to specifically. These areas include health/hygiene, spirituality and friends/family. The original developer, Patrick Carnes, encouraged the user to identify three indicators of personal balance in each chosen major life area.

Suppose for instance, in the “health” category, I indicated that when I was feeling “in balance” I walked two miles every day, cooked at home most days of the week rather than going out to restaurants, and slept at least eight hours every night. On a quick end-of-the week review, I could easily attest to doing, or not doing, any or all of those and institute corrective action if needed. I would be personally in charge of avoiding that downward tilt, i.e. becoming unbalanced.

The Personal Craziness Index appears to be based on two assumptions: “1) Craziness first manifests itself in routine simple behaviors that support lifestyle balance and 2) Behavioral signs will occur in patterns involving different parts of our lives.”

The PCI has a suggested rating system, but a lot of flexibility seems to be encouraged and the tool itself is quite simple. In some ways, the whole process is similar to keeping a gratitude journal (Example: “Today, I am grateful that I have cool weather and good walking shoes”) or doing chronic disease self-management action plans (“I will walk for 40 minutes every morning before 10 a.m., and my confidence level is a nine on a 1-to-10 scale.”)

That said, this craziness index seems a bit more relevant to our times. In Maria Shriver’s words, “We all have things that trigger our craziness knowing your triggers is just smart.”

In one addiction expert’s words, “Our inability to recognize when we are overwhelmed” increases the likelihood of “anxiety, depression, burnout.”

For many, life is really crazy right now — the PCI might be a tool that helps just a little. Hope so.

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.