How Routines Can Positively Affect Your Mental Health
Routines provide a positive structure to our day and help us better manage our mental health and wellbeing. Routines signal change in the time of day, let us know when to eat, sleep, when to exercise, get sunlight, when to relax, and they give us more time for the things we value and enjoy.
Establishing a daily routine can improve our relationships, physical health, productivity, focus and they have been shown to reduce stress. Routines can also help us cope with change when life is uncertain.
Is a routine possible when life is chaotic?
The overwhelming disruption brought on by the pandemic has meant that for many people, routines have changed drastically and are much harder to maintain. However, during these stressful times, being able to create structure and maintain routine in your day can help you feel more in control, when life seems rather out of control.
Whether you have found yourself working from home, without employment or caring for others, dealing with new adjustments to your life may seem like it’s impossible to maintain a routine. This is normal – and it’s important not to judge yourself for this. However, gently introducing a ‘new’ daily routine that includes time for activities and rest can help restore some stability into your life.
Routines are not just for children, although the same principles that make them feel safe can be comforting for adults too. Knowing what’s happening ahead of time can help us feel more prepared and grounded.
A positive morning and evening routine
While it’s unrealistic to plan out every minute of your day, starting with a morning and evening routine can be key. A morning routine helps us set the day up well. Starting the day with a healthy breakfast and some physical activity can put you in good stead for your entire day. Your body and brain will get the fuel it needs from nutrients and feel good chemicals like endorphins that are released during exercise.
Developing a relaxing evening routine (including things such as listening to an audiobook/podcast, or having a warm shower) can help you to wind down and get in the ‘mood’ for sleep.
Furthermore, routines help create good sleeping habits, meaning we have more energy, are more focused and more productive throughout the day. If you are having trouble sleeping or would like some help establishing a good sleep routine, take a look at our evidence-based course, Managing Insomnia.
A routine can affect your mental and physical health
They say it takes 21 days to form a new habit, and the same can be applied to routines. Here are some important things to check off when creating your new routine:
- Connecting with others
- Healthy meals
- Activities that bring you joy
- Activities for mental stimulation
- A set wake/sleep time
We have listed 50 ideas for activities that can help boost your physical and mental wellbeing during these challenging times. We invite you to use this daily planner to make a routine that works best for you.
A routine can be a motivator
Sometimes having a routine can help us with the things we don’t really want to do or find hard to prioritise, such as exercise and healthy eating patterns. Putting tasks in your calendar or on a list means you are more likely to follow through with them. Activity scheduling is one of the core Cognitive Behaviour Therapy skills we teach in our courses and the evidence shows that it works! Over time these activities can establish themselves as good habits, and it makes them easier to accomplish.
A routine just for you
Some people thrive on structure, while others are happier with a loose plan. Try to find a routine that works for you and experiment to make it suitable for your needs. Start small, be flexible and make sure it fits in with your current lifestyle. Be prepared to regularly review it and if needed, communicate and negotiate with those you are living with if you need their help or coordination to put your routine into place. Don’t be hard on yourself if you deviate from the plan. Remember plans don’t always go to plan! Particularly in these uncertain times, allow yourself some more flexibility and room to adjust your plans, when needed.
Be creative and open to trying new routines, even if they feel unfamiliar at first. Many people find they crave the predictability that routines bring, so they can not only survive a pandemic – but maybe even thrive.
For more mental health support, take a look at our evidence-based Mental Health and Wellbeing courses
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