Routines often get a bad rap. (Admit it: “boring” is the word that commonly comes to mind.) But after the last few years we’ve all been through, doesn’t it sound luxurious to have some day-in, day-out stability? Having a routine turns out to be one of the best things you can do to create reliability in uncertain times—and to support your overall well-being anytime.
“Establishing and maintaining a routine can be a supportive tool for mental health and self care because it creates positive structure in your day and week,” says Anisha Patel-Dunn, D.O., a psychiatrist with LifeStance Health, a provider of outpatient in-person and virtual mental healthcare. “Routines can also help us effectively manage stress and challenging situations when things in our lives start to get busier or more chaotic than usual.”
Whether you’re creating routines from scratch or rethinking existing ones, being intentional will help you get more order, calm, and confidence from them. Here, five ways to make routines more fulfilling and–dare we say it?—fun.
Prioritize the important things
Food, rest, and exercise are the foundations of a healthy life, so make them the cornerstones of your routine. Dr. Patel-Dunn recommends prioritizing sleep for better mental health. “I’d recommend waking up and going to bed at the same time each day, regardless if you have plans or have no plans at all,” she says. “This establishes a routine for your mind and body and helps you stay consistent.”
Make it fun
Routines are what you make of them. Nobody looks forward to a routine composed solely of chores and obligations. And while you’ll always have not-so-thrilling tasks on your to-do list (hello, pile of laundry!) it’s possible to transform them into something you don’t dread… and perhaps even look forward to. So if you don’t love unloading the dishwasher, try doing it while speaker-phoning a friend or family member. Or if you feel too tired to exercise at the end of the day, consider switching your workout to the morning, when it’ll increase your energy levels and provide an early win for the day.
Know when to seek support
If you’re struggling to get into a routine, that’s common and super-normal. “I’d encourage those who are struggling to get back into a routine to start small, and not get discouraged if they aren’t perfect,” Dr. Patel-Dunn says. “Establishing a routine takes time.” But if you’re feeling stuck in life or finding it hard to summon the energy to do much, you may need more support. “If you feel that you’re having a challenging time knowing where to start, you can always reach out to a mental health professional for support,” Dr. Patel-Dunn says.
Find your rituals
Creating enjoyable, everyday rituals can also put the focus on your overall well-being. For example, applying your favorite scented hand cream before bed takes only seconds, but it’s an opportunity to go to bed feeling cared for. Or if making a matcha latte brings you joy in the morning, make time for it to happen.
Note that it’s important to choose rituals that make you feel good—and that’s not necessarily what your best friend might do. “What works for one person is not going to be the right fit for everyone,” Dr. Patel-Dunn says. “Personally, I find myself being more positive throughout the day if I start my morning by getting outside—whether it’s for a run, a walk, or just stepping outside for a few minutes to get fresh air. Sunlight and fresh air help ground me and lift my mood.”
Set realistic goals
When it comes to making a routine work for you, setting small and achievable goals is key—especially as so much has changed due to the pandemic. Especially since nobody knows exactly what the “new normal” will look like, it helps to be flexible and forgiving as you move forward. “You may want to change or shift your goals, and that’s okay,” Dr. Patel-Dunn says. “If your goal is to incorporate more physical activity into your routine each week, and pre-pandemic you would have done so at an exercise class that you don’t feel comfortable going to as frequently as you once did, consider filling the time you would have spent in that class on any form of physical activity.”
Maybe you aren’t strapping in at SoulCycle like you once did, but you can still hop on a bike and cruise around your neighborhood. Or if you’ve recently moved and the new route to your gym is clogged with awful traffic, consider doing a home workout or finding a different studio location where you can get your sweat on. “It’s all about making goals that suit you, and finding different ways you can achieve them,” Dr. Patel-Dunn says.
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