Mental Health Blog | Aug. 2, 2021 | Jeremy Waller, MBA (Marketing and Community Outreach Manager – Behavioral Health)
I got my first real job as a camp counselor when I was seventeen years old.
My responsibilities included opening camp every day. This meant I had to be out of bed early each morning.
I worked from 7:30am to 3:30pm Monday through Friday for 8 weeks that summer.
For a night owl like me, the adjustment wasn’t easy at first, but eventually I got into the swing of things.
What I quickly discovered was that getting up early, doing similar tasks each day and going to bed around the same time each night had tremendously uplifting effects on my well-being.
To this day I can still remember how I felt throughout that summer – physically whole, mentally sharp and just “with it” for lack of a better phrase.
That summer I also enjoyed the soundest stretch of sleep I’ve ever had. Ultimately, I learned that the routines I followed made all the difference in regards to my metal, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Getting up early, doing similar tasks each day and going to bed around the same time each night had tremendously uplifting effects on my well-being.
As many kids across Florida go back to school in the next few weeks, its important that we acknowledge the restorative benefits of daily routines, and that we work to re-develop any such routines that we might have forgotten about over the least year and a half.
To help us do just that this month’s blog article explores ways to cultivate healthy routines, including a look at the psychological and physical benefits they offer.
So, without further ado, lets jump in!
The “New” Grind
As we get back to some semblance of pre-pandemic life, its important to get back into routines.
Many during the last year and a half have had their routines completely upended. The stay-at-home nature of work for example has effected many in one of two ways.
Some have found themselves unable to turn work off, while others have been left wallowing in pool of listlessness – their motivation nearly depleted.
The root cause of these two extremes is a lack of routine that comes with the territory of constantly being indoors.
It’s similar to the “casino effect.” For those unfamiliar, have you ever noticed there are no windows or clocks in most casinos?
It’s an intentional architectural and interior design feature. The “house” doesn’t want guests to be aware of the time. The longer guests remain at the slots and tables, the greater the odds the house has of winning in the long term.
The lack of structure that comes with working from home and going out less makes it easy to fall out of routine.
This is where the phrase “the house always wins” comes into play. Players have decent odds in the short term actually, but over time their odds of winning drastically decline. That’s how casinos usually rake in the dough.
Anyhow, the point is the house works to have people skip their normal routines. They also go above and beyond to cater to their guests to keep them present.
Going out for dinner? Think again, they’ll bring the food to you! It’s similar to working and staying at home.
The lack of structure that comes with working from home and going out less makes it easy to fall out of routine. Think about how many times you’ve lost track of time or catered to yourself recently.
While DoorDash, Stitch Fix and Amazon are great, and while staying at home certainly helps families live safer and more convenient lives, and while for some a lack of structure is actually more beneficial to productivity, it can leave many of us stuck in a physical and emotional quagmire whose features are procrastination, laziness and boredom.
None of these by the way are conducive to cultivating healthy routines.
Now that we’ve seen the need for routines, let’s look at the benefits they offer.
Benefits of Routines
Routines help us in a myriad of ways. First, they help us organize our life and manage our expectations, which helps us counteract symptoms related to mental health challenges.
Second, consistent routines that involve setting specific times for waking up and going to bed each day help set our circadian rhythms (our body’s natural clock) into place which in turn helps us sleep better. This leaves us refreshed and mentally ready for the day ahead.
Third, routines help us regulate our emotions in a more balanced way because they satisfying our desire for control.
Put another way, routines offer us a healthy way to be in control of our lives. They provide us with a degree of certainty, something we desperately need in uncertain times.
Fourth, routines help alleviate bad habits and can also help children in particular.
For example, research has shown an important association between bed-time routines and child wellbeing.
Studies also suggest that family routines can lead to higher social-emotional health in children.
Routines offer us a healthy way to be in control of our lives. They provide us with a degree of certainty, something we desperately need in uncertain times.
Lastly, routines enable us to achieve our goals through consistent gains over the long run.
Success is rarely a flash in the pan, it is almost always attained through incremental gains over long swaths of time.
It’s vital then to chip away day by day at our goals, but we can only do that when our lives are organized and we follow routines.
How to Cultivate Daily Routines
So, routines are great, but how do we successfully integrate them into our lives?
Before we look into this, we have to understand the relationship between routines and habits.
The Harvard Business Review states this perfectly:
Habit and routines are not interchangeable. A habit is a behavior done with little or no thought, whereas a routine is a series of behaviors frequently, and intentionally, repeated. To turn a behavior into a habit, it first needs to become a routine.
This provides a good frame around our discussion on cultivating routines. It informs us that its vital that we give ourselves some slack when trying to form habits through new routines.
Set attainable goals that involve learning along the way and discovery, not just hard metrics you want to attain. Again it takes time to follow routines and even longer to form healthy habits.
In terms of tangible steps to develop and follow routines, perhaps the easiest thing to do first is to set times for going to bed and waking up.
As an aside, it’s also important to actually get out of bed when you wake up. Contrary to popular opinion, while sleeping in might seem beneficial, when it comes to habit formation it can really throw you off.
Next, eliminate small bad habits and add new small ones. New routines don’t have to be major ones, merely setting an extra 10 minutes for example to read before bed, or setting less time in front of the TV for example can help.
Lastly, use planners and to do lists. The simple process of mapping and jotting down your day can go a long way to forming new routines and habits.
Remember, when it comes to routines, give yourself some slack but not so much that you’re giving yourself permission to slip up. Being mindful and staying in the moment can also help a lot.
While the first few weeks (and sometimes longer for larger lifestyle changes) are usually difficult to start new routines, over time you’ll get the hang of things if you stick with it and don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
Lastly, remember that there is no one-size fits all routine, what works for one person might not work for another.
In this month’s blog article we looked at the importance of routines to well-being, and we studied ways to incorporate healthy routines into our daily lives.
While the pandemic has gotten some of us out of our routines, setting attainable goals, using planners and schedules, leveraging small gains and paying attention to our sleep-wake cycle can all lead to better emotional regulation, wakefulness, productivity and overall increased well-being.
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 (Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics)
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