Humans are creatures who crave routine. We like the certainty and predictability of it. That’s why trying to change and adapting to change can be so hard. But right now, we’re all going through one of the biggest changes in our lives and building a routine can help you cope with it.
Whether it’s work, school, going to the gym or meeting up with family or friends for a bite to eat, those have all stopped and many of us are stuck at home. And it may continue for weeks and possibly months. Even if you are used to working from home or are retired, your regular routine has likely changed in some way. Maybe you have kids at home, or your social outings are curtailed.
Even if you’ve dreamt of the day when you wouldn’t have to go to work or school, these things provide some daily structure and routine. That lack of routine can have negative effects on your wellbeing. You may develop a lack of sense of purpose, feelings of boredom, lack of attention to appearance or laziness. This can lead to reductions in feelings of self-worth. You may also find yourself distancing from others and procrastinating even the simplest tasks. Over time this might lead to increased anxiety and depression.
A Routine will Help Build Control
On top of this, is that we don’t have control over the situation. Not just the lack of control about the coronavirus, but also the fact we’re told to stay at home. This lack of control can lead to stress and further increase anxiety and thoughts of helplessness. If you feel this way, it’s not uncommon as global disasters and crises are associated with decreased wellbeing.
As a result, it’s important more than ever to resist the urge to do nothing and let the days blur into one another. While life is ever-changing, even at the best of times, a routine gives us a sense of control over our lives. It doesn’t mean scheduling every minute of every day as that can have its own problems. But a routine builds in habit, rhythm and predictability to the day.
The backbone of any daily routine is sleep. A consistent time when you go to bed and when you wake up. This is more than just to build in your routine. Your body has its own internal clock and doesn’t like inconsistent sleep times and duration. Even if you get the required 7-9 hours of sleep per night, constantly adjusting sleep and wake times will result in feelings of fatigue, which will impair your physical and mental wellbeing.
Building Your Routine
Build on the sleep routine to include activities of self-care. This can be things such as exercise, leisure time activities, but don’t forget the small things such as making the bed, brushing your teeth and showering. Even if you live alone and won’t be going out, these things are important. It’s not just about personal appearance but the accomplishment of tasks, no matter how small. Through accomplishing tasks you build up your self-esteem (confidence in yourself), which makes you better able to cope with difficult situations.
Next, outline activities that are important to you. If you’re working from home, that’s one, but also include time to relax and connect with others by phone or online. Remember, by being at home all day you’re missing vital social contact.
You may also find you have enough time to try something new. What is it that you’ve always wanted to do but never got around to doing? Perhaps it’s a musical instrument you’ve been ignoring, or maybe some household chores.
Don’t ignore including time to check the news or your social media feeds. Just be mindful to set limits. During this time you want to be informed but It can be all too easy to go down the rabbit hole chasing news stories about the pandemic and see what people are saying on social media. Too much of this can increase feelings of helplessness, anxiety and depression.
Separate Work from Pleasure
If you work from home, make sure you set up a barrier between work time and non-work time. If you can, set up your work in a separate room. This creates a physical barrier so you aren’t reminded of it when you finish. If you can’t, try putting your work and computer away and don’t leave it on the kitchen table. Out of sight, out of mind, is what you want to achieve to give your mind a break. Letting your work time intrude into your personal time can be counterproductive.
Also, set a time that you stop working and stick to it. This includes differentiating between weekdays and weekends. And include some sort of transition activity such as some physically activity, connecting with family or friends, or reading a book. Any sort of activity that requires you to be present in the moment and not let you wander back to your work activities.
If you live with others, you’ll likely be seeing them and interacting with them more often. Remember to schedule in time for yourself away from the activities of the others. Recognize too that the others in your house are going through the same thing and having similar feelings. Discuss with them coping strategies and support each other.
If you live alone, ensure you schedule in time to talk to others. It can be all too easy to avoid contact with others and even convince yourself that your family and friends don’t want to be bugged, but they do want to hear from you. And they will feel better for it as well.
Don’t Let the Days Blur into One
To avoid each day looking like the one before, mix up your routine. Don’t have it the exact same everyday. Each day can have its own routine, or you can have two or three different routines and rotate them. In normal life, we don’t do the same things everyday, so allow your routine to reflect that as well.
Lastly, don’t forget to schedule in things to look forward to. This doesn’t have to be everyday. Maybe once or twice a week, or whatever works for you. This could be a movie night, where you treat yourself to a streaming one you’ve been wanting to watch. Or an online game night with friends.
None of us know how the next few months will look and there may be ongoing challenges once this is over to get back to normal life. Use the routine as your anchor. Something you know will be there every day. Building a routine can give you that feeling of control and purpose that will help carry you through the coming weeks.
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