The power of a daily routine
Updated: Oct 7
Building a daily routine may not sound like a game changer, but a set of daily habits can be the best thing for people who are suffering from mental health issues, those seeking to improve productivity, or even those who simply thrive within a known structure.
A quick search on the net will bring up a host of critics to routines. In fact, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was known to have been critical of such a practice, stating “I abhor the dull routine of existence”. But there is a growing body of evidence which points towards the positive impacts that establishing a routine can have on our mental wellbeing.
Clinical psychologist and Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, Dr Steve Orma, utilises routines in treatments of those with anxiety, stress and insomnia. He suggests that the repeated actions each day will become habitual and therefore cause less stress, particularly when it is little and often. Dr Orma also suggests that routinely checking in on what is stressing us is the most beneficial routine of all. “To manage anxiety, you need to consistently check in with yourself about what you’re worrying about, then address it.” Regularly investing in ourselves by having a routine can lead to priceless improvements in our wellbeing.
By establishing regular activities, we give our mind a break. The predictability of knowing what is going to happen, will alleviate anxiety of the unknown. Furthermore, by organising ourselves and knowing what to expect, it becomes easier to manage our responses to situations which may spike stress or anxiety. We can develop a greater sense of emotional control beyond our routines.
Essentially, the repeated actions will bring a rhythm to your day that allows you to become successful in many areas of your life and feel more fulfilled. But they will also provide an anchor point to your day - you know exactly what to expect when you work through those actions, regardless of the unpredictable aspects of 21st century life. Waking up in the morning and realising that you are in control of a small part of your day, through your routine, is an empowering feeling, but also a safe one too.
This is something which parents are encouraged to do for young children - a bedtime routine. That wind down after dinnertime, towards falling asleep, promotes a sense of safety for young people. It’s true for them at that age, and it’s true for adults too. In this way, routines can be a stepping stone towards better mental health and self esteem.
Of course, there is also that sense of accomplishment that comes from a routine. It is so easy for us to slip into a procrastination vortex, where sometimes days go by and we don’t achieve a level of productivity which we are capable of. This downwards spiral can negatively affect our self esteem and lead to poor wellbeing. Daily routines can be the antidote to this, instilling a winning feeling, even if the repeated actions are small steps in the grand scheme. They are regular wins which will keep us motivated in the long run.
While a routine will mean different things to different people, the recent lockdown brought the value of repeated actions to the fore of peoples coping strategy. Here is a look at the morning routine that instilled a sense of productivity and accomplishment to my days during the Covid pandemic.
Walk first - fresh air and a brisk pace to awaken the senses and body for the new day and avoid the post wake up laziness
Breakfast with entertainment - old episodes of a favourite TV programme, new webcasts from favourite sports people, check in with what most interests us with the first meal of the day
Stretching with a YouTube video - free guided stretching, yoga or workout sessions support a healthy body
Shower - freshening up in the morning is proven to reduce stress levels to free up our bodies for creative tasks
Coffee at 11 - social time with those at the house or over video calls brightens bookends the routine on a happy note
This brought small doses of time outside, laughter, self-care and socialising all before midday, leaving the afternoon and evening to be whatever they needed or wanted to be. Maybe your routine will be for the evenings, or the first hour of your day. Maybe it’ll be the just finished work ritual that will elevate your transition back home.
What next? Make a list of things that you do, or know you would enjoy doing, each day for a whole week. Armed with the list, think about how you can shape a routine out of it, based on your lifestyle and normal schedule. It should bring that sense of positivity discussed earlier, the drive to feel that fulfilment. Just be aware that building a routine and demonstrating self-care will look different for everyone. So, whatever works or motivates you, ensure your routine is right for you. That way, it’ll be meaningful and much more enjoyable!