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routine for mental health

The importance of routine for mental health

Having a routine is often associated with good mental health. Keeping a routine for mental health can help us to feel as though we know where we are at in an unpredictable world, and gives us a sense of control over our lives. Routines help to take the stress out of daily life, can make challenges feel more manageable, and give a sense of purpose to our days. Knowing and being able to anticipate at least some of what is ahead of us through routine can feel comforting and safe, and can help to ease the stress and anxiety of daily life.

Of course, as humans, we do need some spontaneity in our lives, and unplanned pursuits decided on in the spur of the moment can feel thrilling and life affirming. But, in order to have room for spontaneity, we also need routine in order to function day-to-day and allow us the space to make last-minute decisions that won’t negatively impact our mental health. Creating routine through the parts of our lives that have become automatic to us such as brushing our teeth, washing ourselves and our clothes, cleaning our environment and sleeping is, according to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy (1943), important for satisfying our basic psychological needs. According to Maslow, these needs must be met before other pursuits such as intimate relationships, friendships, and an overall sense of accomplishment is achieved.

So, considering this, creating a routine around these basic tasks allows for growth, fulfilment, and greater satisfaction in life.

What does routine mean?

According to the Collins dictionary, a routine is “the usual series of things that you do at a particular time” and “the practice of regularly doing things in a fixed order”.

The importance of routine for mental health

According to Professor Gerhard Roth, our brains strive to turn everything into a routine because thinking is simply too time-consuming. Routines help our brains to conserve energy and minimise risks as we rely on a reliable and assured pattern for success. This automatic response to daily life that we achieve through routine in turn allows the space for us to focus on other things or to learn something new.

Imagine waking up with no idea what to do, where anything goes, what order to do anything in, and to live in the unknown. With no purpose or structure to the day, no expectations of yourself, and no order to follow, it would probably feel quite chaotic, anxiety provoking and exhausting. Gerhard states that over 80% of our actions take place automatically without us having to even think about it, and that this is quite essential for survival. As humans, we crave order and naturally seek the least resistant method to achieve it, and routines provide just this.

How to create a routine

You can create a daily, weekly or even monthly routine that incorporates the tasks that you need to do, such as washing, eating and working, as well as the tasks that make us feel good, such as exercising, cleaning and meditating, and the tasks that fulfil us, such as our hobbies, socialising or watching our favourite show.

To do this, have a think about what you might already have in place. Perhaps you have a morning routine:

  • Shower
  • Get dressed
  • Eat breakfast
  • Read some news posts

Completing all of the above in an automatic and sequential fashion will set you up to function as efficiently as possible and fulfil what is expected of you that day, while maximising your time and also allowing you some wiggle room to add in some tasks that make you feel good or fulfil you, or to prepare for any surprises that may arise during the day ahead.

You might also have a nightly routine before bed:

  • Wash
  • Change clothes
  • Read
  • Put the cat out

Again, having a night routine that incorporates both the tasks that you need to do before bed and the tasks that you enjoy doing and that relax you, conditions the mind and the body to get ready for sleep at the time when the melatonin is already rising within the brain. Sleep is often an indicator of mental health, and having a nightly routine promotes good quality and regular sleep, while also helping you to feel in control of your day and prepare for the next one.

It is well known that a good diet combined with some exercise keeps us healthy, so you can even go further in order to incorporate this and create a weekly routine that includes physical activity, such as walking, going to the gym, or attending a yoga class. Once it is in your diary, written down, and committed to being part of your routine, you are more likely to action it. Why not stick a weekly timetable to the fridge as a visual reminder?

Finally, ask yourself, what feeds my soul? Is it theatre, the ballet or football? Create a monthly routine to ensure that you satisfy this part of yourself too, and are setting aside time for enjoyment. Buy tickets in advance, and say to yourself, I will have an outing once a month either with a friend or alone that will bring me joy!

In the end, endeavouring to create and stick to your routines, but not putting yourself under too much pressure either, can be very effective tool for maintaining good mental health and avoiding unnecessary stress and anxiety.

Written by: Una Le Meur, MBACP

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