Studies show that daily routine has many benefits for our mental health. Routine can sound boring, but efficient and effective use of time actually creates space in our day to do more of the activities that we consider fun. We talk about routine a lot– and for good reason. It is one of the most important things we can do for our mental health.
Reasons routine is important:
Promotes healthy habits
Some of our unhealthiest habits surround food and movement. Scheduling helps install healthy behaviors and curb inactivity or complacency in these crucial areas.
Exercise can be fun, but oftentimes it feels like a chore. It’s one of those things that is easy to put off until “later” and then just end up skipping altogether. Setting time aside for exercise will provide numerous benefits, such as: improved sleep, improved mood, increased energy, combating disease, and increased physical strength. It may even provide a social benefit if you choose to exercise with another person.
Meals are one of the first things to go by the wayside when we get busy or distracted. Whether due to time restrictions or laziness, we’ll grab fast food or unhealthy snacks. We may even skip meals altogether. Not having a schedule for meals leads to lack of appetite and/or ravenous hunger, late night eating and poor food choices. Planning meals/meal times will ensure you make healthy choices and don’t overeat or skip meals.
Another thing that slips through the cracks when we get busy or distracted is our relationships. Scheduling time with family or friends will allow us to nurture our relationships and stay connected. Although there are people in our life who are patient and give us grace while they wait for us to “make time” for them, that doesn’t make it fair or healthy to do. And though unintentional, if a relationship is neglected and uncared for, it will suffer as a result. Relationships, especially with our closest loved ones, should be rejuvenating, and time with them should be something we look forward to. If time with loved ones is something we dread and feels like a burden it may be time to reevaluate who we have in our life, look at our boundaries, reframe our thoughts, and assess the value of those relationships.
Our relationships also help us with accountability and building trust. Having open and honest conversations with our support system allows us to acknowledge how our actions affect those around us. While in recovery, it’s important to have people we feel comfortable asking for help, as well as receiving feedback from. Healthy relationships help us stay on track to achieve what we’ve set out to do and follow our treatment plan, with support.
If you have a tendency to isolate, scheduling time to connect with other people is crucial. Sometimes we don’t realize socialization is exactly what we need to feel better. It may sound exhausting, but once you are engaged with another person, it may actually be energizing.
Scheduling time to care for your relationships is extremely important for your children to witness. By making relationships a priority, you will instill that value in your children and they will build and grow healthy relationships of their own. Showing them that relationships deserve (and require) attention will set them up for success in their future.
Reduces the propensity to relapse
Staying busy and assigning purpose to each part of our day decreases boredom and eliminates idle time and opportunity to make bad choices. As human beings, we need a sense of purpose. Not having things to do, not feeling needed, and not feeling that what we do matters, leads to decreased self-esteem. Over time, the less we do, the less we feel we have something to offer, and these negative thoughts and lack of self-worth can lead us down a path back to unhealthy behaviors.
On the contrary, productivity leads to increased self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. Achieving even small goals makes us feel good about ourselves and our abilities. When we set out to accomplish even the smallest tasks in our schedule and complete them, our brain releases dopamine, and we feel motivated to do even more!
Establishing a nighttime routine and having a consistent sleep schedule (going to bed and waking up at the same time) helps both with quantity and quality of necessary rest.
When we consider that our brains get their best rest between 10:00pm-2:00am, it’s imperative to try to get sleep during those hours. For some people, going to sleep at 10:00pm is difficult, especially if they are used to going to sleep much later than that. If this is you, when possible, try shifting your sleep time up by 30 mins each week until you get to the desired time. The main objective is sticking to a sleep schedule that is consistent, and that allows for enough hours of restful sleep.
Regulates circadian rhythm
Depending on age, a person’s energy levels peak and fall at different times of the day. There are naturally better times to do things like eat, move, sleep, and even think. Ideally, we would align our activities with energy levels, appetite, cognitive function, etc., and accomplish specific tasks at optimal times of the day. The reality is, sometimes we do activities at times that directly contrast with our bodies’ natural tendency.
Research shows that synchronizing our natural processes improves mental health, and disruption in circadian rhythm can result in various health problems including mood disorders. Observe your biological clock and create your schedule accordingly. It takes time, but if you pay attention and make adjustments to your routine, you will see an improvement in overall productivity and well-being.
Schedules and routine create predictability and alleviate some of the anxiety surrounding the unknown. Although we cannot plan for everything and life will inevitably surprise us, it’s helpful to take the reins on things we can control to help us prepare for dealing with the things we cannot control.
Planning also removes some decision-making stress by having choices made ahead of time. Once the week starts, things can become increasingly chaotic; when we have our set schedule and routine in place, we can rest assured that we have taken the time to prepare for this. We have carved out time for our priorities, ensuring that we can take care of the stuff that’s necessary for our success– meals, rest, self-care, etc.
Simply put: structure and boundaries free up more time for play. When we can accomplish what we set out to do, prioritize, and compartmentalize, it’s amazing how much we can get done. A few of the most important things to include in our routine are self-care, novelty, and fun. Ironically, when you implement schedule and routine, you will experience more feelings of freedom as a result.
It’s clear that routine and maintaining a schedule are imperative to our mental and physical health, but they’re not necessarily easy to implement. It’s important to maintain flexibility when adjusting to a routine. If you don’t stick to your routine perfectly one day, that doesn't mean you’ve been completely derailed. Try again tomorrow. Give yourself grace and remember that creating and establishing healthy habits takes time.