Go to work. Drive carpool. Make dinner. Wash the dishes. Do the laundry. Help with homework. Put the kids to bed. Buy the groceries. Pay the bills. Our to-do lists seem never-ending, and many of us are exhausted even before we’ve added in important self-care habits like exercise, journaling or relaxation. It’s even harder if you’re struggling with mental health issues. That’s why healthy routines are so important.
“By creating routines, we organize our days in such a way that taking care of tasks and ourselves becomes a pattern that makes it easier to get things done without having to think hard about them,” Mental Health America says.
People with daily routines have lower level of distress when facing problems with their health or negative life events, according to a study in The Occupational Therapy Journal of Research.
Mental Health America offers these suggestions for creating a healthy routine, as part of its Mental Health Month #Tools2Thrive:
- Create the routine that is right for you. We don’t all have the same schedules or responsibilities and some of us struggle with certain parts of daily life more than others. All healthy routines should include eating a nutrition-rich diet, exercising, and getting enough sleep, but no two routines will be exactly the same. In fact, your routine may not even be the same every day.
- Start small. Changing up your day-to-day routine all at once probably won’t end up with lasting results. Pick one small thing each week to work on. It could be adding something new and positive, or cutting out a bad habit. Small changes add up.
- Add to your existing habits. You probably already have some habits worked into your routine, like drinking a cup of coffee in the morning. Try adding new habits to existing ones. For instance, if you want to read more, you could set aside 10 minutes to read while you have your coffee (instead of drinking it on your drive to work).
- Make swaps. Think about the things you do during the day that aren’t so healthy and swap them with better behaviors. For example, if you feel sluggish in the afternoons and eat sugary snacks for a quick pick-me-up, try taking a brisk walk instead to get your blood pumping and endorphins flowing. Or if you find yourself having a few alcoholic drinks after a long stressful day, try sipping hot tea instead.
- Plan ahead. When life gets hectic, you may be tempted to skip out on the new parts of your daily routine. By doing things like prepping meals ahead of time, picking out an outfit the night before work, or having an alternate home workout option for the days you can’t make it to the gym, you help set yourself up for success even when you’re hurried.
- Make time for things you enjoy. Even if it’s just 15 minutes a day, set aside time to do something you find fun or relaxing – it will release chemical messengers in your body that are good for your physical and mental health.
- Reward yourself for small victories. Set goals and celebrate when you reach them. Have you added exercise to your weekly routine and worked out every day as planned for the last couple weeks? Treat yourself! Watch a movie you’ve been wanting to see or try out that new video game.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day. Making life changes can be hard and you might forget to do something that is new to your routine occasionally. You don’t have to be perfect, just try to do better the next day.