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Illustrated man making food

By Sydney Daniello, Programs Intern at Mental Health America

Routines have a bad reputation of being dull, boring ruts we fall into over time. But a lot of routines can actually be really helpful for maintaining both our physical and mental wellbeing. And now that many of our normal routines have been disrupted, it’s become more important than ever to establish routines to keep us healthy, happy and - well - sane.

I, for one have been having a tough time setting up and sticking to any routine other than waking up every morning and silently screaming into the void. So, I asked my coworkers here at MHA about what kinds of routines have been helpful to them for maintaining their wellbeing during these ~unprecedented times~

Here’s a list of  what they said (summarized, not all direct quotes):

  1. Setting up a regular(ish) sleeping schedule and sticking to it! It’s so easy to push your usual schedule back later and later when you don’t feel a real need to get your day started at any particular time. But nearly everyone I talked to found that trying to stick to a regular sleep schedule helped them feel better and more productive during the day, and (bonus!) helps the days not blur together quite so much.
  2. Creating a schedule that works for all the members of your household. This is not to say that everyone in your house needs to follow the same schedule, but rather that things like work, childcare, and household chores are all getting done, with the responsibilities shared fairly. I’ve been told this one’s a game changer for preventing burnout of the adults in the house.
  3. Drinking water and eating regular meals. When you’re home all the time it’s really easy to eat constantly out of boredom, or conversely, to lose track of time and realize it’s 6 pm and you’ve had nothing to eat or drink all day other than coffee. But according to my coworkers, drinking water regularly is one of the easiest and best routines they’ve all incorporated into their quarantine lives (virtually every person I asked told me this). Another common routine that people found to be really helpful was making sure to eat at regular times (i.e. not skipping meals and then making up for it by eating shredded cheese out of the bag at 3am). Putting good things into your body can make a big difference in both your physical and mental wellbeing!
  4. Exercise! This is one that people talk about all the time and sounds really great in theory, but in practice may be a bit more unapproachable to some of us (me). But one of my coworkers reminded me that exercise can take a number of forms - it can be fun things like dancing in your kitchen or taking a walk with a (mask wearing!) friend, or it could even be practical like vigorously cleaning your house or doing yard work. Whatever it is, regularly setting aside a bit of time to release some energy is a great wellness routine to add into your day.
  5. Cycling between hobbies. This simply boils down to filling your spare time with something that brings you joy. And I think an important reminder if you’re looking to take up this routine is that hobbies are just activities you like doing. You don’t have to have to be fantastic at them, and they don’t have to produce some masterpiece of a final product. The only requirement here is that you’re doing something simply because you enjoy doing it.
  6. Meditation or mindfulness practices. A lot of my coworkers told me they were either already practicing meditation/mindfulness or that they really wanted to start. These practices can have a number of benefits like anxiety reduction and sleep improvement, and they can be really simple and easy. You don’t have to sit cross legged on the floor chanting “om” for an hour to meditate. Just sitting in a quiet space practicing deep breathing for a few minutes a day is a great place to start.
  7. Checking in on loved ones. This last routine suggestion is probably my favorite. Setting aside a bit of time each day or every few days (depending on your own energy level) to call a different loved one and check in on them not only helps to support those around you, but can also support your own mental health as well. Social connection and doing something nice for someone else, especially on a regular basis, is a great way to lift your own spirits and the spirits of those who are close to you.