“The secret to life is to adjust,” is a phrase often quoted by my parents when I would dig in my heels to protest change. COVID-19 has led many of us to experience a loss of structure, routine and even meaning in daily life. Experiencing a pandemic is uncharted territory. We have been tasked with “adjusting” in all facets of life.
Our health and well-being are significantly affected by constantly adding, eliminating or re-defining our roles, habits and routines. This level of disruption amplifies our stress response and our need to find ways to comfort ourselves and others.
Staying at home may have removed the natural cues that encourage us to transition from one task to the next. These natural cues also help us to establish our boundaries between productive and restorative activities.
Research encourages us to focus on integrating optimal routines to improve our sleep, exercise and nutrition. It is equally important to think beyond these activities and bolster our routines for relaxation, creativity, joy and leisure. American poet May Sarton writes, “Each day, and the living of it, has to be a conscious creation in which discipline and order are relieved with some play and pure foolishness.”
So, what are the benefits of having a routine? The research tells us that daily routine:
- Provides us with a framework that supports the flow of our day.
- Encourages us to spend our time doing the things we need and desire to do.
- Enables us to prioritize what we do across the day and thereby encourages us to build in time to do what matters to us.
- Increases spontaneity and creativity. Counter to what we may assume, when we accomplish the activities we must do, we give ourselves the space and time to play or even practice non-doing.
- Lowers stress levels and decreases anxiety. Predictable routines may provide a sense of calm and stability. Anticipating what is to come or trying to track mentally what we need to accomplish drains our time and energy, leading us to feel overwhelmed and trapped by expectations of productivity.
- Improves time management and efficiency. Having a routine or schedule decreases our time, energy and mental bandwidth spent on planning, decision-making and preparing for activities. Our mind is at ease when we know where we need to be and what is expected of us.
- Encourages cultivation of healthy habits. Repetition helps us develop beneficial habits. Cultivating and participating daily in healthy sleep, exercise and eating routines will help us build momentum towards greater well-being.
No matter where you are in attempting to choreograph a routine in the COVID era, give yourself permission to take small steps.
- If changing your routine sounds daunting, take it one hour or one activity at a time.
- Balance your expectations by allowing yourself time to create and cultivate a realistic and sustainable routine.
- Keep your routine from feeling rigid or boring by creating variations of components in your schedule.
- Determine what mode of tracking your routine works best for you — paper calendar, journal with planning prompts, habit-tracking phone app, Fitbit, etc.
- Celebrate small steps towards progress and look to those individuals who will support your efforts.
Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is now offering physician and therapy TeleHealth appointments to provide patients easy access to our expert clinical teams. New and existing outpatients can schedule and appointment at 312.238.1000 or here.