How Routine Effects Your Well-Being and Mental Health

Quick. What are you doing at 7:00 tomorrow morning?

If you didn’t know within a second or two, you may be missing out on one of the best ways to improve your quality of life. And if you are battling a mental health problem, you may be missing out on a powerful, free weapon in your arsenal.

It’s called: Having a routine.

❯ A Routine Is Good for Anyone

Every mom knows her kids flourish on a consistent routine, while an inconsistent schedule leads to more and more tears, outbursts, and conflict. But a consistent routine doesn’t just benefit kids. Want better sleep and feel more alert? Stick to a routine. Want to be more productive? Have a routine. Want to improve your fitness? Accomplish a goal? Feel more relaxed? Develop your spiritual life? Routine. Routine. Routine.

A routine is every adult’s friend. It helps you feel more like life is working with you, rather than against you. It produces peace of mind. It engenders calm. It reduces stress. It promotes a positive outlook on each day and a sense of well-being. A routine can build health and strength and a feeling of accomplishment. If applied wisely, it can even help strengthen relationships with the most important people in your life.

Sure, living on a consistent routine may run the risk of you being labeled: Boring. And yes, sooner or later, someone’s gonna tell you to let your hair down, to live a little, that you only live once, that you take life too seriously. But that peer-pressure is a small price to pay for the well-oiled hum of a satisfying life routine. People who live according to a routine know that low stress for the long-term is far, far better than short-term thrills or indulgences.

Of course, you can have too much of a good thing. A routine can be so rigid that it makes you intolerant of people who interrupt it. But, a good routine is flexible and makes room for people by scheduling them into it—everything from lunch with a friend to planning a Super Bowl party.

 A Routine Is a Mental Health Weapon

If having a consistent life routine is valuable when you feel yourself, just imagine how important it is for the person who feels not yourself right now.

I have observed this in my wife Dawn, who struggles with the cycles of bipolar II: hypomania, then briefly feeling herself, then depression, then repeat. In the 30+ years of our marriage, we continue to see how effective a stable routine is in managing the almost daily assault of tumultuous thoughts.

Let me give you an idea of what living a consistent routine means for Dawn:

  • It’s knowing how much water to drink every day and when.
  • It’s when she goes to bed, and when she gets up.
  • It’s knowing which foods make her feel worse (sugar, caffeine, some spices).
  • It’s avoiding music, TV, and movies that lead to more mental battles.
  • It’s what she does first thing every single morning (drink a bottle of water, a 20-minute breath to relax exercise, time reading her Bible, and writing in her journal)
  • It’s how much exercise she gets, and when, and the right kind, and the right level of intensity
  • It’s tackling a manageable set of tasks every day, not too much, not too little.
  • It’s taking time for friends and serving others, but reserving enough quiet space to be alone.
  • It’s participating in the community, but knowing her limits.
  • It’s even scheduling laundry, dishes, shopping and house cleaning so that our home always feels like a calm, peaceful place to relax.

Dawn has learned and keeps learning what works for her by reading, and talking with others, and by trial-and-error. Like blocking and tackling in football, she knows she has to keep practicing the basics of her routine to manage her challenges. I try to help in small ways too: like calling to pray with her each morning, or asking if she remembered to drink water when she feels out of sorts. I also avoid playing some of my music around her because of how it affects her.

What should your routine be like? How could it help you? How could the people who love you help you practice the basics? Only you can know. But give yourself time to learn. The benefits will be worth it.

A Routine Has These Benefits

You can think of the benefits of your routine a few different ways: as a motivator, as decision-support, as guard rails, and as a peace maker.

Think of your routine as a motivator because it can give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning. When you are depressed, it gives you something tangible and positive to do as soon as you are alert. And this can begin to stabilize your mind at the beginning of the day.

Think of your routine as decision-support because it helps you know what to do next. When your mind is foggy or fretful, any decision can seem huge and daunting, with inflated importance. But your routine will remind you of what you can do or should do next. And sometimes, getting through the next few minutes of fog with something positive to focus on is just what you need to build courage for later in the day.

Think of your routine as guard rails that keep a car from the edge of a cliff. If you feel manic or hypomanic symptoms your racing thoughts could lead to some not yourself behavior. They need to be brought smoothly to a slow, safe, sensible pace. Your routine can help you feel grounded so you can focus on one thing at a time. The next thing. And the next. And then, the next. Your routine can help you avoid behaviors or decisions that you may later regret.

And finally, a routine can help make peace within and around you. Just think. Are you more relaxed in a cluttered space or an orderly space? Does a 100 item to-do list for the day help you feel calm and confident? Do you function better when your sleep patterns vary? Are you likely to feel yourself if you skip a proper meal to binge on brownies? It’s pretty clear which habits of life promote that calm, and which destroy it. But it’s practicing your routine that will help make the life habits you need feel easy and desirable.

If you’re a take life as it comes person, I suggest you carve out some time to start thinking about the routines that will help you make a life instead. Don’t obsess about getting it right. Just start imaging how a routine could benefit you, and then take the next step that seems best to you. And then, the next. And the next.

And as always, remember Whom you are dependent on. Remember the source of your life. Jesus, our Redeemer is a ready help to the needy and contrite.

No Fear Can Rapture My Soul

Hello, Average Us. This is Dawn.

Today, I want to share a poem with you written by my friend Elizabeth Johnson. Elizabeth worships with Lon and me at Restoration Presbyterian Church and, like me, suffers with depression and anxiety. She wrote this poem to express her trust in Christ through her struggle. She shared it with me, and gave me permission to post it here on Average Us. If you are struggling with any sort of challenge today, I pray this poem gives you hope by pointing you to the One, true and living source of hope. Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is no fear that can rapture my soul
In Which He can’t see, for which I can’t be made whole
This darkness is impending, the dreaded black hole
And yet, He is here, nothing is beyond His control
What is it that tempts me to fear?
That steals my joy, that takes my cheer
Most times it seems a mystery, there is something there, quite unclear
But oh! It covers my mind, my heart, it is severe
It wrinkles my thinking, crumples my brow
When I am tempted to put my head down, to follow, to allow
This burden becomes heavy, too heavy now
Yet somehow…
There is One, they call him Spirit, faint but still beckons me
That dark place down there, oh, He can see
This ever present Friend & Guide beckons me to reality
That faithful One who can never depart from me
I’m reminded of truth, the truth of His Word
Could it be what is real, in this life so blurred?
My secret hope to be rescued was never unheard
How suddenly He works, my helplessness deferred…
To the cross of Christ, on who I was taught to hope
I no longer must in the darkness hang, cannot grope
Except to my Bible I cling, there it is! Life & hope!
It pulls me back up from which I had gone, that quick steep slope
And in this book of old, the Prophets, the martyrs have told
In these pages I see their darkness, their struggles unfold
In times of doubt & fear, it was You, their constant stronghold
From the pit it pulled them from, Your faithfulness, Your glory to behold
And it is clear now, so clear a theme
When I look through this Word as a whole it would seem
You, my Savior, my Friend, will doubtless, unquestionably redeem
Cast away that Liar, the one who distracts from truth by his great scheme
It is You & me, rejoined on this path of Life
You walk with me & carry me, undeniably love me through all my strife
And when it comes to glory, You are the one who will receive
I will benefit too, it is I who will tell others for I believe
Since now it is TRUTH you have taught me to perceive
I see well now this tapestry in my life that you weave…
It will be to You, and You alone to whom my soul shall cleave.

Waking Up in Pain

L3 and L4.

Herniated Discs. Two of them.

Two rounds of epidural cortisone injections.

Moaning in my sleep. Waking up in pain. Fearful commutes to work. Strategically considering the distance to the men’s room. Sometimes feeling old and weak. (Vanity never quits.) Sometimes feeling discouraged. Chronic pain does that to you.

No running. No hiking. No lawn mowing (mixed blessing).

All while trying to build a new kitchen.

God doesn’t check your calender or to-do list. He just brings life your way. All of life.

I took the photo on this page last November while hiking Blood Mountain near Blairesville, Georgia. It inspires me to pray I’ll be able healed enough to enjoy trails like this when mid-October comes around.

Two months to go.

Waking up in back pain, gives me a glimpse into what people with depression often experience. People like my wife, often experience depression or anxiety physically, as pain, or lethargy, or pressure on the chest, or stiff neck, or nausea, or all of the above.

For those of us who haven’t experienced this, let us study empathy and compassion for those who do.

A man’s spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?—Proverbs 18:14, ESV