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.