Do you feel stuck in the same repetitive cycle, day in and day out?
Maybe you implemented a routine to give you a sense of purpose, but soon found the rigid rules began to control and consume your daily life.
Or maybe you are stuck in a rut with no routine and find yourself unmotivated and lacking direction?
Both scenarios can make life feel a bit meaningless.
We need to find the perfect balance – but it’s easier said than done.
And there’s no denying that the pandemic – and various lockdowns – could be to blame, too.
After lockdown ended in March 2021, PR Director Natalie Trice was stuck in a rut. The pandemic negatively impacted her way of life, and even when restrictions eased, and life went back to normal, she found herself living in limbo.
‘Living in the shadow of Covid restrictions started to impact me early this year,’ says the 48-year-old from Devon.
‘After so much time living in a state of flux and unknown change, I found myself living in a pretty compartmentalised way of life – even though lockdown was long gone.
‘Working from home all of the time, not getting out of my car at the school run, avoiding networking events and social situations had all crept into my daily life and made for a pretty isolated existence.’
It was only when Natalie started to look at her goals for 2022 that she realised she was stuck in a self-imposed, isolated rut.
‘I am naturally introverted but was fast turning into a hermit,’ she explains.
In the last few months, Natalie has started working from her local Costa and has joined a gym.
‘Mixing classes and outdoor swimming as well as adding in coffee shop work means I am not hiding at home, and the feel-good endorphins do make a difference to how I feel,’ she says.
Why do people like routines?
A safety net
‘Routines have many psychological benefits for us,’ Hannah Martin, a psychotherapist and founder of Talented Ladies Club, tells Metro.co.uk.
‘Our minds find comfort and safety in familiarity and certainty, both of which our daily routines give us. They also reduce the pressure on us to make constant decisions, and risk change and being forced to adapt to a new situation.’
Hannah also explains that research has shown that routines help us to sleep better, reduce anxiety and even boost our mood.
She adds that knowing what we will do (and when) also enables us to plan more effectively and manage resources like energy.
They offer stability
In an unpredictable and uncertain world, routines provide stability and certainty, explains mental health expert and therapist Ngozi Cadmus.
She says: ‘There is a deep psychological need for time structuring. The Founder of Transactional Analysis, Eric Berne, believes that people avoid the pain of boredom by thinking of ways to structure their time.
‘Routine provides a way of structuring time. A routine is a sequence of actions regularly followed. A routine that is followed consistently becomes habitual and a predictable occurrence in a person’s life.
‘Without a routine, you can be moved easily by the whims of the day. A routine helps you remain anchored and grounded. Life itself might be uncontrollable, but sticking to a daily routine can induce a feeling of security.’
How to create a flexible routine:
While most people will agree that having some form of routine is an important balancer for our mental health, it can backfire if we become too strict with our plans.
But don’t panic.
We spoke to some mental health experts to find out how to create a flexible routine to get the perfect balance between a full-blown daily schedule and having no clear plans.
Alter routines to life events
While having some structure to your life can bring many benefits, being too strict can limit your life experiences, says Hannah.
‘You don’t open yourself up to new challenges and relationships when you have a strict routine, and you also miss out on vital growth opportunities,’ she explains.
‘Over time, living within a strict routine can increase your anxiety levels. What happens if something disrupts your routine?
‘You’re not prepared for acting on the spur of the moment, making decisions and solving problems as you have constructed a life where everything is planned in advance and well-rehearsed.’
For people afraid of losing time, inflexibly following their routines and keeping to a rigid schedule leaves no room for curiosity, excitement and awe, Ngozi explains.
‘They might find that the benefits they once experienced are no longer beneficial,’ she says.
‘Suppose you do not regularly update or alter your routine according to your different schedules, life circumstances and events. In that case, you risk habitually following a sequence of actions on autopilot.
‘This leads to a disconnection between the activity you are taking and the emotion you are feeling. You can begin to lose touch with yourself and the immediacy of the experience.’
Reassess routines regularly
We need to find a healthy balance.
‘Having some routines makes our lives run more smoothly and can make us feel good. But it would help if you also left your life open for new opportunities, including the potential for making mistakes,’ Hannah explains.
‘Resilience and emotional growth come from trying new things and coping with failure.
‘So look at your average week. How much of it is pre-planned and routine? You may enjoy some of these routines – your first coffee of the day in your favourite mug or meeting a friend for lunch on a Friday.
‘And some may benefit you and give your life structure – tackling your accounts first thing on a Monday morning or going to the gym after work on a Wednesday.’
Hannah recommends taking a step back and thinking about how your routines make you feel and what they bring to your life.
‘If any feel restrictive, or you panic at the idea of them not being there, it may be time to revise them. Don’t be afraid to change or ditch a routine,’ she says.
‘And if you feel tied to one, try changing it every so often, to keep yourself adapted to the idea of change, and remove that fear of disruption.
‘Also, consider whether any of your routines may rob you of opportunities. Are you too comfortable? Are you missing out on personal growth, meeting new people, or discovering a part of you that hasn’t yet had a chance to shine?
‘Think about what new experiences you can embrace and take yourself outside your comfort zone sometimes.’
How to create the ‘perfect’ routine
Unfortunately, the ‘perfect routine’ doesn’t exist, as everyone is so different – but we do have some tips that might get you close.
Ngozi says: ‘All routines are not created equal, and you must recognise why you follow the routines you select. Is it to avoid boredom, pain and isolation? If it is, these feelings mustn’t go unexplored, or you will find that your routine will soon burn out of steam and no longer be able to suppress them.
‘These are some daily routines that you can begin now that help manages stress levels:
- ‘Regular daily exercise and keeping active.
- ‘Staying hydrated.
- ‘Having good sleep hygiene by getting enough sleep.
- ‘Take breaks.
- ‘Maintaining a balanced diet on a regular schedule.
- ‘Setting realistic goals.
- ‘Be present with your thoughts and feelings even when uncomfortable and difficult.
- ‘Preparing for challenges but not preoccupying yourself with things you can’t control.
- ‘Staying in touch with friends and family members.
- ‘Setting aside time for activities that you enjoy.’
‘Try adding self-care to your day,’ suggests Hannah.
‘For example, what do you do when you wake in the mornings? Can you introduce a routine that will set you up for the day and make you feel good?
‘Consider your mental health and what you need to be healthy and happy, and build your routines around those. Choose activities that help you stay physically fit and healthy, activities that help quieten and soothe your mind, and activities that challenge you and meet your social needs.’
Hannah says that we should try to think of routines as positive habits and the chance to improve ourselves and make life feel better.
‘Never just accept that your life has to be the way it is, if it doesn’t make you happy and feel fulfilled,’ she says.
‘Instead, think of your week as a collection of both routine and random experiences, and consciously design the life you want.’
Start with morning routines
Routine allows us to stay focused and motivated.
Even if you might not feel it right there and then, settling into a familiar routine can help your mind get into a state of ‘flow’ and stimulate your brain for a productive day ahead, explains Niels Eék, a psychologist and co-founder of mental wellbeing app Remente.
He says: ‘I would advise beginning with three to five smaller routines in the morning that you can easily implement and stick with this for a few weeks until they turn into a habit, then you can add additional activities.’
‘For example, start the day with five minutes of meditation – you can do this even from your bed; drink one glass of water and do something active such as a run, push-ups or even a good stretch to wake up the body; make a to-do list for the day; read the news or listen to a podcast that gets you up to date with the latest news ahead of the day.’
Switch up work routines for creativity
Artist and educator Furrah Syed avoids being stuck in a routine to ensure their creative energies are not negatively impacted.
‘I’m determined to avoid being stuck in a routine, negatively affecting my creative energies. I ensure that each day is different,’ the 54-year-old from north London tells Metro.co.uk.
Furrah says: ‘To achieve this, I do the following:
- ‘Carefully select who I work with.
- ‘Constantly look out for new and exciting projects.
- ‘Fully embrace new challenges and enjoy the rush of cortisol.
- ‘Plan days in my studio to create, but it’s always on different days/evenings during the week or weekend.
- ‘Changing things last minute forces my brain to rewire, which creates new energy and challenges me to tackle the solutions from a different perspective.’
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