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Why having a routine is good for your mental health

Routines may be seen as mundane and boring. But they are actually very good for peace and well-being

Sticking to the same schedule when it comes to meals and downtime can be great for your mental health (Unsplash)

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Routine is something most of us grow up with, following timetables made by others at school and home on even things are simple as how to eat, sleep, play etc. With adulthood, of course, this often changes, and many of us end up working and living in chaos, uncertainty and endless procrastination. A routine may not be a bad thing to inculcate under these circumstances. Of course, different people have different attitudes towards routine: some may find it too rigid, while others thrive when they know their day’s routine better. Having said that, research has proven that having a structure to our day offers a lot of mental health benefits, especially during times of stress or when dealing with a physical or emotional crisis. Here are some of them

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Increases clarity

Routine is important for both mental and physical health as it helps increase clarity. If you have a proper schedule for the day, you procrastinate less and concentrate more, which in turn makes you more confident and efficient.

Helps to stay motivated

This is especially true of people grappling with mental health disorders like depression, who often struggle to find the motivation to do anything, even basic tasks like getting out of bed or eating a meal. With the help of a daily schedule or a routine, they can set long-term and short-term goals and work towards achieving them, offering them a sense of control, efficiency and confidence.

Adds structure to the day

Routines add a positive structure to our days, helping us find dedicated windows for things we have to do as well as things we enjoy doing. The predictability brought in by routines makes sure we are not spending our valuable cognitive resources on decisions that can be automated, inevitably improving overall mental health.

Helps in decision-making

As soon as we wake up, our brains start making decisions, whether one is aware of them or not. Even tasks as basic as choosing when to shower, drink, havecoffee or eat breakfast require you to waste cognitive resources. Having a routine automates certain smaller decisions leaving you with more capacity to engage in higher-order tasks and decisions.

Helps with creativity

Routines help you get the mundane things out of the way, allowing more time and cognitive resources available to engage in creative and productive processes. It is why many famous creative personalities, including authors like Haruki Murakami, are sticklers for routine; it brings consistency to their creative process.

Here are a few ways one can develop and maintain a routine:

Create schedules

Write down what your schedule will look like and make a schedule for the next day the night before. Include buffer time in your schedule and make sure that leisure time and exercise are included.

Start small and then add more activities

Very often, when planning a routine, we may decide on what it should ideally be and try to achieve that on the very first day. The reality is that building something new takes some time, so it is better to pick 3-4 simple activities and then slowly add more as we become more comfortable.

Tie it to specific times in the day

Some people usually do a morning, pre-bedtime, and lunchtime routine. This makes it easier to follow because these times are naturally associated with certain activities like taking showers, brushing teeth, reading etc.

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Make sure it fits in with your lifestyle

Don’t try and fit in activities that you know you aren't regularly going to find time for. For example, if you are not a morning person and my routine needs me to wake up at 5 am every day, it is very unlikely that I will be able to sustain it in the long run. Similarly, remember to keep in mind other lifestyle restrictions like commute times, family commitments, natural body rhythms etc.

Take time out for things you enjoy

Having a routine is more than just making time for your work, responsibilities and chores. Make sure to also take time out for yourself and things you enjoy. This also ensures that you engage in rewarding activities regularly, which helps in mood maintenance.

Be consistent

Even if you skip a day, make sure you pick it up the next day. The key is consistency at a larger level, it is okay if you miss a day here and there. Just like with physical health, you may cheat on a diet from time to time or skip exercise from time to time, the key is getting back to it the following day.

Don’t be rigid

Don’t be too rigid with yourself to do everything in the same manner, every day. Tweak your routine according to your changing daily needs. Keep some room for spontaneity and last-minute changes. Things may not always go as planned, and that’s okay. s.

Be realistic

Set realistic goals for yourself. If you know you have not been able to keep up with everything that you planned for in the past, reduce the tasks for the day and set goals that you can actually achieve. The more unrealistic goals you set, the more chances of you getting disappointed by the end of the day. 

Be kind to ourself

It is okay if you are not able to follow a routine all the time. Beating yourself up for not having a routine will not help you get into one, but it would most definitely make you resent having one.

Inputs from Dr Sheba Singh, founder & director, TalkSpace-A Mental Health Studio, Mumbai; Shevantika Nanda, co-Founder and COO, Mimblu; Tanvi Jajoria, counselling psychologist & co-founder, MentAmigo, Delhi

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