-Sharon Martin, LCSW
It’s January. You’re back to work and the kids are back to school. It’s time to put a routine in place that supports mental health and wellness.
Many of us plan to set up new routines and develop good habits in January. January feels like a fresh start, so it’s the natural time to recalibrate our habits.
Make your mental health a priority.
In my last post, I encouraged you to make your mental health a priority this year. So, let’s get specific and talk about how to structure your daily or weekly schedule to set yourself up for optimal mental health.
Routine makes life easier
When you set and keep a routine, it’s easier to make healthy choices. You don’t need to spend a lot of time and energy deciding what to do when you’ve created healthy habits to guide you.
Routines also reduce stress. They’re comforting because you can count on certain things getting done.
Right about now you might be thinking structure and good habits sound really boring and they take a lot of discipline. A routine doesn’t sound like fun! Well, a routine does take work to set in place…. but when you realize that your improved mental health will repay you many times over, you will hopefully decide you’re worth the effort.
And structure isn’t as confining as it seems. Structure is actually liberating when you realize that it frees up your time and energy for the things that matter most.
What is a routine that supports good mental health?
I hope this post will give you some ideas about how to create a routine that supports emotional health, but please remember that we’re all different and have individual needs. You first need to know yourself well enough to recognize what will work for you. For example, if you’re a night owl or an introvert, you need to create a routine that takes those traits into account.
I suggest creating a routine that includes these components:
- A set bedtime and wake-up time. Try to keep the same bedtime and wake time every day of the week if possible. This makes it easier to fall asleep at night and wake-up in the morning. If you tend to put off going to bed, try setting a bedtime alarm (By the way, the iPhone now has this feature). Also, be sure your morning wake-up time allows enough time so you aren’t starting the day already late and stressed.
- A healthy breakfast. Breakfast seems to set the tone for the day. Eating early and nutritiously sets you up with energy and for healthy eating during the rest of the day.
- Time to blow off steam. What do you do to decrease stress? Whether it’s meditation or exercise or journaling, make a daily habit of doing something proactively to manage your stress.
- Exercise. Exercise is one of the most effective ways to take care of your mental well being. Decide when you’re going to exercise and then get it on your calendar. Try to get in a little every day – the gym after work, or a walk at lunch, or riding your bike to the store.
- Taking medications at the same time daily. Consistency with your medication serves as a reminder to take them and keeps them working properly.
- Prioritize your to-do list. Sometimes I just want to get some of the quick and easy items knocked off my list and I’ll do those first. The problem is that these may not actually be priorities. Do the most important thing first (not what’s hardest, or easiest, or quickest).
- Appreciate what’s good in your life. Many people like to keep a gratitude journal where they list five or ten things they’re grateful for before going to bed. You could also create a practice of noting five things before you get out of bed in the morning or while you’re in the shower. Keep it simple.
- Adequate sleep. You know you feel better when you’re well rested. Adequate sleep can help you regulate your mood, stay focused, utilize healthy coping skills, and decrease stress hormones. Getting enough sleep also means you can rely less on caffeine, which can mess with your moods.
- Fun and simple pleasures. That’s right, your routine also needs things you do for pleasure every single day. We all have our own ideas about what’s fun, so be sure your routine also includes things that make you happy. Just be sure that what you’re doing for pleasure is healthy; sorry, this isn’t a loophole for drinking a six-pack every night!
- Build and enjoy your relationships. Make time for the people who matter to you. Family dinner is an excellent place to start. A regular date night with your spouse and coffee with friends can also be good routines to develop.
How do you fit all of this into your schedule?
This may look like a big list of things to do. It isn’t meant to overwhelm you.
Many of the items can be grouped together. For example, I connect with a girlfriend and exercise simultaneously when we go on our weekly walk.
If you’re going add things to your schedule, you may need to subtract other things. This might come in the form of setting boundaries and saying “no” to things that aren’t priorities and/or don’t support your well-being. It can also be spending less time on mindless activities that don’t really solve a problem or fill your emotional tank.
Also, remember that following a routine will save you time. You’ll be more efficient. You’ll have more energy.
The most important thing to remember about creating a routine to support your mental health is that it’s a work in progress. You don’t have to add all of these things to your routine this week. Start where you are and add one healthy habit to your routine at a time. If you don’t keep to the routine perfectly, that’s fine. Self-forgiveness is also good for your mental health!