Mental health and wellbeing

31 March, 2020

Adjusting routines to mind your mental health

Keeping a daily routine can help our mental health. Here, our Advocacy Manager, Louise O’Leary, looks at how we can adjust our routines to support our wellbeing.

Tags:   Mindfulness   wellness   occupational therapy  

Why is keeping a routine important for our mental health?

Occupational therapists understand routines as part of our ‘pattern of occupation’, or how we shape and spend our time.

Why is keeping a routine important for our mental health?

Along with the different roles we engage in life, routines are part of who are are, and can reflect our priorities and values in life.

When our habits and routines are seriously disrupted, not only can the sense of consistency they bring to our lives be impacted, but also our sense of who we are in the world. This might happen due to mental health difficulties or a life event, like marital separation. Adjusting to new, often temporary, ways of doing things at such times is key to maintaining our mental health.

Keeping up a routine that works for us, or setting up a new one for ourselves, can give a vital sense of control to our lives when so much around us is in flux. Having a sense of predictability and consistency to our days can be comforting and calming.

Adding structure to our days can also be important to reassure and support others in our lives we might be caring for, especially children, who themselves can be faced with a major upheaval (such as the school closures).

At stressful times, or when we’re experiencing mental health difficulties, we need to make sure we are attending to our needs as best we can, though sometimes the opposite can happen – for example, skipping meals or over-eating, or slipping out of regular sleeping hours. This also relates to the importance of keeping some sort of ‘balance’ to your day that works for you. Things can get out of equilibrium for many of us at times, and a balanced routine might restore at least some of this for us.

What are the challenges to keeping a routine?

It’s not necessarily easy to achieve a satisfying routine, even at the best of times.

What are the challenges to keeping a routine?

It’s important to note too that, when the external world might feel out of sorts too - such as at times like during the pandemic - it’s natural to not be at our most focussed or productive. Feeling anxious or worried, finding it hard to concentrate or having disrupted sleep are difficulties a lot of us may experience in these times.

There’s no one right way to spend your time, though we know certain things help. What’s most important perhaps is to think about what’s right for you and yours now to stay mentally healthy, and then try and shape your day accordingly.

Below, we give a few suggestions which are given with this in mind.

What can help to build a routine?

  • Suggestions for everyone

    Think about your needs in daily life and how and when you can meet them. This can include making time each day for:

    • Personal care; keeping up with hygiene and regular, proper meals
    • Social interaction: calling a friend or family member, or arranging a time for a chat 
    • Productive activities; taking on achievable tasks that need to be done at home, such as housework, gardening, or decluttering
    • Physical activity; going for a walk if you can, gardening, stretching, armchair exercises or home yoga
    • Pleasure and interest; enjoying new or old pastimes you can do under current measures
    • Rest and relaxation; keeping up regular sleeping and waking times as best you can, or practising exercises that can help manage worry or anxiety, such as breathing exercises or mindfulness. If you are having trouble sleeping, making time for a ‘wind-down’ hour to do such things may be helpful.

    A simple strategy that can help if you are trying to work on your routine is to plan your day. This doesn’t mean accounting for all your time, rather thinking about what’s most important for you to give your time to and when. Writing it down is key, however. If you have a diary, use it. If not, you might find this straightforward weekly planner helpful to use.

  • Suggestions if you've recently become unemployed

    In addition to the suggestions for everyone above, some of these ideas might be helpful to incorporate into your routine over the coming days and weeks.

    While unemployment will hopefully be a temporary state of affairs, it might be helpful to give some time to considering employment opportunities.

    Current job vacancies continue to be posted online.

    You might also find it helpful to plan time to explore learning and upskilling opportunities, and to revisit your career interests. Websites such as Careers Portal may be useful.

    If you would like to have an alternative productive outlet at this time, consider volunteering, or taking part in community efforts that are ongoing to support those in need. 

  • Suggestions if you're working from home

    If you are working remotely, keeping to regular work hours, if possible, and trying to keep a boundary with work and the rest of your day may be important.

    It might be helpful to do things to mark the end of the workday; for example, changing your clothes, completing daily outside exercise if you can, or putting on some music.

    Use your diary as you would in your workplace. Make time for priority tasks that need attention, and try and keep things achievable each day.

    Keep up your breaks, including times when you would have perhaps met or talked with colleagues. If possible arrange a virtual coffee break, calling your workmates for a chat to stay connected beyond meetings and work-focused calls.

    Make time for regular physical movement, getting up and stretching and walking around your home, and take frequent breaks from screens. 

  • Suggestions if you are self-isolating

    When you are cocooning or self-isolating, it is vital to schedule social activity regularly to keep connected with others. This time can also be an opportunity to reconnect with friends who you may not have spoken to for some time. Planning phone or video calls with friends and family, or writing an email are all ways to do this.

    If you are comfortable using smartphones or other devices there which enable group activities, such as quizzes. If you are comfortable with video calls on a mobile phone or computer, coordinating dinner time with friends or family for a virtual meal might be enjoyable.

    If you’re not sure how to use different apps or functions on your phone or computer, you can find some guidance from Age Action here, or a family member may be able to talk you through it. Age Action has a range of other learning resources available, including how to use services like youTube, that may be a worthwhile use of your time if you’d like to increase your skills in this area.

    Maintaining daily activities which may seem less essential if you're not seeing other people at the moment, such as keeping up with personal care, are also very valuable to our wellbeing and important to attend to. Such activities can also serve to physically calm and soothe us; for example, having a hot shower or warm bath, or using a warm flannel on our faces, which can be most helpful if we are experiencing feelings of anxiety.

    Planning something pleasurable for yourself each day is extremely important too during difficult times. For those of us who may struggle with downtime or spending too much time along, reconnecting with leisure activities, such as reading, revisiting music collections, sketching or drawing, indoor gardening or learning a new skill online, can be especially helpful.



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