Routines and mental health

Following basic day-to-day rituals and routines can help support your mental health.  

These could be as simple as eating a meal at the same time each day. Following the same method to complete a daily chore. Or preparing for sleep in the same way each night.   

Having routines for things can help reduce the build-up of stress. They can provide a sense of structure and rhythm. And in times of uncertainty, they can remind you that there are things within your control.  

It’s not always simple to stick to a routine, and that’s OK. There are things you can do that will help.

Illustration of woman meditating on a rug

Why you might struggle with routines

There are many factors that can affect your ability to establish or maintain a routine. These will differ according to your own unique situation. But some of the more common things are: 

  • whether you are employed, the type of work you do and the hours involved 
  • your financial situation  
  • where you live and what your day-to-day environment is like 
  • your family situation and your relationships  
  • how much consistency and structure you had while growing up
  • your physical health and wellbeing.

Routines and anxiety or depression

Thinking about your routines is one way to check in on your mental health.

You might be finding it hard to follow your normal routines. Or you might notice an increase in unhealthy habits. This could mean that your mental health is being challenged. It may also be a symptom of a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression. 

If you do have mild anxiety or depression, having healthy routines can help with the symptoms. 

Learn more about anxiety

Learn more about depression

Benefits of having routines

There are a number of ways that following routines can be good for your mental health. Some benefits include:  

  • reduced levels of stress 

  • better concentration and more energy  

  • improved decision-making 

  • increased confidence and sense of certainty 

  • feelings of security and control 

  • reduced cognitive load (because you don’t have to give as much thought to simple tasks). 

I buy a coffee from my local café every day on my way to work. I sit down and enjoy some time to myself before the day begins.

How to develop and maintain healthy routines

Routines may be simple but that doesn’t mean they are easy to start or keep to. Here are some things that can help:

  • 1. Identify your existing routines 

    Write down a list of the simple tasks or activities you already do each day without much thought. This can reinforce the value of routines and remind you it’s possible – because you’re already doing it.
  • 2. Start small 

    Instead of trying to start several routines at once, think of a simple thing you want to do the same way each day. Once you’re doing that without effort, build on it by adding another.
  • 3. Have a plan 

    Mapping plans is a good way of reminding yourself what you need to do. It doesn’t have to be long term – even just planning out your day is a good start.
  • 4. Make it achievable  

    If you have big goals, break them into smaller tasks and consider what you need to do each day to achieve those. When you can tick things off one-by-one, the larger goal is likely to feel more achievable.
  • 5. Find a daily rhythm 

    Doing something at the same time each day can help you find your daily rhythm. For instance, getting up or eating breakfast at a consistent time can help you start your day on track. And having a set time for something later in the day can work as an anchor to help keep your plans on track.
  • 6. Set limits 

    Identify the things you know can distract you. Then set a realistic limit on how much time and energy you’ll put into those things each day. In this way, limits become part of your routine.
  • 7. Don’t aim for perfection 

    It’s natural to skip or forget your routines from time to time. Don’t dwell on it or abandon your routine completely. Remind yourself why you chose to do it and get back to it the next day.
  • 8. Track your progress 

    Tracking how you’re going with your routine – especially a new one – is a good way to stay accountable. You could try doing this with a calendar, by setting yourself reminders or with a to-do list.
  • 9. Reward yourself 

    Once you’re following a routine consistently, don’t be afraid to reward yourself in some way. It’s good to acknowledge that you achieved what said you would.
  • 10. Recognise unhealthy routines  

    Not all routines are good for your mental health and wellbeing.   

    If a routine you’re following makes you feel unhappy, unhealthy or stressed, it's worth trying to stop. Even reducing how often you do it will help. Try slowly replacing it with something that would be better for you.
Depending on what the routine is and how long you’ve been doing it, this can be hard. Support from a mental health professional can help. And often the best place to start is talking to your GP. 

Learn what different mental health professionals do and how to find mental health services near you.

Supporting other people

You might notice when a loved one becomes more distracted or disorganised than usual. Their normal routines might have changed. They might be missing things you usually do together. Or maybe they are struggling with an unhealthy routine. 

If you’re concerned, it’s worth chatting to them about it.

Get advice on how to talk to someone you're worried about

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