Combat Stress with Routines

Routines may sound boring at first, but research shows they’re actually able to ease our stress and help us relax. Good routines ultimately enable us to make fewer decisions, free our creativity, and strengthen healthy habits.

The focus of National Stress Awareness Month this April is “Back to Basics.” Try some of these ideas to help create basic routines to ease stress in your daily life.

Make fewer decisions

It turns out that making decisions is stressful. It’s worth putting in the extra effort to make important decisions — like what job to accept or whom to marry — but some scholars estimate that the average person makes 35,000 decisions each day. 

Should you get up or hit the snooze alarm? What brand of toothpaste will you choose? Will you exercise first thing, and if so, will you go for a walk or hit the gym? What should you wear? What will you eat for breakfast? Can you have another cup of coffee? Should you play Wordle or watch the news?

These aren’t earth-shattering decisions, but they can wear you out without your even realizing it. Developing a simple morning routine can start your day off peacefully. 

Start by reducing decisions around a few things. Here are some examples:

  • Choose a healthy breakfast and fix it every day. Let Saturday or Sunday be a chance for creativity at breakfast time. 
  • Make your morning exercise a “No Decision” habit — every day when you get up, put on your running shoes and hit the road.
  • Choose your clothes the night before and lay them out for the morning.
  • Put all the items for your morning skincare or haircare routines into a single drawer in the bathroom so you don’t need to search for them.

Free your creativity

Routine work doesn’t sound appealing. It sounds boring, in fact. But the truth is that work routines free your mind for creativity. 

Developing work routines like starting your work day with a cup of tea or cleaning off your desk at the end of the day reduce anxiety and can become enjoyable, centering rituals.

Build breaks and movement into your day as well. If you’re still working from home, check your social media during a coffee break or set a time for Alexa to remind you to step outside for a walk. If you are returning to work after working from home, forming routines can help make the transition less stressful. 

Reinforce healthy habits

Just having a routine has positive effects on mental health. But healthy habits that benefit your physical health also can reduce anxiety. 

Regular exercise can improve your mood, and it is good for your body in myriad ways, from strengthening your heart to reducing the risk of cancer. Schedule 30 minutes a day for cardio and get multiple benefits.

Routines about eating and cooking can make it much easier to eat in a healthier way. Sometimes we have bad eating habits, like wandering into the kitchen when we get home from work and grabbing anything that looks good, then grazing throughout the evening instead of sitting down to a balanced dinner. Turn that around by planning meals on Sunday, cooking together as a family, or relying on meal delivery services.

A regular bedtime and a relaxing pre-bed routine can help you get more sleep, another piece of the puzzle when it comes to staying healthy and coping with stress. 

When you need help

One of the messages of Stress Awareness Month is that it’s okay to get help when you need it. Many people hesitate to ask for support when they’re stressed, but the support of your family, your community, and your care team can make all the difference.

Mental Health America has online mental health screenings that can help you decide whether you need to talk with a psychologist or psychiatrist.