It's fair to say that 2020 hasn't been a very routine year so far. Thanks to the global pandemic, our everyday schedules have been almost entirely thrown out. For some, the prospect of abandoning an established pattern of travelling, working, and socialising in favour of something new and untested was nerve-wracking. For others, the thought of abandoning the daily commute and traditional structure of the working week was a blessing in disguise, with the opportunity to work more comfortably from home (and have an extra hour's lie in) a welcome break from the fast-paced style of living we've become used to. There are definitely pros and cons to having a more relaxed working lifestyle, but lockdown has also given us the time to think about why we value routines in our daily lives, and how we can harness them to live calmer and happier lives.
There's much to be said for building your life on a foundation of routine. For one, routines allow us space to deal with life's struggles and our emotional landscape. Establishing meal times, bed times, and work hours in advance leaves the mind free to dwell and slow down, and keeps our bodies in a regular rhythm.
Psychologist Danielle Kaufman suggests routine is particularly vital for children, who need 'clear boundaries, expectations, and consistency', as they begin to recognise that daily patterns signify security and safety. Making time for fun activities and games as well as school hours or meal times prevents these routines from becoming mundane, and can benefit adults as much as children. Evening routines, for example, are a great way of improving your sleep quality - as the body begins to recognise that the routine precedes going to sleep, it learns to lower levels of cortisol (the body's stress hormone) to make it easier for us to nod off.
In recent months, many of us have attempted to build our own routine at home, making it as similar to our working environments as possible. This might include having lunch breaks at the same time as usual, and keeping work tasks to a different room than the ones used to relax or socialise in. A recent YouGov poll revealed that disruption to daily patterns and a lack of predictability are the main cause of stress for 30% of workers, and almost half of workers are using mindfulness practices to make themselves feel more in control of their lives. The recent upheaval of our regular routines has seen more people than ever make time to practise self-care and look after their wellbeing.
When we return to schools and offices, it might be time to rethink how we approach our routines, and the effects that they have on our mental health. Rather than view the daily regimen as something that confines us and stops us from being carefree or spontaneous, we can look at it as an opportunity to live more calmly and make sure that we aren't sacrificing our wellbeing for the sake of calendars bursting with engagements. Allowing ourselves to work with our body clocks and get up at the same time each morning makes us feel more energised throughout the day; letting ourselves take a regular lunch break rather than eating at our desks gives us time to relax and process the information we've been working with; setting out a couple of evenings per week for relaxing or spending quality time with others helps us to slow down and appreciate our relationships. It's equally important to regularly find time to go outside and reap the benefits of fresh air and green spaces.
Routines, whether they are centred around fitness, meals, work, or social activities, can help us to value our time and reduce our stress levels, making it easier to relax and reap the accompanying health benefits. Even in (or especially in) these unpredictable times, taking the time to check if your routine is really working for you could make the world of difference.