In This Post: To help manage both anxiety and depression, I use this simple process to add structure to my day and develop a daily routine for mental health.
Please note, I am simply my personal experience on what works best for me. I am not a medical or mental health professional. The intent of this site, article, and subsequent programs is not to give medical advice, but to raise awareness and support around the importance of mental health. If you are struggling or know someone who needs help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.
Over the past few weeks, traffic for Structuring Your Daily Routine to Promote Strong Mental Health has soared. This post was written as a guest post for The Gem by Petra Monaco nearly 4 years ago! Recently, it’s been the most-read post nearly every day. So, I thought it would be helpful to share a few of the specific steps I’ve used to help create my daily routine for mental health.
Developing a Routine That Will Work for You
Personally, I think the first part of any daily routine is self-awareness. This is what most people skip over when they try to establish a daily routine. Implementing a routine shouldn’t feel like a punishment. It’s about exploration and figuring out what works best for your mind and well being. It’s an opportunity to learn more about yourself and more about your mental space (which I believe eventually gives you more control over your mental health).
Step 1: Create a Diary of Your Days
Before deciding on a new routine for yourself, I suggest taking a week to keep a diary of your days. You can do this on your phone or paper, whatever works for you! Anytime I find myself falling into a funk, I make sure to do this! It’s what helps me re-strategize my daily routine (or implement a new one completely) to get back on track.
Here are some things to consider:
- Write down what time you go up – Did you get up at 7 am? How did that feel? Write down how you felt on the days you woke up at 11 am, too.
- Was there anything that made you feel energized? – Things like reading a few chapters in a book, working out, going outside, etc.
- What made you feel drained and depleted? – Ex: interacting with certain people, getting lost in news articles on Facebook.
- What time did you go to bed?
- Was there anything that you accomplished?
- When did you have the most energy? How about the most focus?
- How did your levels of energy/motivation/stress change throughout the day?
- What worked?
Whenever I take a week to diary this, I like to change up my days and experiment. Sometimes, I let what I feel like doing run the entire day. Other days, I try getting everything I don’t want to do out of the way first to see what that feels like. Sometimes I work out first. Other days I work out later in the day. I like to play around with different approaches so that I get a better idea of what type of routine might work for me currently. Again, be sure to note the results of your attempts. For example, doing whatever I feel like doing in the moment feels good, but at the end of the day, it can lead to more stress when there are still a lot of things I “have to do” leftover.
This is REALLY important…
It’s important to be objective here. Only write down the facts and then let them go. So, once you jot down “woke up at 11 am – feeling frustrated because I wanted to be up and out of bed by 8 am” and then let that thought pass. This isn’t an exercise to judge, criticize, dwell on, or beat yourself up over what you did or didn’t do. Awareness is a huge accomplishment on its own and criticizing your findings doesn’t leave much motivation left for making adjustments.
Step 2: Look for Patterns
Now that you have this data from your week, what trends do you notice?
Did you feel better on the days you woke up at 11 am? Great. Maybe you decide that sleeping in is necessary for you to go about the rest of your day. Did you feel inspired every time you read a few chapters in a book? Maybe you start your day off by reading for 15 minutes each morning. Did you have an easier time falling asleep whenever you watched something before bed? Did you feel reenergized every time you took an afternoon nap? Cool. Perhaps you implement napping for 30 minutes every day at noon. Did you realize you tend to feel less anxious at night compared to in the morning? Maybe you tackle tasks that you can handle alongside of your anxiety in the morning and then use the evening for tasks that require more focus.
Even the days that you accomplish literally nothing have moments to learn from. In fact, it might have been that day of rest that helped you get something accomplished the next day, so maybe you dedicate one day of the week to do nothing. One day to refresh, rejuvenate, and restore.
My Daily Routine Examples:
Up until a few weeks ago, I was doing a great job of following my ideal daily routine. I would set my alarm for 6 am, get out of bed by 6:30 am, and then jump into work. I’ve always felt like I was mostly a morning person, so this worked for me. I would spend a few hours of the morning working. Then, I’d head to a late morning or early afternoon work out class. After I got back, I’d shower, check a non work related thing(s) off my to-do list (like cleaning the bathroom or taking care of a phone call). Next, I’d give my mind a break by reading for a little bit or watching an episode of a show before working for a few more hours. I’d leave the evenings open for whatever came up. Most of the time that meant continuing to work or packing for my upcoming move.
And then this happened…
I was on a roll. It felt like I was getting a lot accomplished with my days while also leaving myself some flexibility. I love those moments when I feel like I’ve already accomplished a lot and I look over and it’s only 10 am. However, when the intensity and changes of COVID-19 hit, this became much harder to maintain, even though I was already working from home before it happened. It was SO hard to find that same motivation and mental energy in the morning. Even on the days when I got up at 6 am, my mind just couldn’t get on board with working. After a few weeks of trying (and failing) to maintain my previous routine, I decided I needed to take a week to diary what my days had been like.
The Power of a Routine
After I did this activity recently, I noticed I felt the best when I woke up at 7 am. I also realized that I felt the most energized and capable when I started my day with a workout. So, now instead of working first thing, I take a virtual yoga class. Or, if I don’t feel like I can handle an hour that day, I do a shorter workout (I’ve been enjoying the Melissa Wood Health workouts lately!). Unexpectedly, through my diary, I also discovered a pattern that I have the most mental energy in the late afternoon right now. So, after I work out, I have breakfast and get a shower. Then, I try to cross a few random things off my to-do list, clean things around the house, or take care of smaller, less mentally taxing work/business tasks. I still like my mid-afternoon hour to read or watch TV, but after that, I get down to business. Because of the adjustments I’ve made to my routine, I’ve been able to write and publish FOUR blog posts this week. I can’t even remember the last time that happened!
Different Routines for Different Days
I do watch my niece a few days a week and it’s surprising that when I know she’s coming over, I am able to uphold the morning portion of my previous routine. I get up early to get some work out of the way before she gets here. Once she’s here, we play and have breakfast. Around 10:30 am, I do yoga in the room where all her toys are – I love this time of day! She learns to play independently while we’re still spending time together and she’ll even join in on a few poses, too! Then, while she naps, I take a shower, clean things up a bit, and attempt to fit some more work in. After she gets up from her nap, I just let the rest of the day unfold naturally. I think it’s easier to work first thing on those mornings because I enjoy feeling like I can be in the moment with her the rest of the day without stressing about what else I still have to do.
The Important of a Daily Routine
There are so many factors that contribute to how we’re feeling each day. Ultimately, developing your daily routine for mental health is about finding what works for you so that you can give yourself some more grace in the moments when it feels like things fall apart. We often can’t change the moments we feel unmotivated, drained, anxious, overwhelmed, or depressed. However, we can work on coming up with strategies to work with these moments instead of constantly fighting against them. That’s exactly what happens when you use this method to create your daily routine!