May 14, 2020

How Daily Routines Get Us Through Hard Times

When big changes happen, they tend to create a “new normal” in their wake. Whether positive or negative, a big change like having a baby, losing a job (pandemic-related or not), or moving to a new place shakes up your daily schedule and changes your priorities. In changing times, you may lose sleep, miss quality time with family, or carry financial stress that you aren’t used to.

But even when times are tough and things are changing, there are steps you can take to help give yourself or your family something to hang on to in the chaos. The structure of a daily routine can have surprising mental health benefits in difficult times.

“It is important to keep a routine, in general, because it keeps you grounded, especially having a solid sleeping routine,” said Lori Perez, licensed clinical social worker at Family and Children’s Services. “When we experience anxiety or depression, we want to sleep too much or we end up not sleeping enough. You’ll see your anxiety or depression increase because you’ve taken away the normal things in your life.”

Disruption without Direction

Whether you’re working from home or looking for work right now, routines are probably being disrupted. Perez said that over time, the lack of routine can translate into a mentality that you don’t have goals for the day or for tomorrow. When the days start to blur together, it’s harder to have a sense of direction or progress.

“If you feel depression creeping in, start with even a small goal of keeping things regular – like going to bed at a decent time or getting up at a normal time,” Perez said. “Set a goal to take a shower, even if that’s all you do.”

She said taking control of your routine, even if its over small things in your life at your home, will make you feel better about your situation.

“The things you can have control over will make you feel better,” she said. “Take control of what you can. Our normal may be a new normal, and that can be scary. Having a routine helps with that.”

Get Back to the Basics

Return to the activities you found relaxation and stress-relief in before, as these things can still lower your stress now. Perez says that people’s usual coping skills are often abandoned during a crisis because they don’t seem as important. But these same coping activities are some of the first things to be recommended by mental health professionals when people seek out help for crisis-related anxiety or depression.

“We may not be able to participate in the coping activities we had before this in the exact same way – like an exercise class or recovery group,” she said. “But find some kind of replacement for that. Find a Zoom exercise class. Join a digital Zoom AA class. Find something like that because we know even if you haven’t experienced anxiety or depression but you have used coping skills to cheer yourself up – like talking a walk, playing with your dog — those things will help now. And all that makes you feel more in control. Even if you haven’t realized those are coping skills, you can realize now that you are choosing to make your life better and that you are in control of it.”

Taking simple steps like keeping a regular sleep schedule, taking walks, or even calling friends and family to talk can add up to a new routine, giving you a sense of control over part of your life, even if other things seem out of your hands.

Coping with COVID-19

Perez said people in the Tulsa area (and around the world) are experiencing an anticipatory grief, and we should allow ourselves to experience all the emotions that we feel right now.

“Give yourself the space to feel the feelings and acknowledge that this is a big, huge deal,” she said. “We are all experiencing a grief over this because it is a loss of a life that we knew. When you have a loss of anything, it’s grief. And you must treat it is as such. You must give yourself space to go through those feelings. There is not reason to discount what you feel, because collectively we are all feeling grief.

“This anticipatory grief – we don’t know what the future holds. It’s a very unsettling grief. You know something is coming, but you don’t know what it is. You have to acknowledge, ‘I don’t know what is coming, I can’t learn enough information to know what the future will hold.”

But, you can cope. You can create routines. You can return to the activities – even modified – that bring you joy and lower your stress.

A Digital Coach for Getting Back on Track

Family and Children’s Services has a wonderful app on their website that offers resources to cope with isolation, fear, frustration, anxiety and depression, especially in relation to COVID-19. The app has been made free during this time to give people a hand with getting better sleep or developing more coping skills.

If you’re looking for more immediate help, Tulsa County offers COPES, a 24-hour hotline to help anyone with thoughts of hurting themselves or suicide. Call 1-918-744-4800 for emotional support or any kind of stress you may be experiencing.

Perez said to remember we are all doing what we can to get through this.

“Remind yourself: I am controlling the things I can control right now,” she said. “I am doing all I can.”