Habits and Routines



At times it can feel like our world is being turned upside down which can lead to feelings of distress and anxiety. This is because often our cause of stress is based on things we have absolutely no control over. We might find ourselves having to make adjustments to our lives and may feel like we are losing control. However, during these times it becomes even more important to focus on “controlling the controllables”. What this means is to create daily habits around things that we can control, which ultimately makes us feel like we are more in control. Coping within unpredictable periods of time can feel more achievable when we have some structure in our lives to turn to. While routines help us to cope with change, they are also beneficial to form healthy habits and to better cope with stress.

Each day we are faced with many decisions to make, which can create the kind of stress that can sneak up on you over time if not dealt with. When presented with a choice, individuals typically pick the option that is the easiest, quickest, and most enjoyable. Unfortunately, these choices often counter most health recommendations and can leave us feeling more stressed. By forming habits and routines, it helps to minimise the number of decisions we need to make each day and this can help to lower our overall stress levels.

Habits are behaviours that are repeated over and over again. While forming habits can take time, the secret to it is repetition. Once a habit becomes part of your normal daily routine, it no longer requires much effort or thought to achieve it. Here are some tips for creating habits in various aspects of your life:

 

Sleep

Having a regular routine can really help to improve our sleep, which then helps us to manage our stress and stay healthy. By having a regular sleep routine, especially if we build in some time to wind down before we go to bed each day, we should begin to find that we find it easier to get to sleep and sleep better once we are asleep.

What to do:

  • Go to bed and get up around the same time each day, aiming for at least 7 hours of sleep per night.
  • 30 minutes before going to bed, perform the same activities each day that help you to relax and unwind to help promote a good night’s sleep. For example, having a shower, reading a book or meditating are all good options.
  • Try setting a reminder alarm on your phone to help you get into the routine of getting ready for bed at the same time each night.

 

Nutrition

When we’re struggling, it can be really hard to plan, cook, and eat a balanced diet. However, food can really affect our health and mood, so it’s important that we try to focus on having good nutrition. Having a plan can help you to maintain a balanced diet despite what might be going on in your life.

What to do:

  • Create a meal plan for some or all meals across the week and do a grocery shop so you have everything you need. This will help to reduce the stress of thinking “What am I/we going to have for tea tonight?” when you get home from a hard day at work and it helps to prevent the need for takeaway options.
  • Try to focus on consuming less processed meals and snacks. Rather, think about foods that incorporate lean protein, plenty of fibre, as well as some healthy fats.
  • When you cook, make extra or do batch cooking on weekends so you have instant, ready to go healthy meals for lunch or dinner throughout the week for when time is poor.
  • Prepare or make your breakfast the night before to reduce the stress of trying to fit everything in during the morning rush. Overnight oats, frozen smoothie bags or individual egg and veggie frittatas can be quick and easy healthy options.
  • Start the day with a big glass of water and aim to include at least 8 glasses each day. Try linking this action with something you already do on a regular basis each day to help make it a habit. For example, consume a glass with each meal/snack, after you have been to the loo, or after you check your emails.

 

Exercise

When life gets hectic, often it’s exercise that is the first thing that gets forgotten about. But really, we should be making time to fit in some regular exercise to help us manage and feel more capable and better equipped to cope with stress. Exercise benefits our bodies in many ways, in particular it helps us to manage stress, sleep better, strengthen our immune system and prevent/manage chronic diseases.

What to do:

  • Make it a goal to move in some way every day. 20-30 minutes of exercise that gets you working at a moderate intensity is ideal.
  • The best way to make exercise a habit is to start with an exercise that is so easy that you can do it even when you are running low on willpower and can't get motivated to work out - something so easy you can’t say no. It's very simple: focus on finding a way to get started in just 2 minutes rather than worrying about your entire workout. Struggling to find motivation to go for a walk? Just try putting on your walking shoes and heading outside. That's all you have to do to consider today's workout a success. Often, this little 2 minute start will be enough to get your motivation flowing and help you finish the task.
  • Try scheduling in your workout, just like you would a doctor’s appointment or meeting. Have a plan for how, when are where you will exercise over the next week. When scheduling your exercise session, do it at a time when you are least likely to have other things going on. For some people, getting up a little earlier to fit it in before work is best as it’s completed before the day gets busy. For others, stopping somewhere on the way home from work or doing something when the kids are in bed is the best time for them. Just make it work for you.
  • Remember that some is better than none when it comes to exercise. Try to focus on how you can incorporate little bouts of movement into your day to help you be more active. Try parking your car further away, taking the stairs where possible, reducing your sitting time.

 

Self Care

When working on building habits and routines, it’s important to factor in time for self care. Self care refers to the things we do to look after our physical, emotional and mental health. This includes time to rest, relax, and have fun. You may find that at times the world and the people in it place greater demands on your time, energy, and emotions than you might feel able to handle. This is precisely why self care is so important. However, it shouldn’t be something that we only turn to when we are feeling stressed, but rather something that we incorporate into our daily lives to maintain positive wellbeing. Although it’s a simple concept in theory, in reality it is something that is often overlooked and seen as indulgent or selfish. But by practising regular self care, we are ultimately being less selfish as we become better able to care for others by caring for ourselves first.

What to do:

  • Try to set aside some time each day to do something that you enjoy and that helps you to relax. It could be sitting outside in the sun with a cuppa and no distractions, listening to music that inspires you as you get ready in the morning, writing a list of things that you are grateful for each day, getting a massage, doing yoga, practising meditation or mindfulness, reading a novel, listening to an interesting podcast, unplugging from social media, taking your dog for a walk, etc.

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