Before the pandemic, most of us had solid daily routines. Maybe you’d start the day with a spin class at your local gym. You’d read on your commute. You’d grab a coffee at your favorite breakfast spot. You’d eat lunch with colleagues, work on exciting projects, and get the kids from soccer practice.
Today, however, these stabilizing, sanity-saving routines have vanished. Which leaves us feeling disoriented and lost, wondering what do I do now? “Many people find that unstructured time triggers anxiety,” says Sheva Rajaee, MFT, founder of The Center for Anxiety and OCD in Irvine, California.
Yet it can feel like your current environment leaves little room for specific plans. Maybe you’re trying to wrangle a bored, overactive toddler and teach their school-aged sibling all while managing email, participating in conference calls, and completing new projects.
Fortunately, we can “establish a routine anywhere at any time,” Rajaee says. So, while this is unprecedented and challenging, it’s also an opportunity to create new routines that nourish and fulfill us. The key is to create anchors in your day, particularly at the beginning and end, where you have the most control and can set the tone for both a good day and a restful sleep.
Here’s how to bookend your day with tiny habits that boost your mood, alleviate your anxiety, and stabilize you.
- Swap your morning news check for a good morning meditation. Because the pandemic is ongoing, it’s tempting to scan the latest updates on your phone. Instead of checking in with anxiety-provoking headlines, check-in with yourself.
- Recite an acceptance mantra to counter negative thoughts and take healthy action: “I accept that my morning is different now, and I will _______.” Fill in the blank with what works for you, whether that’s reading from a religious text, hugging your spouse, or drinking a cup of tea.
- Set an intention for the day. One word or a short phrase—“peace,” “focusing on compassion”—can serve as a guiding light, a reminder to not be reactive. Return to your intention during difficult moments.
- Make your bed before leaving the room, and change into a business-casual outfit or workout clothes (if you’re exercising).
- Add in energizing, endorphin-enhancing movement: Jog in place for 5 minutes or do 50 jumping jacks by yourself or with family. Skype with a friend while you both work out.
- Reflect on one thing you’re fortunate to have. On her daily gratitude list, Alexandra Franzen, a Hawaii-based consultant and author of “The Checklist Book,” has included having Wi-Fi to stay connected with loved ones, library books to read, and access to free fitness videos.
- Sit down and slowly savor your breakfast. Previously, you might’ve grabbed a power bar or shoved a bagel in your mouth as you ran out the door. Make something nourishing with your extra time—and actually taste it.
- Connect with different friends or family at night using Zoom or Facetime. Play charades or board games. If you and a friend have the same hobby—painting, sewing, baking, dancing—do that, too. The only rule is to avoid talking about the pandemic.
- Discuss the “rose, bud, and thorn” of your day around the dinner table: A rose represents what went well; a bud refers to a future activity you’re looking forward to; and a thorn is one thing that didn’t go so well. If you live alone, write this down, or discuss it over the phone with a friend.
- Have a light plan for the next day. Tennessee-based psychologist Jenn Hardy, Ph.D., has started identifying three or four tasks that must be done each day. “[This] helps me feel like I’m making progress, even if that progress is small.”
- Get some much-need fresh air. Sit on your back porch or balcony. Take a walk around the neighborhood (while honoring social distancing). Garden in your front yard. Or simply crack open a window. According to research on 290 million people from 20 different countries, living close to nature is associated with a reduction in blood pressure, heart rate, and stress.
- Stop watching the news and scrolling headlines at least an hour before bed.
- Name one thing you learned today. Maybe you learned that your three-year-old tells the funniest stories, or you discovered some fascinating data for your work report.
- End the day with a self-care moment: Read a calming book of poetry. Journal about your feelings. Take five deep breaths.
- Remind yourself that you are not alone. Like you, millions of people are struggling, trying to do their best, and taking life day by day, moment by moment.
This is a difficult period and it’s rife with possibility. Franzen suggests asking ourselves: What’s one change I’ve wanted to make for a while? “Now is a great time to start.”