Routines are those activities or rhythms that create structure in your day. They include universal tasks around basic needs such as eating and sleeping, but also the activities that reflect your personality or culture, such as how you connect with people or relax and have fun.
We’ve talked about how routine can improve wellbeing and mental health by increasing pleasure and motivation, and by reducing self-critical thinking and ‘decision fatigue’.
However, we know that changing habits can take effort and time, or even seem overwhelming.
That’s why we’re providing some practical advice on building the routines that will work for you and benefit your mental health, one step at a time.
Monitor your daily activities and mood
Before you try to change anything, tracking your daily activities and mood over a period of time can help you understand what makes you feel better, or worse, or might maintain a low mood.
Try recording your daily activities as well as a rating of how you feel after each activity. For example, give yourself a mood rating out of 10, where 0 is ‘low mood’ and 10 is ‘good mood’. A weekly activity chart or mood tracking app like daylio can help you record this.
Doing this over a few weeks or more gives you a lot of information about the habits or activities you may want to increase or decrease to improve your mood.
This might seem like a lot of effort, but research shows that actively recording your mood and how you spend your time works better than trying to do it all in your head.
Tap into your values
Many behaviours that are likely to lift your mood are the ones linked to what is important to you. That’s where values come in.
Values are what you find meaningful in life and guide how you want to treat yourself, others and the world. People tend to feel better when their actions are aligned with their values.
To start identifying your values, you could use a values list, or ask yourself some questions such as:
- What matters to you?
- What gets you excited or inspired?
- When do you feel grateful?
The values you identify are a great way to inform your routines, goals and activities.
For example, if you value relationships and connection, this could point you towards routines around spending time with people you care about, or things that help build new relationships. Or, if you value creativity, you could schedule in some time to work on an art project.
Focus on fun and achievement
When creating routines that support mental health, prioritising fun and achievement is a good plan.
Fun activities are anything that gives you a sense of ‘play’, that you do just for the sake of it. Perhaps a game, hobby or spending time in nature.
If you’re feeling low, you may not experience the same sense of pleasure that you do at times when you are feeling well. But if you keep with it over time, you should find your mood begins to lift.
Achievement activities give you a sense of control over your life, or develop your skills in some way. This could be paying a bill, practicing an instrument or new sport, or doing housework.
Schedule in routines
Brainstorming activities that you identify as ‘mood-lifting’, meaningful, fun or achievement focused can give you ideas on the routines you want to build up.
You can then start planning some of these into your calendar or diary, including when you will do it, where and for how long. Planning specific details to do with the activity actually makes it more likely you will follow through with it.
Try giving scheduling a go even if you don’t feel like it, you might be surprised at the results.
It will also help to start and persist with an activity you’ve scheduled regardless of whether you feel like it or not. If you are struggling or feeling low, it may be that your mood tells you to withdraw or avoid, but in fact taking part in the activity could lift your mood in the long-term. Some people call this ‘action before motivation’.
If you want to learn to swim, you don’t jump in the deep end. You gradually build up your confidence in the water with support until you can swim laps. If you try to create big change or take on activities that are too much, you can end up feeling disappointed or like there’s no point.
Here’s what can help:
- Start with 2-3 of the easiest activities you’ve identified, and schedule them at realistic times to complete them.
- Use ‘achievable and measurable’ as your mantra. For example, aiming to pay one bill rather than addressing your whole budget may be more achievable. It will also be easier to know when you’ve completed this task and can reward yourself.
- Set a time limit for some activities – scheduling in 5 minutes of reading time might be more achievable than setting yourself a whole chapter.
Check in with your progress
As you start to plan and take on new routines, it can be beneficial to keep tracking your mood for at least a few weeks. This will help you observe if there are any small improvements in mood over time compared to when you first started monitoring how you feel.
We hope this gives you the tools to gradually build new habits that benefit your mood and mental health. It’s normal for there to be challenges, so remember to be kind to yourself when things don’t go as planned and reward yourself when you complete a new activity!
And remember, connecting with others who are doing similar activities or with a counsellor or therapist can also be great supports for building new habits.
You can do this!
Where to from here?
- New here? Register here to join our safe and anonymous online Forums community to connect with others.
- Join the conversation! Let us know that one thing you do regularly to help your mental health and make your day that bit brighter in the comments below.
Behavioural strategies for managing & preventing depression
Back from the Bluez – behavioural strategies for managing depression
Behavioural activation for depression
Arlinghaus, K.R, & Johnson, C.A. (2019). The importance of creating habits and routine. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 13(2), 142-144.
Mazzucchelli, T.G., Kante, R.T., & Rees, C.S. (2010). Behavioural activation interventions for well-being: a meta-analysis. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(2), 105-121.
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