How A Good Routine Can Support Your Mental Health

by | May 13, 2023 | Treatments

Medical Review by Chris Palmer, MD

routines for mental healthThe primary tenet of the Brain Energy theory is that the health of your mitochondria directly impacts your mental health. If your mitochondria are damaged in some way, such as through drug or alcohol use, lack of sleep, nutritional deficiency, viral infection, trauma, or stress, your mental wellness may suffer or decline. 

It’s important, therefore, to make healthy lifestyle choices around sleep, diet, exercise, community, and connection with others, so you can help support the proper functioning of your mitochondria. 

One simple way to stay on track with your healthy lifestyle is to establish a routine. Routines can be helpful in reducing stress, improving time management, and creating a sense of structure and predictability in daily life. They can also help to promote self-discipline and self-control.

And while many people recognize the role that routine can play in general health and well-being, it’s also been found to play a role in serious mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder and addictionrelated behaviors.

In this article, we’ll dive into the importance of routines for mental health and mitochondrial health, how to establish and maintain a routine, and a few simple steps to get you started in setting up a routine that’s right for you. 

 

What is a routine and how can it help mental health?

A routine is anything you do on a consistent basis. For example, part of your routine may involve brushing your teeth every morning or going on a walk with your dog after work. 

While each person’s routine varies depending on their life circumstances, all routines are connected by their ability to provide a sense of consistency and stability. 

 

Routines can positively affect mental health in multiple ways:

  • They reduce decision fatigue and anxiety by focusing your mind on consistent tasks while providing a sense of accomplishment and structure.
  • They establish positive habits and reduce the likelihood of impulsive behavior
  • They can increase resilience by allowing us to follow through with daily and monthly tasks 
  • And they help us develop healthy coping mechanisms for stressful situations.

 

How to establish and maintain a routine:

Establishing a routine can be challenging when you’re first starting out, but there are several strategies that can help you create a routine that’s right for you:

  • Identify tasks that are your top priorities. Before you start to change your routine, you’ll want to identify the most important tasks that you need to do on a daily or weekly basis. This includes important tasks like meetings, appointments with your therapist, and regular times to take any medications. Identifying these high-priority tasks is a vital first step so you can schedule your activities and routines around them. 
  • Start small. It can be overwhelming to try to change all your habits at once, so, when you’re changing your routine, you may want  to start small and focus on changing one habit at a time. Maybe you start going to bed 15 minutes earlier, reducing sugar from your meals, or going for a quick 10-minute walk after lunch. It doesn’t have to be a huge change to be a significant change. And, by focusing on one change at a time, you’ll reduce the likelihood of getting overwhelmed and will increase your chances of creating a routine that sticks. 
  • Flexibility is key. While being consistent is important, it’s also essential to be flexible and adjust your routine as your life circumstances change. Being adaptable and changing your routine with your life circumstances is more important than being perfect.

 

Use routines as a window into your mental health. Sometimes, if you’re struggling with your mental health, you may notice your self-care routine start to slip. You might stop taking a shower, brushing your teeth, taking your dog for a walk, or getting to bed on time. This is where your routines become a window into your mental state. Not being able to attend to your self-care routines can be a hint that you might need some extra outside support as you move through this season of your life. Perhaps you schedule an extra therapy session or get some support from your social community. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your team and ask for help if you start to notice your routines are slipping.

 

What routines should I focus on?

If you’re just getting started on building a self-care routine, you may be wondering, “Where in the world do I even start?”

Great question! Here are a few areas you can focus on that will help you start to build the routine that’s right for you:

 

  1. Regular exercise: Exercise is a great way to boost mood, reduce anxiety, and improve overall mental health. And while some people like to go to the gym and pump iron, exercise doesn’t have to involve going to a gym. You may enjoy playing basketball, going on a bike ride, or rollerblading around your neighborhood.  If you’re just starting out, integrating movement into something you already do, like going for a walk while you listen to podcasts or catching up with friends on a hike in the park, can make exercise easier to stick to. 
  2. Mindfulness practice: Incorporating some type of mindfulness practice into a daily routine (meditation, prayer, yoga, breathing, etc.) can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep, and enhance self-awareness. Setting aside a specific time each day, such as while your coffee is brewing in the morning or right before you go to bed, to breathe or meditate can help establish mindfulness as a part of your day-to-day life.
  3. Cooking and eating nourishing food: Planning and preparing meals at home instead of ordering fast food is a great way to improve your diet. Focus on real food, not processed or packaged food. Be sure to include protein and natural fats (not vegetable/seed oils), and avoid sugar. This will help you get the nutrients that support your mitochondria. 
  4. Social connection: Humans are social creatures. Establishing routines for socializing, such as scheduling weekly phone or video chats with friends or participating in a group sport or activity, can help provide a sense of community and support.
  5. Creative expression: Engaging in creative activities, such as writing, painting, dancing, or playing music, can support mental health by providing an outlet for emotions and promoting self-expression. Scheduling a weekly or even daily time to create will allow you to express and normalize your emotions. 

 

These are just a few examples of activities you can build into your routine that will support mental health. The key is to find activities that you enjoy and that promote a sense of well-being. Creating  a routine around what you already love to do will make the routine sustainable and will help move you toward a happier, healthier life.

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Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only and is not medical advice. You should consult with your healthcare provider before starting any treatments for any medical conditions. 

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