Now that I’m working from home, I find a lot of my routines are failing, from going to bed and getting up on time, to exercise and eating healthy, and even some traditional, personal hygiene. Not to mention keeping up on the little things that used to be part of work commute. What are your suggestions for rebuilding and maintaining routines right now?
Let me first say, you are not alone in this. The state of the world is in constant flux right now, and the routines that worked before won't always function in this new reality; they were built for a world that no longer exists. At the same time, building brand new routines is a challenge while the world continues to transform around us. Half-completed projects suddenly feel disconnected from the moment, old priorities now seem silly and antiquated. It takes time to adjust, and will likely take even more time to feel grounded again, so I encourage self-compassion and patience.
In some ways, a sense of impending doom permeates every attempt to reconstruct our old habits or build new habits. The ground continues to shift under our feet, with little reprieve. Right now, many people—even those who do not suffer from anxiety or depression—are spiraling.
You are not alone in this. In light of our new reality, rebuilding and maintaining routines need to be paired with re-imagining. We each have different brains that require varying degrees of structure and predictability. Some thrive with open-ended schedules and little-to-no planning, but many of us benefit from something more concrete. Fixed routines and familiar patterns provide a stable base we can cling to when the outside world feels chaotic. And boy, does it ever feel chaotic!
The search for peace in all of this starts with accepting the dynamic nature of the moment. Many things are outside your ability to change, and that's okay. As you increasingly accept your lack of control on the macro level, it will relieve the pressure you are putting on your personal-level decisions. Skyscrapers are built to slightly sway in the wind, not rigidly stand against it, and the more you can acclimate to the motion, the more you can focus on the goals you have inside the building.
At the largest scale right now, we're witnessing many people make selfish choices that harm others. Simultaneously, we're seeing so much potential for a better, more compassionate world, possibilities we can see clearly as they sail right past us. All of this is infuriating.
It translates to nights like this: You are tired, but you feel like you should be doing more to help. You aren't sure which issue to combat first or where to begin, so you try to figure it out by picking up your phone and "catching up," which escalates to doomscrolling.
Or perhaps this: You finish your job for the day and want to relax with a movie or a game, but something stops you. You feel like you haven't earned it. After all, you didn't exercise today, and the house still needs some cleaning. Unable to decide the right way to "earn" your downtime, you do nothing as your brain traces through all the things you should be doing—usually for longer than you'd have invested in the movie or the game.
Or even: You want a solid night of sleep, but your brain is overrun as you try to process everything happening in the world. You lie awake, your brain races; the "Sunday Scaries" have become the "Every Day Scaries."
And none of those examples come close to capturing the experience of those who are overwhelmed just trying to keep themselves and their vulnerable loved ones safe. It's reasonable to pare down to just the essentials of what you can handle.
Reconciling everything happening right now is exhausting, and in many ways, it's unhealthy. The nature of this moment is overwhelming. But there's a certain point when our anger and our desire to keep track of everything isn't serving us. That doesn't mean the impulses are unwarranted, but rather that we need to make peace with them to overcome paralysis.
Again, this is where self-kindness is crucial. Even though we all have a responsibility to learn and grow, you are allowed to tune out from time to time. Similar to rest days in an exercise regimen that allow for muscle growth, our brains need rest and play to process what we've learned. So go ahead and watch a movie rather than follow the latest trending topics. Play a game instead of looking around at the unfinished tasks. Show up for yourself, then you can show up for others; don't forget your own oxygen mask comes first. The fight will still be there when you return refreshed.
As you start to build new priorities and routines, think about what you need as well as the world you want to live in. What are the most important issues to you? Where do you feel you have the capacity to do the most good? Don't forget to include time to recharge as part of your new goals, including sleep. If you are prone to nighttime doomscrolling, actually try the cliche advice of putting electronics away an hour before bed.
Start small, with one or two manageable goals per day. When you achieve those goals, praise yourself. If you go to bed praising yourself for what you have done, you will rest better than if you go to bed admonishing yourself for failing to meet an impossibly high standard in the middle of a crisis. This is all a very long way of saying this: We can use this time without maximizing it.
Remember, the brain takes weeks to fully absorb a new habit, and some brains require even more time. We're all starting a bit from scratch right now, and it's going to be rocky at times. But the hardest step to building a new routine is the first one. The next step is easier, and the following on easier still. Take comfort in that.
As we live our values, practice healthy self-care, and help our communities in whatever ways we can, we're going to find a better flow through these times. The ground will continue to change under our feet, but if we can keep our brains away from the metaphoric (and sometimes literal) Elder Doomscrolls, we're going to come out the other side better, individually and as a whole.
As always, you can send your quandaries to [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you!