Today’s tip, which I hope you’ll implement right away because it gives you some stability which can be deeply calming, is to develop a routine for yourself and the people in your household.
Why? Because during uncertain times a daily routine helps your mind find rest.
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Finding Peace When ‘Normal’ Life Is On Hold
I lived in New York City during the blackout, which lasted three days. The first evening of the blackout was a total party. Restaurants and bars lit candles and tried to serve as much food as they could so it wouldn’t go bad without electricity to power the refrigerators. The next day was a lot quieter as there wasn’t really anywhere to go. Workplaces and businesses were closed. And it was hot as blazes outside. That day and the next, everyone in my giant apartment building were home, cleaning and de-cluttering.
By the third day, I and everyone else I knew was starting to go stir crazy. That third evening, the power came back on. That was only three days, and it got old pretty fast. So I wanted to do some episodes around how to make peace with the fact that normal life is on hold and may be for quite a while. We just don’t know how long the threat will last. And that uncertainty will surely only add to our angst.
So for today and each day this week, I’ll share one thing you can do to make the time at home a little more manageable and less stressful. Remember we are in this together. And we’ll get through it together too.
I know developing a routine may not sound like a desirable thing…
It may sound like “boring” or “tedious” to your ears. But when you develop a routine it gives you structure, and structure gives you stability. It’s like the game, Jenga—the more wooden blocks you take away, the less structure your tower has, and the more likely it becomes to completely topple over.
You already have routines whether you call them that or not —I’m guessing you brush your teeth in the exact same way every day, for example, or take a certain route to work every day, when you’re not quarantined, that is. This is just expanding on that idea and applying it to how you spend your time during the day.
Having a routine for things like sleeping and eating have been shown to help by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine to help keep bipolar patients in a healthier zone. It even has a fancy scientific name—Social rhythm therapy, is all about making the body’s internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, more stable, which makes every other part of your being more stable, too.
Better sleep also means better immunity, and that’s a pretty important thing for all of us to have working really well right now.
If you have kids at home, the need to develop a routine is even bigger.
It’s so easy to treat this time at home like a free-for-all and just let everyone do what they want when they want but it doesn’t take long for that to go off the rails—bedtime creeps later, which means less sleep, which in addition to lower immunity also means more crankiness and bad moods.
We all still need basic care and feeding, which means meals, cleaning up, and movement. Establishing a daily schedule of when you’ll do what helps you and everyone you live with take care of what needs taking care of while still having time to chill. Because even though we’re quarantined, many of us still have work to get done. And even though schools are closed, kids still have lessons to do. If you just leave it up to chance when you’ll work and when you’ll rest, well, it’s a crap shoot.
Once you’ve created that daily schedule you just have to follow it
That means you make fewer decisions, which reduces your cognitive load. It should also help reduce any nagging or power struggles in your house if you’re home with kids—it’s not you being the boss of them, it’s just the schedule. It neutralizes those discussions of what they should be doing.
Kids will be even more inclined to honor the schedule if you include them in the making of it. When you develop a routine, like anything, will go down a lot easier when you have some say in it.
Things that deserve a slot in your daily routine:
A start time for your day
Meals, including prep and clean up
Important work time, for kids this is academic time,
Less important work time, for kids this might be chore time, you can be interrupted, play music. for you it might be stuff around the house or things like paying bills or filling out expense reports or invoices.
Fresh air time—this is a great time to talk with friends and family, either because you go on a walk together or go running through the cemetery or you bring your headset and call a friend who lives far away.
Veg out time—this is when you watch something mindless
Of course, you can set up a schedule only to find that it doesn’t really jibe with your reality but that’s completely OK; you can just tweak it to be a better fit for your reality.
You want to give each activity a time slot
Like, say, 9 -9:30 for breakfast and cleanup, 9:30 – 10 for movement time (like a walk or home workout), 10 – 12 for academic time, 12 – 1 for lunch and down time, 1-3 for less important work time, 3-4 creative time, 4-5 outside time 5-6 for dinner, and 6-8 for chill time, and then 8 that bedtime routine starts for kids–there may be another slot after that for you to read or do whatever you like to do in the hour or so before you go to bed. Whatever schedule you hash out, write down or print it out and hang it up where you and everyone else in your household can see it.
If that gets a little too granular for you, take inspiration from the poet William Blake, who wrote:
Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.
And think about it…
This is actually a really cool opportunity to build some structures and habits around doing the things that are important for you that might have gotten lost in the shuffle when life was barreling forward normally before this virus broke out when you develop a routine. I mean, how great would it be, going forward, to know that you’ve got a regular creative habit and the time to pursue it? Or that you got used to regular movement time in the morning?
I definitely believe that every tough situation has a lesson and an opportunity in it-—social distancing is an opportunity for us to rediscover how we like to spend our time when we’re not running around all over the place. I hope we all learn some things that we carry over once life gets back to normal—and it will. We don’t know how long it will take, but we know that it will. So let’s spend the time that we have until that point doing the things that matter.
Tomorrow we’ll build on this idea of routine talk about how to be productive during those work times while you’re quarantined.