The Magic of the Mundane

Hand holding a pen, writing in a planner as if creating a daily routine

How Routines Can Reduce Stress

Most parents have a love/hate relationship with back-to-school time. On the one hand, we know we’ll miss having our kids at home, and we’ll miss our calm, quiet mornings with no rush to get everyone out the door on time. On the other hand, the children are driving us crazy, haven’t gotten out of their pajamas in days, and are 90% feral by the end of summer.

Even if you don’t have kids in school, this is the perfect time of year for a reset to your routine. Whether you’re naturally a creature of habit or prefer to spend more time flying by the seat of your pants, you can benefit from sticking to a routine.

1. Routines Can Set You Up for Success

Routines are actions that have become such a habit, we barely have to think about them. When was the last time you spent any thought on brushing your teeth or washing your makeup off at night? It’s just something you do while your mind wanders elsewhere.

According to an article published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, “Family routines have been linked to the development of social skills and academic success, and adherence to family routines has been identified as important for family resilience during times of crisis.”

Routines also make it easier to follow wellness habits. Think of some of the healthiest people you know. They likely follow a daily routine: exercising at the same time, going to bed at the same time, eating the same meals frequently. Having to spend mental energy each day figuring out what time you’ll hit the gym or what you’ll eat for lunch can cause just enough resistance to keep you from making good choices.

This helps explain why I’m able to consistently exercise every morning… and also why I end up having a bag of Skinny Pop and a chocolate chip cookie for lunch way more often than I should. Early morning workouts have become routine for me over the years – I barely even think about throwing on my running shoes and heading out. Meal planning? Very much a work in progress. Or – more truthfully – a work with zero progress.

“Think of routines as life’s GPS,” says Kim Lyons, celebrity fitness and nutrition coach. “They are there to keep us on track, prevent wrong turns, and help us reach our destination even when the road gets bumpy. Creating small routines throughout the day allows us to get back on track when needed.”

2. Routines Can Reduce Stress and Improve Quality of Life

Routines help simplify our lives. This is a great way to reduce stress, which can have huge benefits for our physical and mental health. Stress affects everything from our hormones to our gastrointestinal system, immune system, and reproductive system. It can lead to increased belly fat, heartburn, and sleepless nights.

Stress can also affect our skin through the Brain-Skin Connection. This refers to the link between our emotions and our skin’s physiology. Research has shown that stress can reduce skin barrier function, cause outbreaks, and even increase signs of aging. Letting routines reduce our stress can have a big impact on our health.

Freeing up brain space with established routines not only reduces stress, but also makes it easier for us to focus on more important things. That extra mental energy may be just what you need to start learning Italian like you’ve always wanted to or taking that online course you’ve been eyeing for years. Routines can even provide more time for things like self-care, dinner with loved ones, or a long bath with a good book.

3. Routines Can Improve Mental Health

Routines are often used to help treat mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, as well as to treat addiction. Why? A Tel Aviv University study found that humans have developed rituals to help manage stress and create feelings of calm. People seeking help for anxiety are often counseled to create healthy routines they stick to each day to help reduce stress.

Routines can even help overcome addiction. According to the National Institutes of Health, “One way to kick bad habits is to actively replace unhealthy routines with new, healthy ones. Some people find they can replace a bad habit, even drug addiction, with another behavior, like exercising.”

How Do You Create a Routine?

First, pick one thing you want to add or change in your life, write it down, and then get specific. Need more time for self-care? Choose the activity you want to start doing, and pick a time to make it happen: nightly baths, a 10-minute morning meditation, adding hyaluronic acid to your skincare routine every evening.

Want to eat healthier? Your new routine could include meal prepping every Sunday afternoon. Just remember to start simple. Attempting to revamp every meal, every single day, will likely feel too overwhelming and lead to failure. Start small by meal prepping 3 of your lunches for the week rather than eating out. Once that becomes routine, add breakfast prep to your Sunday session. For more help with setting and achieving goals, check out this article.

How Long Does It Take to Develop a Routine?

Unfortunately, there are no clear-cut answers. Much like developing a new habit, creating a lasting routine varies from person to person. A UK study examined this using a group of 96 volunteers who worked to create a new habit. The outcome? It took participants between 18-254 days to really feel like their new behavior had become a habit.

Admittedly, the 254 days thing can seem a little daunting. But think of it in a positive light. If you’re working towards a routine and don’t feel like you’ve nailed it within a week, you’re normal. Keep going! Whether it takes 2 weeks or 250 days, the results will be worth it.

And there’s more good news from this study. According to the study’s authors, “Missing one opportunity to perform the behaviour did not materially affect the habit formation process.” So, if you miss a day, don’t panic – you’re not doomed to failure. Get back to working toward your goal the next day and wait to see the magic that those sometimes mundane-seeming routines can work in your life.

Relaxed, light-skinned mother smiles as she receives a hug and kiss from her young daughter