Building a Routine Saved My Mental Health

Building a consistent and doable routine has helped me lead a happier life.

Feb 03, 2023

Building a Routine Saved My Mental Health

Building a consistent and doable routine has saved my mental health. It’s the one thing I can credit for having my sh*t together. This month, it’s been my crutch to manage everything I’ve had to do and maintain control of my anxiety. But, until I was talking about getting so much done over lunch with my mom earlier this week, I actually never noticed how impactful and freeing a routine has been on my life. 

Five years ago, I would’ve never thought “freeing” and “routine” belonged in the same sentence. I was adjuncting, and my schedule was all over the place. One semester, I was teaching a class until 9:50 pm on Monday a 40-minute drive one way and had an 8:00 am class first thing Tuesday morning a 40-minute drive in the opposite direction. I was only in class about 20 hours a week, but my out-of-class workload was immense. With driving, grading, and regular class preparation, I was working at least 50 hours a week including in-class time. I was stressed out, but I felt free because I wasn’t “trapped” in the normal 8-5 grind. 

Now, I realize how wrong I was. At my current job, my schedule allows me to have a three-day weekend every other week. My workday starts and ends at the same time each day making it easy to make plans. I have great benefits. Most importantly, I’ve made a routine around work that prioritizes my mental health. My day-to-day routine outside of work has two core components:

  1. Self-care activities
  2. Unyielding responsibilities

My routine is organized to prioritize my core self-care activities, which includes exercise, reading, and one productive personal activity, like writing this blog post or working on my data analytics class. Sometimes I don’t spend more than 30 minutes on any one of these self-care activities, but I’ve done enough of each item to bring me joy. 

My daily routine might be more accurately described as being prioritized around my joy. I’ve intentionally listed self-care activities first because I want to “pay myself first.” It’s so easy to say, “I’ll read tomorrow,” or “I’ll exercise later,” especially when I’m terribly busy and have a long list of competing tasks. But, prioritizing these small moments of self-care are crucial for my mental health, and this is what I’d like most to preserve. I’ve worked for over a decade to manage my anxiety, stress, pain, etc. I don’t want to jeopardize this work. 

Second on my list is unyielding responsibilities. This is day-to-day maintenance to keep my animals and living space in order. I play and clean up after the dogs, give my cats some love, vacuum and mop the house, pick up and wipe down my workstation, do laundry, or other household chores. These are tasks that I don’t like to do, but they are tasks I must do to lay the foundation for clear thinking and comfort. 

If the house and my workspace are dirty, I can’t focus. With a million cats, it’s important that my house smells and feels clean. Every day isn’t manageable. So, I do light cleaning every other day, but it could be more frequently depending on the level of wreckage the animals have left. I also have to shower every night. This routine is both unyielding responsibility and self-care because I can’t lay in bed knowing the dirt of the day is still on me, and the relaxation of the scalding hot water signals it’s time for bed. Old me would’ve prioritized these responsibilities over my self-care, but now I will easily leave the vacuuming for one more day to make sure I find time to exercise or read a chapter of my current book.

Ultimately, I want to keep fortifying and expanding my mental wellbeing, and a routine that prioritizes self-care has been a huge step towards this pursuit and building my overall resilience. From the moment I wake up, I have my schedule. One I follow as closely as I can each day. I’m incredibly grateful and privileged to have this level of consistency. One I hope is afforded to you as well. I’ve always been afraid of having a boring life, but structure and routine is undoubtedly helping lead a happier one.