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Why does routine help mental health?

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Routines provide a structure to your day, creating rhythms in the way you meet your basic needs such as eating and sleeping, but also letting you know when to relax and spend time on what you enjoy.  


Some people thrive on routine, while for others it has them running for the hills.


For people with complex mental health issues, symptoms or experiences of low mood can make activity and routines hard to make and keep.


While it might be challenging to create or keep to them at times, developing small and positive routines has a number of benefits from increasing wellbeing, to better outcomes for people living with depression, PTSD and bipolar disorder.


So why exactly do routines help?


1. They increase your motivation


When you’re experiencing low mood, often less motivation is part of the picture. You might then become less active, cutting down on activities you used to enjoy, and further lowering your mood and motivation. This can become a ‘vicious cycle’.


However, with small changes you can influence this cycle in the reverse direction. By adding small routines and activity gradually, you can actually start to build your motivation and energy back up. 


2. They reduce stress


Routines reduce ‘decision fatigue’. Knowing that you will do a particular activity regularly reduces the number of decisions you need to make, and can take away some of the stress of constant choices.


Regular rhythms can also help you feel more relaxed and reduce the anxiety that can come from a lack of structure. For example, knowing that you will walk the dog every day at 5pm can be a point of stability that is predictable and reassuring.


3. They give you a sense of achievement 


When you are going through a rough time, feelings of guilt or worthlessness can come up, especially if you’re finding it hard to do much. Taking some small action can give you a sense that you are doing something, moving forward and taking control of parts of your life.


4. They reduce self-critical thinking


At times when you are less active there is more room for your mind to focus on negative or self-critical thoughts. Doing something fun, meaningful or useful gives your mind something to occupy and stimulate it.


Simple mindfulness strategies can also help with this. An example would be cooking and taking a minute to notice the smell or taste, while letting thoughts and feelings come and go. Focusing on your senses in this way can ‘anchor’ you in your experience and reduce the impact of negative thoughts.


5. They give you a sense of pleasure


When you have low mood, you might not feel like doing anything, or feel much enjoyment. However, doing something positive or purposeful, whether you feel like it or not in the first place, can actually lift your mood.


The more you take part in activities which you find, or used to find enjoyable, and plan them into your week, the more you will find yourself in situations that can give you a positive experience.


A routine also makes it more likely you will follow through, as sometimes waiting until we ‘feel like it’ means we are waiting a long time. 


6. They help you get things done


When you’re struggling you might find the daily tasks of life piling up. This can be tough, because when you think about what needs to be done you can feel overwhelmed by the pile.


Routines are an important part of self-care. To avoid feeling you need to take everything on, choosing one achievable task that you do regularly, whether it’s showering, paying a bill or doing the laundry, can help you take the tasks on step-by-step. This builds confidence in your ability to get things done. 


Change doesn’t happen overnight, and building the habits that support you is best done one step at a time.


It’s ok to need help with building new habits. Keep an eye out for our next blog on how to find the routines and activities that support your mental health. Counselling, therapy and connecting with people who face similar challenges can also help you find what works for you.


Where to from here?


Helpful resources


Back from the Bluez, Module 2: behavioural strategies for managing depression.

Behavioural activation: fun & achievement.

Behavioural activation for depression.





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