In Praise of Routine

I used to be adverse to the idea of routine. I’m a writer, an artist! Aren’t we supposed to eschew conventions and live life on impulse, travelling wherever the mood takes us? Well, following the muse might work well for some people, but it’s not the most productive way to organise your life and work. Routine, on the other hand, gives you a structure within which you are free to do the work and leisure activities you want.

Rebelling against routine is pointless, because the opposite of routine is not freedom: it is chaos, emptiness or a toxic combination of the two.

it took me a long time to learn this, even as chaos increased my anxiety and emptiness exacerbated my depression. It is only by creating a routine from the activities which help me to manage my mental illness that I have begun to feel free again. A smaller proportion of my time is wasted with having to cope with my symptoms. Planning more aspects of my life has enabled me to seize more opportunities. It hasn’t been a complete transformation, but I feel very different to how I felt in the last few months of 2915, when I was consumed with depression.

Like so much of mental health self-management, creating a routine which helps you is a personal challenge. However, you can seek out what works for other people and experiement with them for yourself. Here are the cornerstones of my daily routine:

Using my SAD lamp. While I’m not as depressed as I was when I started using it, I notice a drop in my mood if I forget to use it for a few days. I use it when I get up, for an hour or two.

Regular meals. I have been experimenting with a type of intermittent fasting, where you have a “feeding window” and don’t eat at other times of the day. My window is from 12pm to 8pm, since I don’t feel very hungry first thing and tend to overeat in the evening. So far, it’s working well — all of my digestive symptoms have improved, especially my gastritis, which got really bad at the end of last year.

Bedtime. I get insomnia, so I can’t control when I fall asleep — but I can control when I go to bed. It is far more effective than trying to force myself to get up at a certain time (though that often happens naturally as a result of fixing my bedtime); if I can’t sleep, I just read for as long as it takes to drift off.

Walking the dogs. This applies mostly to weekdays, when my dad and I take the dogs out when he gets home from work. It refreshes me and gives to space to think, instead of stressing and reacting to everything which happens throughout the day.

That’s it! I hardly live a regimented life, do I? Some flexibility is built in, which is important for me: my insomnia means I don’t always get up at the same time every day, so it would be a struggle to keep to set times for everything. My routine is also easy to adapt when I’m doing things which I don’t do every day, or every week, like keeping appointments and socialising.

Just as restrictions can force artists to innovate and come up with creative solutions, having a basic routine can free your mind to focus on the important things in your life.