When I first started dealing with depression in a major way, I got hooked on the concept of routines. I’d had some routines growing up, but they were created more by things I did, team sports or group activities, than activities I planned on my own (of course, that’s also childhood). I’d started my own routines when I reached college, but when dealing with depression started to feel like a full-time job, I looked for ways to still live my life despite having depression. I’d read about life hacks, about little things I could do throughout the day so I wouldn’t be depressed, but nothing ever stuck. It took me a long time to learn why ‘routines’ would never work in the way I understood them – but I also learned how depression could help me create a healthier attitude toward them.
As with many aspects of my life, developing a healthier attitude around my routines meant acknowledging the cognitive distortions I’d already created. One thing I’ve learned about cognitive distortions is that you’re not always aware of how many you develop until you face a challenge. Since my goal was to create a routine that would alleviate my depression (a flawed goal to start with), every obstacle I faced was met with a cognitive distortion.
If I didn’t get a task done, I would use “all-or-nothing” thinking and tell myself that despite my progress, I was never going to be able to maintain a routine. I’d filter out the positive aspects of my day, and focus on the negative aspects and how I hadn’t stuck to that routine. I’d even over-generalize my mistakes to create the thought pattern that I was constantly failing at creating normalcy in my life. I thought the biggest obstacle in the way of creating a routine was physical, but it was actually mental.
A routine is typically seen as a list of things that someone needs to do throughout their day. It can include all areas of wellness, but it’s most commonly associated with physical tasks, and that is where I fail miserably. So, over time, I began to change my attitude about what it means to create a routine. Instead of centering the list of life errands that I had to complete, I centered my depression.
My routine is not long-term, but it goes for days or weeks at a time. If I don’t ‘maintain’ my routine now, that’s okay – because it’s not set in stone, and I expect to fail. Things come and go on this list all the time. If I find an activity or a task that calms my anxiety or relieves my symptoms of depression, I incorporate it into my routine. If it stops relieving my symptoms, I take it out of my routine. But I make sure that it’s my own. What works in someone else’s life won’t be the exact same as what works for you. It’s absolutely fine to change your attitude about routines, and I wish someone had told me that when I was younger. Right now, developing routines means I’m doing what I need in order to live with depression and anxiety, full stop. And I’d say that’s a much healthier attitude toward living my life than I had when I first started my mental health journey – a win I didn’t even know I had.
What does it mean for you to be in a “routine”? Do you love/hate the word, or has your attitude changed over time? Let me know in the comments below!