Every morning I wake up and slip on my workout clothes, either for a walk or to do yoga. I make my way to one of the few loops or to the spot in the park where I know it is easier to social distance. When I return, as I head into the stairwell to return to my apartment, I hear a Catholic service playing in the first-floor apartment of my elderly neighbor. These are our routines. This is how we start our day.
These habits provide control when the future feels uncontrollable, especially in an environment that doesn’t inspire any confidence that things will get better. Sometimes I call it “chasing the crazy away.” And, honestly, I feel much better after an hour or so on the mat or on the trail.
These daily actions followed by relief isn’t just something I experience. In fact, routine as a way to cope with uncertainty isn’t just a human mechanism. Researchers reported in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews that the ritualistic behaviors in both animals and humans calm during times of unpredictability and uncontrollability. They help us manage stress and make us believe that we can control a situation that is out of our power to do so.
Our ability to control our actions can be formidable. We have the ability to decide what we want our daily routines to be and consist of. What’s more: what we decide could determine how well we cope.
According to a study published in BMC Public Health, lifestyle choices can predict mental well-being. Specifically, researchers found that better mental health was associated with frequent exercise and mental activities (think: creative endeavors like drawing, painting, writing, or playing an instrument), non-smoking, and a regular social rhythm. While less healthy behaviors such as smoking predicted mental health problems.
I know that my morning routine will not help me find a new job or open my child’s school sooner. What it will do is help decrease and manage the amount of anxiety that creeps into my life. We’re living in anxious times and at this point I figure that controlling the effect that the world has on me (specifically, my health) is the least I can do.