August 13 marked five months since many of us officially entered quarantine. That’s five months since lives were uprooted, plans were cancelled and the world was effectively put into stasis. Such a major shift in our daily routines can have severe repercussions for our mental health.
Routines are the motions we go through everyday; things like eating a bowl of cereal every morning, taking a shower or brushing our teeth. When we make these activities habitual, they become routine. Psychologically speaking, humans thrive when they develop routines; when something obstructs our normal routines—such as a prolonged pandemic—it causes stress. If this stress festers long enough, we can fall into things like depression and anxiety.
The isolation of quarantine and lockdowns can facilitate the neglect of our daily routines.
“Why should I shower if I’m just going to sit in my house?”
“What’s wrong with an extra hour of sleep?”
While these questions are certainly valid—after all, sometimes you just need that extra five minutes of snooze time—if we put off our routines for too long, we begin to feel lost. By putting off our daily routines in the name of “self-care,” we are actually hurting ourselves.
I know it may seem easy to justify neglecting personal hygiene, nutrition, exercise and our relationships given the instability of the outside world. However, we must remember that we always have control over our own internal world. If we take back control of our own lives by reestablishing our routines, we bring back a semblance of normalcy which can in turn reaffirm a positive outlook for the future.
If you’ve found yourself feeling lost these past months in quarantine, I urge you to engage in introspection. Think back to the habits you formed before quarantine. Ask yourself: “What have I stopped doing?”
Perhaps you always used to eat fruit in the morning and you’ve since stopped. Well, maybe it’s worth going back to a daily dose of bananas and strawberries. The results of our introspection don’t need to be broad, sweeping changes in our daily lives.
The key to building positive mental health isn’t attacking our problems all at once. A war is won through smaller victories and the same idea goes for our mental health. Approach your introspection one routine at a time. Maybe tomorrow, all you do differently is turn your alarm off on its first ring (instead of its 14th), put your feet on the floor and get up. That constitutes a victory. Maybe the next week, you put your feet on the floor and then you make your bed. That’s another victory.
Since the pandemic started, we have been informed, over and over again, to wash, rinse, repeat in order to prevent the spread of the virus. We can take the simplicity of this type of routine and apply it to other areas of our life to ensure we are grounded as best as we can be in these uncertain times.
Just because these victories may seem small, doesn’t mean they’re insignificant. If rebuilding routines feels daunting, think smaller. You aren’t Washington crossing the Delaware, you’re just a person trying their best, and if you ever begin to feel lost, just remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. I know it’s cliche, but it’s true.
It’s okay to struggle, just so long as we don’t let ourselves make struggling our norm.
While being introspective, also identify your support systems. Who are the people with whom you feel closest? These are the people on whom you can fall back when things get rough. Don’t be afraid to reach out, lean on them and be vulnerable with your feelings.
I know when things feel so overwhelming, it can be easy to feel alone. We may feel like nobody can understand what we’re going through, or even that nobody cares. However, I assure you that you are never alone. It is the moments when we feel ourselves pulling back, when we begin to isolate ourselves, that it is most critical to reach out.
If ever you feel lost, think back to a time when you were happy. Who were you with? Oftentimes, these are the people who you need most.
I know it’s easy to feel like a burden, especially in the unpredictable circumstances of a pandemic. Nobody wants to bother others with their problems, I get it. But, if no one has told you yet today, you are never a burden. You are valid, your feelings are valid and you’re doing an amazing job.
Stay safe and remember: wash, rinse, repeat.