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Reach over, slap the snooze button or tell Alexa to be quiet once, twice, three times before rolling out of bed and starting your morning routine. You get up, maybe stumble to the kitchen for a cup of coffee from the coffee machine you set up the night before as part of your routine before you went to bed. Routines are important, we all have them for a variety of activities we do on a regular basis, like getting up, working out and even how we manage our workflow. Children have routines and they rely on them like we do to bring a sense of order to our world. 

In therapy, routines are a great way to help people who struggle with various mental health issues such as bi-polar disorder and depression. Routines contribute in a positive way to our mental health by giving us a sense of order and control. Keeping routines and even developing new ones is also important when we experience periods of significant and unexpected changes in our life, like what we are experiencing now with social distancing and COVID-19. I am a Camp Fire survivor and I have personally learned how keeping and even developing new routines can help lessen the effects of traumatic or difficult events and help minimize potential depression and anxiety. 

Both anxiety and depression interact with stress. Routines can help to minimize stress because by their very nature they minimize the unexpected, which is often stressful, and help us feel like we have a sense of control when everything around us seems uncontrollable. Chronic stress is associated with depression and those individuals with depression are more vulnerable to the effects of stress. Smaller continuous stressors are more likely to overtax our resources and exacerbate, or worsen depressive symptoms. Anxiety is usually related to a fear of the unknown in some way shape or form. Routine is inherently more known than variety, and thus minimizes anxiety.

It is really important during stressful times like this we take care of ourselves, that we practice good self-care. If you have ever flown commercially, you know that in the preflight announcements the flight attendants tell you that in the event of an emergency and the oxygen mask drops down, we are supposed to do what with it first?  Put it on our face first before we help anyone else. Why? Because we can’t help others if we don’t first take care of ourselves. 

What does good self care look like? What do we do with all that time that used to be filled with work, school, kids sporting events, band practices and other daily routines? It can vary from person to person but the important thing is that you have them. Here is a list from Psych Central of 10 things we can do to help keep depression away and develop new routines. Some of them I use personally as well as for clients in therapy:

  1. Journaling. Writing is a great way to release emotions. It is unfiltered thought, where you can speak your mind without editing. No judgments, criticisms or condemnations from others. It allows you to explore emotions on a level that you may not necessarily always consider when thinking, but somehow come to you as you put a pen to paper.

  2. Adequate sleep with a short nap if needed. Sleeping is when our body recovers, especially our central nervous system and brain. Our immune system repairs itself, our brains rest and grow, and we store energy for the next day. Yet we are constantly overworking ourselves, putting ourselves in stressful situations, and not getting enough sleep. We often overeat when we are tired and grumpy, which can make things we normally handle without effort much harder to manage. If you do shift work or rotating schedules like 1st responders and nurses, your sleep patterns can be dramatically affected by chronic stress and sleep deprivation which can cause depression, anxiety, short term memory and the ability to function under times of stress.

  3. Exercise. Exercise produces natural endorphins, which help put us in a good mood. There is a lot of research that shows that exercise improves mood. Your ability to learn also improves immediately following exercise. 

  4. Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is often overlooked, but our body is made up of 95 percent water. When it does not have enough we often feel lethargic, grumpy, and get headaches. We also tend to mistake hunger for thirst, so before getting that bag of chips out, drink a glass or two of water. Soda, lemonade or flavored drinks do not count as water.

  5. Getting enough Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids are specific nutrients that help the brain, yet often we do not get enough of either through our diets alone. We also now use sunscreen which we did not use in the old days, blocking out our skin’s absorption of Vitamin D from the sun.

  6. Being social. This is an area that is going to require some creativity in the next few weeks and possibly months as our social interactions are restricted.Technologies that allow group chats and video conferencing are a good way to stay in touch with friends and family while maintaining social distancing practices. Maintaining social connections during this time is important to help keep us from feeling like we are isolated. Social interaction helps us feel connected even when we are physically isolated. 

  7. Meditation or prayer. Most people think of prayer as religious, but it does not have to be. If you hold on to all of your problems, it can easily get overwhelming and trigger into a hopelessness that spirals out of control. So take some time to let things go, think good thoughts about others, and bring your mind to a peaceful place.

  8. Giving thanks. Three thank-yous a day. Every day. Every single person in this world has something to be thankful about every day, no matter how dire their situation. When we focus on the positive, it helps bring more positive into our life. Even when times are bad, it is important to remember the good.

  9. Eating fruits and vegetables. What we eat nourishes our body, including our brain and a whole blog could be written on the link between good nutrition and good mental health. If we eat well our brain feels it, just as it does when we drink a lot of coffee and consume a lot of sugar. 

  10. Practice unconditional love. This may be the hardest thing. As we get caught up in our daily routine, being kind and showing unconditional love becomes harder and harder. Traffic, the late babysitter, and unhappy kids are just a few of many daily life challenges. Yet if we think about unconditional love every single day, we in turn will be more loving, caring people and attract more of the same into our lives.

In my next blog I will discuss some specific things we can do as well as provide you with some links and resources that will help you navigate this uncertain and often confusing time. If you or someone you know is experiencing feelings of depression or hopelessness, please let us know, we are here to help and we have a variety of options for meeting your needs and helping you through difficult times so please call us if you have any questions.

   Take care,
Casey Gibbs