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08 Sept 2018

When Change is the Only Constant, why we Must Follow a Routine

The significance of embracing change in everyday life is often underscored. Although changes in life are inevitable, adjusting to them may not be the same for everyone. For some, they can be overwhelming, throw them off guard, and cause anxiety and stress, all at once. While some feelings are temporary, others can prolong over time causing what is called an adjustment disorder or situational depression. Symptoms of this condition include sadness, anger, and crying spells. However, the signs ebb away slowly once the person gets adjusted to the change or the situation.

Certain factors predispose people to adjustment disorders: stress experienced during childhood, inability to adapt to change, and lack of a strong support system. While trying to find coping mechanisms or talking to a mental health professional might help, bringing some amount of stability with a daily routine can help manage the anxiety that follows change. 

Routine and its benefits

Routine refers to doing things in an order and pattern and is different from habits. Habits are regular and part of a person’s routine. For instance, one may have a reading habit but reading a book will be a part of his/her routine. Although they appear mundane, routines can have multiple benefits. They increase efficiency and eliminate anxiety surrounding what comes next. Routines also help in allocating time for any eventualities that may arise. They can help eliminate procrastination and build confidence. Routines have a direct link to sound mental health.

Our own ‘Swiss clock’

An area of our brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is charged with keeping time – which explains why our body functions like a clock. While every human cell is likely to have a clock of its own, SCN is like a master clock which adjusts itself to light and dark and can even reset itself. This region is located right above the point where the optic nerve fibres cross, and it receives signals from light in the environment, which helps the body in keeping time. This clock is also influenced by genetics. Thus, for the body to be able to reset itself every day, a mix of light and genetics is required. (Source) Deviating from this pattern can hinder the sleep-wake cycle, all of which has a direct relationship with mood. The body clock influences many physiological processes such as mood, alertness, hunger, digestion, fertility or sleep. Therefore, people with depression, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder, experience alterations in daily rhythm and sleep disturbance is one of the major symptoms in all of them. In fact, research indicates that sticking to a normal daily rhythm can improve mood and cognitive functioning and reduce the risk of developing these problems. (Source) 

Body Cycle
Benefits of following a Routine

It is important to harness the power of not just the body, but also the mind to benefit the immune system, increase productivity, and prolong life. Here are some tips to build a routine that suits you:

  • Eat Healthy. Good food is like medicine for the body and the foundation of sound mental and physical health. As the author, Michael Pollan points out, “If it’s a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t." (Source) Consume fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and grains abundantly. Cut out processed food and supplements and learn to read the signs of your body.
  • Hydrate Enough. Drink plenty of water every day as the body needs to replenish this element for most of its functions. A significant amount of water is lost during sweating and other processes. The body constantly sends out warning signs about this, such as dehydration and physical pain.
  • Create Balance. While some amount of stress is beneficial for the body, too much of it can create an imbalance. When the body works overtime to bring back this balance, it can lead to exhaustion. Try to create a balance and stay calm. Do what makes you happy.
  • Exercise. Physical activity helps the brain work to its optimal capacity. It reduces the risk of diseases and normalizes hormones and chemicals. Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day as it can make a world of difference to your health. The old practice of Sun salutations or Surya Namaskara is a terrific way to reset the SCN to start the day.
  • Sleep enough. Lack of good sleep leads to agitation, anxiety, exhaustion, depression, memory problems, etc. Good sleep not only keeps the mind awake but also helps the body to operate at its best.
  • Express gratitude. Practicing gratitude for the small things in life can work wonders for the system by reducing stress and improving immunity. The more we focus on good things, the healthier we can be.

While it is true that routines provide structure and direction to life, they can also seem monotonous. Getting stuck in a mundane routine can lead to maladaptive thinking and impact health (physical, emotional, and mental) and life negatively. This is when one can choose to break an old routine and start afresh – something commonly referred to as the “much-needed change”!

Man Sleeping
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