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How Structure Supports Recovery

How Structure Supports Recovery

For a person who is struggling with their mental health, life can feel uncertain and unmanageable. While it isn’t possible or necessarily desirable to remove every possible surprise or change that life can throw our way, implementing structure and routines can make things feel less overwhelming. At The Pavilion in Williamsburg, Virginia, we recommend that our patients find routines that work for them and make their lives easier.

Types of Routines 

A routine is simply a standardized way of doing things. Many parents have bedtime routines for their children to help their bodies and minds prepare for sleep. This may involve things like turning off bright lights, taking a bath, putting on comfortable pajamas, and reading a book. Adults can create routines for themselves around various aspects of their lives, including how they wake up in the morning, what they do after they get home from work, and how they spend their days off. 

Benefits of Routines

Routines can take anywhere from 2-9 months to become automatic, but the effort is worth it. Building structure into your life can benefit you in several ways:

  • People who have routines around diet, sleep and exercise often see improvement in their mental and physical health.
  • More daily routines are correlated to decreased stress when a person has health issues or difficult life events.
  • Routines help our brains to build connections and more smoothly handle daily activities. In the example above, a child whose parent establishes a nightly routine for bedtime is less likely to have issues falling asleep and staying asleep because their brain has learned that doing all of those things means it is now time to rest. 
  • Structure can cut back on decision fatigue by reducing how many choices a person has to make each day. If you always do it the same way, there is no choice to be made.
  • Implementing routines for children can make it easier for them to know what to expect and reduce the likelihood of disruptive behavior being displayed.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

If you would like to build structure into your life, it’s not necessary to start from zero and create a completely original plan. You might find helpful suggestions by looking online or talking to people you know to see how they have created routines for themselves.

How to Implement a Routine

When you are trying to add structure to your life, keep these things in mind:

  • Focus on what works for you and is important to you. It’s okay to draw inspiration from others, but just because someone else runs every morning at 5 am does not mean you have to exercise that early or that running is your best option. Another person’s decision to focus on healthy eating doesn’t mean you can’t focus on getting better sleep if that is what you need more urgently.
  • It’s all about the little things. If you try to change everything all at once, you’re less likely to stick with your new routine long enough for it to become a habit. Add one small change each week. Don’t forget to celebrate small victories. Even though you might be working toward a large goal, recognize the progress you are making with incremental goals.
  • Piggyback off of existing habits. It’s easier to add a new habit onto something you already do. For example, if you always have a cup of coffee in the morning, you can add on the practice of reading or journaling while you enjoy your coffee.
  • Swap one thing for another. If you have a habit that isn’t serving you, replace it with something that is better aligned with your personal goals. For example, if you find yourself overindulging in sugar after a rough day, don’t remove your snack altogether; instead, replace the sugary treat with a healthy alternative, like a piece of fruit.
  • Have a backup plan. There are times when it is difficult to stick to the routine we have set for ourselves, due to weather, stress, holidays, or other factors. If you know you’re going to be working extra hours next week and that this could derail your healthy eating goals, you can meal prep ahead of time and just reheat what you already cooked. If you cannot get to the gym when winter weather makes it unsafe to travel, your alternative might be an exercise video or a stationary bike at home. 
  • Be flexible. If you forget to complete your routine once in a while, don’t beat yourself up or let it derail you from continuing to move forward.

At The Pavilion, we work with all of our patients to develop individualized treatment plans. This includes finding ways to implement structure and predictability into their daily activities.

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