Its January. Youre back to work and the kids are back to school. Its time to put a routine in place that supports mental health and wellness.

Many of us plan to set up new routines and develop good habits in January. January feels like a fresh start, so its the natural time to recalibrate our habits.

Make your mental health a priority.

In my last post, I encouraged you to make your mental health a priority this year. So, lets get specific and talk about how to structure your daily or weekly schedule to set yourself up for optimal mental health.

When you set and keep a routine, its easier to make healthy choices. You dont need to spend a lot of time and energy deciding what to do when youve created healthy habits to guide you.

Routines also reduce stress. Theyre comforting because you can count on certain things getting done.

Right about now you might be thinking structure and good habits sound really boring and they take a lot of discipline. A routine doesnt sound like fun! Well, a routine does take work to set in place. but when you realize that your improved mental health will repay you many times over, you will hopefully decide youre worth the effort.

And structure isnt as confining as it seems. Structure is actually liberating when you realize that it frees up your time and energy for the things that matter most.

I hope this post will give you some ideas about how to create a routine that supports emotional health, but please remember that were all different and have individual needs. You first need to know yourself well enough to recognize what will work for you. For example, if youre a night owl or an introvert, you need to create a routine that takes those traits into account.

I suggest creating a routine that includes these components:

  • A set bedtime and wake-up time. Try to keep the same bedtime and wake time every day of the week if possible. This makes it easier to fall asleep at night and wake-up in the morning. If you tend to put off going to bed, try setting a bedtime alarm (By the way, the iPhone now has this feature). Also, be sure your morning wake-up time allows enough time so you arent starting the day already late and stressed. Learn more here.
  • A healthy breakfast. Breakfast seems to set the tone for the day. Eating early and nutritiously sets you up with energy and for healthy eating during the rest of the day.
  • Time to blow off steam. What do you do to decrease stress? Whether its meditation or exercise or journaling, make a daily habit of doing something proactively to manage your stress.
  • Exercise. Exercise is one of the most effective ways to take care of your mental well being. Decide when youre going to exercise and then get it on your calendar. Try to get in a little every day the gym after work, or a walk at lunch, or riding your bike to the store. Learn more here.
  • Taking medications at the same time daily. Consistency with your medication serves as a reminder to take them and keeps them working properly.
  • Prioritize your to-do list. Sometimes I just want to get some of the quick and easy items knocked off my list and Ill do those first. The problem is that these may not actually be priorities. Do the most important thing first (not whats hardest, or easiest, or quickest).
  • Appreciate whats good in your life. Many people like to keep a gratitude journal where they list five or ten things theyre grateful for before going to bed. You could also create a practice of noting five things before you get out of bed in the morning or while youre in the shower. Keep it simple.
  • Adequate sleep. You know you feel better when youre well rested. Adequate sleep can help you regulate your mood, stay focused, utilize healthy coping skills, and decrease stress hormones. Getting enough sleep also means you can rely less on caffeine, which can mess with your moods. Learn more here.
  • Fun and simple pleasures. Thats right, your routine also needs things you do for pleasure every single day. We all have our own ideas about whats fun, so be sure your routine also includes things that make you happy. Just be sure that what youre doing for pleasure is healthy; sorry, this isnt a loophole for drinking a six-pack every night! Read more here.
  • Build and enjoy your relationships. Make time for the people who matter to you. Family dinner is an excellent place to start. A regular date night with your spouse and coffee with friends can also be good routines to develop.

This may look like a big list of things to do. It isnt meant to overwhelm you.

Many of the items can be grouped together. For example, I connect with a girlfriend and exercise simultaneously when we go on our weekly walk.

If youre going add things to your schedule, you may need to subtract other things. This might come in the form of setting boundaries and saying no to things that arent priorities and/or dont support your well-being. It can also be spending less time on mindless activities that dont really solve a problem or fill your emotional tank.

Also, remember that following a routine will save you time. Youll be more efficient. Youll have more energy.

The most important thing to remember about creating a routine to support your mental health is that its a work in progress. You dont have to add all of these things to your routine this week. Start where you are and add one healthy habit to your routine at a time. If you dont keep to the routine perfectly, thats fine. Self-forgiveness is also good for your mental health!


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2016 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.

Photo: Eric Rothermel on Unsplash