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Routines and Rituals are Comforting

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We have two horses, one of which is very old (30), he is a bit unsteady on his feet. The younger horse runs around and occasionally bumps into him, causing him to fall. This is quite serious for older horses because they have trouble getting to their feet and when they cannot it is the end of the line. You can’t exactly pick up a horse and put it back on its feet (unless, of course, you're Hagrid!).

We eliminated this problem by closing them into their separate paddocks and only letting one out into the turnout at a time. We close them both in when we feed them their dinner at about 6:00 p.m.

I really am getting to my point here -- Before I go to bed I bring them some carrots and a “bedtime snack” and sort of “tuck them in” for the night. I have to go through a gate, walk through the turnout and then another gate in order to reach the barn.

Hang in there -- the first night they were both locked in, I entered the turnout and left the gate open; after all, they were both in their paddocks and couldn’t access the turnout, so they couldn’t get out through an open gate.

Here it comes -- I took a few steps and felt uncomfortable leaving the gate open, even though I didn’t have to close it. I went back and closed it anyway and I felt better. That’s when it hit me (drum roll, please): some of our daily routines are comforting. Maybe they’re not necessary, but they are comforting nonetheless.

When you find yourself stressed, try doing something that feels normal to give yourself a sense that there is still order to the world. Maybe it’s a short walk or reading the morning paper over a cup of coffee. What is it that you can do that will give you this sense of peace and normalcy?

Sometimes a ritual can be comforting as well. For example, you’re in a restaurant and you’ve been to the restroom and washed your hands, yet when you get back to your table you take out the hand sanitizer. Not necessary, but it’s something that you’re used to doing. It just wouldn’t feel right if you didn’t. How can you apply this idea in your life??

This article is one in a series on coping strategies for patients and caregivers alike.

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Hi Diane

I tried what you suggested; cleaning my desk worked much better.

January 6, 2010 - 9:58am


I once went to visit a friend who was a dog trainer out at her 10-acre farm. I took one of our collies with me. Paige (the collie) was a relative newcomer to our home and was clearly nervous after the car ride, meeting this new person and being in the middle of an unfamiliar place with its unfamiliar sounds and smells.

My friend encouraged me to let Paige off leash and see what she did. I worried that she'd run for the car, but she didn't. She put her nose down to the ground and started sniffing. And then she kept sniffing, in ever-increasing circles, until she had established her footing in this new area. After that, she was visibly less stressed and even ended up enjoying the visit.

My trainer friend called it Paige's "calming behavior." That by "grounding herself" and sniffing in circles until she felt she knew where she was, she could then step out and meet a new challenge. Later on that day and week (I'm getting to my point, too!) I realized that I also have lots of "calming behaviors." For instance, when overwhelmed at work, I will sometimes stop all work and simply clean my desk, putting things in piles and organizing them. It may look like actual work, but in reality it's a way to tell myself I still have control. It grounds me and gives me a sense of where things are, I think.

Thanks, as always, for such an interesting read.

Routines are the same. They ground us and let us know where we are.

January 6, 2010 - 9:16am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.