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The Mystery of Routines: Stress Relief or Stressor?

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When I get up in the morning I feed the cat, give treats to the dogs, make coffee and bring a cup to my wife (who is still asleep), put one handful of pistachios in a certain bowl, get my pills for the day, and sit down to watch the news and weather. That’s it. Every morning without fail, I do those things in that order. (Okay, well, there are a couple of personal things I left out to keep this article in good taste!)

When life was crazy during my wife’s cancer treatment, my morning routine was different and, frankly, I missed it. I discovered that if I at least fed the cat and gave out the dog treats that things didn’t seem so chaotic. Eventually life got back to normal and I found comfort in resuming that routine, which seemed to signal that all was right with the world.

Lesson: when life is crazy, try to do at least something that feels normal to anchor you and to help you feel some peace.

On the other hand, when I am in a bad mood and stressed I find that same morning routine to be annoying, which adds to my stress. I discovered that if I did things in a slightly different order that it wasn’t so aggravating; as abonus – it was kind of fun to vary the routine to see if I could save a step or two.

Lesson: when life is stressful, try to vary your routine a bit to keep things interesting.

Hmmm…you can feel better by doing something routine, and feel better by changing a routine. Seems like quite a paradox, doesn’t it?

I suppose it’s no different than drinking hot tea on a cold day versus drinking that same hot tea on a hot day; different circumstances call for different actions.

We can either vary our routines or stick to them, depending on our needs at the time. The main point here is that our routine activities can be used as a tool to help reduce our stress, depending on our needs at a given time. If it will help to do something routine, then do something routine. If it will help to vary the routine, then vary the routine.

It’s up to you to figure out how you can use routines to your advantage. Before you can do that, however, you need to be aware of the options.

Now you are… it's something to think about, eh?

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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.

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