I remember the first day of our shelter-in-place.
On auto-pilot I woke up at 4:30am, put on my gym clothes, walked to the gym and found it closed. “Oh, duh!” I thought, and I walked back home.
Then I hopped in the shower, got dressed, grabbed a granola bar from the pantry and was at my car door by 5:30, ready to go to my favorite coffee shop to do some work for the morning.
Suddenly, I stopped in the midst of climbing into the driver’s seat.
“Wait. What am I doing?”
I couldn’t go to a coffee shop to do work. Everything was closed! Then I started thinking about the rest of my day and realized that the majority of my usual routines were now roadblocked by the constraints of the shelter-in-place.
I know, it is surprising that finding locked gym doors wasn’t enough to make my mind register the fact that public places wouldn’t be open–but that just goes to show you the power of our routines.
We create and cling to routines because they provide a sense of order, a feeling of normalcy. Above everything else, routines are how we attempt to control the tiniest bits of our lives in an often chaotic world.
Unfortunately, when routines go awry or need to change, that loss of control leaves us feeling anxious, lost, and unsettled.
For the rest of my first day sheltering in place, I had to adjust my routine. Not wanting to make too many sweeping changes, I attempted to stay the course of working during my usual hours, taking my usual breaks, and then carrying on with my typical post-work activities such as doing yoga, eating dinner, and watching tv.
It should have been a breeze, right? Easy pivot and transition?
It took me forever to get settled into “work mode.” I couldn’t focus on tasks at hand. My husband had the office space and I could hear all of his conference calls through the walls while I worked in the living room. I tried moving into the bedroom for more peace and quiet but found that space to be even less motivating. Taking my usual breaks made it that much harder to refocus and pick up where I left off.
Then in the evening, I struggled to stay present during a virtual yoga session. My cat decided that me being on the floor meant it was playtime, and my husband kept puttering around the living room. Dinner went smoothly, but watching tv made me restless instead of relaxed.
I still drank my tea, journaled and read before attempting to sleep, but I laid awake and stared at the ceiling for hours. My mind was racing. “This cannot be my new normal,” I thought.
And so began the process of creating a new daily routine for sheltering in place. I’ll be honest, it’s taken nearly three weeks to hedge out a system that feels good and works well most days. I admittedly was surprised that it took so long.
Even more surprising is how much my new routine differs from my old patterns. I wake up and go to bed later. My working hours have completely shifted to be later in the day as well. I work for longer stretches of time before taking breaks, and sometimes I return to working after dinner instead of watching tv. My usual gym workout has been swapped for running (which I previously attempted unsuccessfully), and I now do yoga in the morning when I first wake up because my husband is in the office instead of around the house. I’ve also scheduled more time for self-care and creative hobbies such as taking baths in the evening instead of showers, playing my violin or coloring.
I’ve learned two things over the course of creating this new routine:
Creating quality routines requires trial and error and takes time. Since routines are all about providing a sense of calm and order, it’s only natural that they take time to create. You must try out certain things for a certain period before you can truly evaluate how they make you feel and if they are working or not working. Don’t commit to a new routine in haste because it might not serve you. Just because you have a routine does not mean that it is a good routine.
It is beneficial to re-evaluate and revamp your routines on a regular basis. I am the first person to admit that once something is established, I tend to go on auto-pilot. I quickly become settled and comfortable, and then I don’t always scrutinize things the way I should. The last time I reworked my routines was when we moved to Colorado ten months ago, and I only did so because the move forced me to. Doing so made me realize that I enjoyed being outside more than I ever thought and caused me to prioritize fresh air. This time around, my new routine has reminded me of how much I love playing my violin and has encouraged me to consistently carve out time for my old hobby.
Routines are wonderful in the sense that they nudge you to discover what is truly important to you. There are only so many hours in a day or days in a week, so when creating a routine, you need to choose how you will spend that time. Your choices help priorities float to the surface.
Use this time as a push to create new routines that serve you. It’s okay if the process is messy, and it might even be a little bit frustrating. By digging in, being patient, and paying attention to how your body and mind respond, you will be able to establish a “new normal” that you love.