an image of a hand changing the phrase 'old habits' to 'new habits'

With all the tasks you have to do on a daily basis, no wonder you want to find a way to reduce stress! I get it. You don’t have time to DO any more. Even carving out ten minutes a day seems like a chore. 

Guess what? There’s something stressing you out that you might not realise: your daily routine. It’s so easy to go through the day on auto-pilot. You don’t even have to think! And in some ways, this is great. Being able to do one thing while you think about another…

…you’re a multi-tasking whirlwind….almost a superhero if you ask me (yeah, I know you didn’t ask me).

Have you noticed that by the time you get into bed, your day has been so busy that you can’t even think back to what you did this morning? How does that make you feel? Accomplished? Satisfied with all the things you did? Or a little disappointed that another day has passed in your life and you didn’t really feel like you were part of it?

Finding a way to reduce stress

You might have realised you’re feeling stressed. Maybe you’ve looked into different ways to reduce stress? Have you already Googled it? I bet this is what you found:

  • Eat healthily (difficult when you’re flying out the door at the speed of light)
  • Exercise (when exactly?)
  • Prioritise sleep (not enough hours in the day for this)
  • Try mindfulness or meditation (been there, done that)

All great tips. But not for you. The speed of your life is too fast for all of this. You’re running on adrenaline, and it’s really hard to slow down your pace of life when that’s coursing through your veins!

So how about finding a way to reduce stress that zooms out a little and looks at your life as it is right now?

Why change your routine?

Many experts tell us that routine is good for our mental health. Knowing what time things happen each day is a comfort to us. It helps us to go on autopilot and gives our conscious mind a little break from making decisions.

But what they don’t tell you, is that there is something called ‘routine stress’. This happens when your routine becomes so rigid, and so crowded, that the thought of going through your routine each week feels overwhelming.

If you rewind back to the start of your current routine, you’ll see that it started with the time you need to get up in the morning. Whether that’s to get ready for work, or to do the school run. Often, it’s rigid and doesn’t change. Except maybe on the weekend, when you might get a lie in. This contributes to those horrible feelings you get on a Sunday when you dread getting up and starting all over again on Monday.

Let’s look at another routine – the way you get to work. Do you drive? Walk? Catch the bus? Maybe you started working from home in lockdown, and you no longer have to commute. Yay! But the commute could well have been the one place when you had some time to yourself. To think over your day or sing out loud to the songs on the radio, practice gratitude or pray.  A commute to work can be a good thing. But if it puts a damper on your day – standing at the bus stop in the rain – it’s not great.

Now, you might not want to change the time you get up, or the way you get to work. But you can see here that all of the routines in your life impact on your stress levels. Good or bad.

What’s your routine?

Let’s get started on changing your routine. But first, we need to see where you’re at. Your day is so busy, it has many mini habits that have led you to this routine. I mentioned a couple above. Here’s a list you can look at to start thinking about what your routine is like now:

  • What time do you get up?
  • How soon do you pick up your phone?
  • In what order do you get ready for your day?
  • What do you eat for breakfast?
  • How do you get to work?
  • What’s your break/lunch routine?
  • Do you do the school run? How do you get there? Where do you park?
  • When and how do you help others in your house (e.g. children, pets)?
  • When do you sit down for dinner?
  • When do you do the household chores?
  • What is your relaxing evening routine?
  • How do you prepare for sleep?
  • What time do you go to sleep?
  • What other habits do you do daily?

Take a look at the list and note down your answers. Think about when these daily habits started, and WHY. This is the key to knowing what needs to change. So many of us carry on doing things that we really don’t need to do any more. Because that’s what we’ve always done!

If you started feeding the cat before breakfast…

..because you wouldn’t get a chance later…

..but now you work from home…

..guess what? There’s some wiggle room!

When my kids moved up to high school, I started off by parking in the same place near work (and closer to the primary school), because that’s where I’d always parked. But then I realised that I was going out of my way to park there. I could change to a closer car park and save time on my journey. It took me a few weeks to figure that out though!

Routine stress levels

Now you have the list of options, maybe you have a few more you can add to it? Is there somewhere you have to go every night, or someone else you have to take care of? Make sure your list has all of your daily routine habits.

As I said before, knowing WHY you do what you do is the key to making a change. But there’s something else to consider too. Even if there’s still a valid reason for why you do something, I want you to give every daily habit a rating out of 10.  This is for how much this habit stresses you out. One being only a little, and ten being massively!

You might have a list where all the daily habits are needed and have a valid ‘why’. But if most of those score above a five for routine stress, it’s time to make a change. The only way to reduce stress, truly, is to remove or reduce the stressors. I share some ways in another blog: 5 surprising ways to cut stress.

I’m talking here purely from the standpoint that you want a way to reduce stress NOW in your life. There are other ways to handle the stress differently, from the inside, but that’s not immediate. Changing your routine really could be!

And when you know your score for each one, have a think about why your score is so high for some. Are you doing some things for other people, simply because they asked you to, ages ago? Is it still appropriate for you to be the one to take on this burden? Or is it someone else’s turn?

How to change your routine

Routines are good for your mental health, when they’re interspersed with periods of relaxation, fun, or rest. A huge overhaul of your routine will stress you even further. The way to change your routine is little by little. 

Which one item on the list is your biggest routine stressor? Which one has no reason to still exist? Start with these, or just one. Try removing or changing one for the next week. See how you get on. But how can you change it?

There are a few ways:

  1. Change the time you do it
  2. Change the frequency you do it
  3. Change the way you do it
  4. Change who does it (and let them do it their way)

Here’s an example:

‘When do you sit down for dinner?’ 9pm, after the kids have gone to sleep. Started doing this when they started nursery, because they eat earlier than us and we want a bit of peace when we eat! But now they’re at school, their eating times have changed.

Routine stress level: 8/10 – I hate having to think about what to cook, and it’s always me that makes dinner while my partner gets them settled for bed.

Possible small change: We could eat early with the kids a couple of nights a week. Maybe my partner could decide and cook the dinner while I play with them. Or maybe we could take it in turns.

Changing your routine isn’t necessarily easy. Especially where other people are concerned. Lots of people don’t like change, but maybe that’s because it’s not stressing them out. Sometimes you have to compromise to make sure you’re all operating at a lower stress level. And sometimes you need to get outside help too (e.g. a cleaner or a gardener). The answer might lie in an exchange of favours you can do with someone else, like a neighbour. Think outside the box!

Little and often

So now you know that a routine doesn’t always help your mental health – it can hinder it too. You know how to identify what your routine is, how much it’s causing stress, and ways to reduce that stress by tweaking it.

Let me ‘stress’ a point here – don’t go changing it all at once! Change one little thing, and do it consistently for a couple of weeks. Then assess how it’s making you feel now. Routines are supposed to help us operate on autopilot. But that isn’t going to happen overnight. It will take time to train your brain that this is the new way. A bit like when you move house and keep driving to the old house!

Over time, you can keep changing your routine little and often – maybe review it every few months. This will keep your routine working for you, for where you’re at in life right now. And it really is a great way to reduce stress!

Join me for the next online group programme to help you take control of your stress levels from the inside out: Stress Busters Programme