When circumstances and events are beyond your control, having established routines and rituals can be both calming and comforting. In fact, having a steady base of routines and rituals is one of several strategies for building a more resilient life. There’s something about knowing what to expect and when to expect it that soothes the nerves, even when much else is out of our control. And the best part about creating rituals and routines is you have the power to make them whatever you want them to be.

Rituals Layer Pleasure into the Everyday

A ritual is the series of steps associated with completing a task. If you built a ritual around taking a bath, for example, it might look something like this:

  • Run the bath water
  • Add bubble bath, bath salts, bath oil, or bath bomb
  • Light candles
  • Turn on some music
  • Pour a glass of wine
  • Turn off water and lights
  • Climb in and relax!

You can build a ritual around anything. The best part is that you can make it as relaxing, fun, or indulgent as you want to. Take a few moments to think about what kinds of rituals you want to create for yourself and what tasks those rituals would be part of. Think about the steps needed to complete the task, and then think of ways you can incorporate elements to create the feeling you’re looking for.
Does peppy music make you feel energized? Create a playlist of your favorite upbeat songs that you save just for cleaning the house. Does washing dishes make you feel like something has sucked the soul out of you through a bendy straw? Try reward bundling. This is when you pair something you enjoy withs something you don’t, to make it more palatable Try turning on a favorite podcast or listening to a comedy performance. You control how simple or complex your rituals are, so don’t be afraid to experiment with layering in rewards and perks.

If you have trouble turning off your “work brain” and slipping into your personal time, what ritual could you build around finishing your work day to help tell your brain it’s time to be off-duty? Without realizing it, you probably already have a ritual for starting your work day. Isn’t it time you created one for ending it?

Routines Provide a Framework for our Crazy World

Routines are a great way to add some structure to your life. They can be as informal or as elaborate as you want, and they can include several different tasks or just a detailed method for to performing one task. Maybe your morning routine looks a little like this:

  • Wake up
  • Scowl at alarm before turning it off
  • Shower
  • Brush teeth
  • Moisturize
  • Take vitamins
  • Get dressed
  • Do…something with your hair
  • Get ready to work from home or go to an office
  • Go back for deodorant

Unlike a ritual that breaks a single task (like taking a bath) into several steps, routines involve multiple tasks that are performed in a series at certain times of day, or even on certain days.
The distinction is important because when you become aware of your routines, you can use them to build better habits. Have a task that you always forget to do? Build it into an existing routine! Think of it as autopilot for your brain. Once you start your routine, your brain will prompt you down the list of tasks and you’ll be less likely to forget about doing something. The best part? Routines can be flexible! You can create different routines for different days. You can have one day-long routine or multiple routines per day. Don’t be afraid to experiment or even track which routines leave you feeling more prepared and relaxed.

Self-care is Whatever You Need it to Be

We’ve all heard about the importance of self-care, but everyone you ask has a different answer for what self-care actually means. That’s because self-care is as individual as the person participating in it. One person may need an hour of alone time twice a week, while another person needs an hour with friends twice a week. There is no wrong way to do self-care as long as what you’re doing helps you feel refreshed. Here are some starting ideas to get you thinking about what self-care may look like for you:

  • Read a book
  • Take a bubble bath
  • Exercise vigorously
  • Take a long walk in nature
  • Prepare and eat a special meal or treat
  • Purchase a gift for yourself
  • Spend time with loved ones
  • Spend time alone
  • Journal
  • Watch a movie
  • Go away for a night
  • Take a class
  • Organize your closet (yes, there are people for whom this is invigorating)

Don’t worry if your self-care list is different from other people’s lists. If organizing a closet makes you break out in hives, that’s ok. The only thing that matters is that your plan works for you. And don’t worry about fitting every item into your routine. The goal is to have a self-care toolkit that you can draw on when you need to recharge or de-stress, not to create another “to do list” for your week.
As you introduce more self-care, pay attention to which tools are most helpful in a given situation. If you’re having trouble sleeping, reading a book might prove more useful than hitting the treadmill, for example. Maybe you’re too tired at the end of the day to journal, but journaling in the morning when you’re feeling the most energetic helps you begin the day in a great mood.

Don’t feel guilty about taking time to build rituals, routines, and self-care into your life. It’s work that is an investment in your physical and mental health. You’re worth it!
You’re also not locked into any activity. If you thought watching a movie was a good self-care idea, but you’re too distracted to sit through one, try something that will take you away from the distractions of home instead. Keep experimenting and taking note of which tools are the most effective for your lifestyle.

Realizing you’re the architect of your day is empowering. Learning to use rituals and routines to help shape your mood and behaviors can help you feel more in control, less stressed, and more prepared to take on life’s next bump in the road.