Routines to Reduce Anxiety
Human beings are wired to crave routines. Our brains like the structure and predictability. It brings a sense of safety, comfort, and certainty to our day-to-day lives.
Even those of us who get bored easily still feel some comfort with basic routine and habits in our lives. Your routine does not have to be boring or dull. It just needs to be regular and repeated.
It does not matter so much what your routine is because regulating your daily actions is really about reducing the human brain’s instinctual fear of the unknown. Your brain likes knowing what to expect so it can relax.
In this way, routines themselves can help reduce anxiety. It is the fight-or-flight part of your brain (amygdala), aka the caveman brain, which instinctually likes to have things the same. If things are the same, it knows you are safe.
What if you need a new habit or routine?
To reduce anxiety, a change in routine is often needed. In fact, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy stresses the need to develop new tools, techniques and strategies for stress and anxiety reduction.
We often need to add stress-reducing or calming new habits into our routine to balance a “crazy busy” life and ease anxiety.
Knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things.
You may know what you need to do to help reduce stress and anxiety (i.e. mindful belly breathing, meditate, exercise, sleep more, etc.), but because of that caveman brain you are likely to have a hard time doing it.
Don’t get down on yourself for this. It’s just your human brain resisting new habits. Also, old routines die hard due to that caveman brain and its bias toward keeping things the same.
Hacks that Help
Here are some hacks to help your brain interrupt its old routine in order to and create a new habit:
• Write down the new habit you want to create. Visual reminders are great! Try post-its on your bathroom mirror or steering wheel or nightstand.
• Keep it simple – create one new habit at a time instead of trying to make multiple changes at the same time.
• Add-on. Attach a new activity to an existing routine. Ex: Right after you brush your teeth, or before or after you pour your daily coffee, or before you get out of bed.
• Set alarms or reminders on your phone. Or download an app that rings a gentle mindfulness bell as a reminder.
• Plan ahead and block off time on your calendar for new activities. New activities will stick better through consistency and repetition so schedule them daily.
• Use the buddy system to get support. Maybe someone would like to create the same habit along with you, or someone may be willing to help you with reminders and accountability.
• Allow yourself to be imperfect, as we all are. If you forget or miss a day, just get back on board as quickly as you can. Cut any negative self-talk.