Work, paying bills, cleaning, cooking, shopping, exercising, getting enough sleep, and taking care of children are just some of the things millions of Americans do each day and it is easy to be overwhelmed. It can feel impossible to get everything done, let alone take care of yourself – especially if you’re already struggling with a mental health concern like depression or anxiety. By creating routines, we organize our days in such a way that taking care of tasks and ourselves becomes a pattern that makes it easier to get things done without having to think hard about them every time.
This worksheet from Mental Health America’s 2020 Mental Health Month Toolkit can help you develop new healthy routines.
This worksheet is also available in Spanish.
Here’s a web-friendly version of the activity from this worksheet:
- What are some things you want to have as a part of your routine?
- Examples: exercise, reading, quality time with my kids
- What gets in the way of you accomplishing these goals or tasks?
- Examples: working overtime, needing new glasses, too tired
- What are things you can do to address the barriers you identified?
- Examples: start with a 30-minute walk, go to bed earlier
- Use a calendar to lay out things you can change and incorporate into your schedule. The calendar can include specific things you want to incorporate into your routine (like a specific exercise), or changes you need to make to reduce barriers (like going to bed early).
- What people or things can you can use to help you accomplish your goals?
- How can you reward yourself for successfully making new things part of your routine?
- Example: If I walk for 30 minutes, 3 times per week for 2 weeks, I can treat myself to a dinner out.
- When it comes to diet, sleep and exercise, having good, strong routines is linked to improved mental and physical health. 
- People with more daily routines have lower levels of distress when facing problems with their health or negative life events. 
- It takes an average of 66 days for a behavior to become automatic (a habit), but for some people it can take as long as 8 1/2 months. Don’t give up!. 
Tips For Success
- Create the routine that is right for you. We don’t all have the same schedules or responsibilities and some of us struggle with certain parts of daily life more than others. All healthy routines should include eating a nutrition-rich diet, exercising, and getting enough sleep, but no two routines will be exactly the same. In fact, your routine may not even be exactly the same every day.
- Start small. Changing up your day-to-day routine all at once probably won’t end up with lasting results. Pick one small thing each week to work on. It could be adding something new and positive, or cutting out a bad habit. Small changes add up.
- Add to your existing habits. You probably already have some habits worked into your routine, like drinking a cup of coffee in the morning. Try adding new habits to existing ones. For instance, if you want to read more, you could set aside ten minutes to read while you have your coffee (instead of drinking it on your drive to work).
- Make swaps. Think about the things you do during the day that aren’t so healthy and swap them with better behaviors. For example, if you feel sluggish in the afternoons and eat sugary snacks for a quick pick-me-up, try taking a brisk walk instead to get your blood pumping and endorphins flowing. Or if you find yourself having a few alcoholic drinks after a long stressful day, try sipping hot tea instead.
- Plan ahead. When life gets hectic, you may be tempted to skip out on the new parts of your daily routine. By doing things like prepping meals ahead of time, picking out an outfit the night before work, or having an alternate home workout option for the days you can’t make it to the gym, you help set yourself up for success even when you’re hurried.
- Make time for things you enjoy. Even if it’s just 15 minutes a day, set aside time to do something you find fun or relaxing—it will release chemical messengers in your body that are good for your physical and mental health.
- Reward yourself for small victories. Set goals and celebrate when you reach them. Have you added exercise to your weekly routine and worked out every day as planned for the last couple weeks? Treat yourself! Watch a movie you’ve been wanting to see or try out that new video game.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day. Making life changes can be hard and you might forget to do something that is new to your routine every once in a while. You don’t have to be perfect, just try to do better the next day.
- Haines, J., McDonald, J., O’Brien, A., Sherry, B., Bottino, C., Scmidt, M.E., Taveras, E.M. (2013) Healthy habits, happy homes: randomized trial to improve household routines among pre-school-aged children. JAMA Pediatrics, 167,1072-1090.
- Williams, J. (2000) Effects of activity limitation and routinization on mental health. The Occupational Therapy Journal of Research, 20,100S-105S.
- Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld, C.H.M., Potts, H.W.W., Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 40, 998-1009.