By Michael Joslin
Living with an anxiety disorder for a large part of my life, I have coped by structuring my time in a certain way to minimize my anxiety.
Each day, I start the day, shower and get ready, leave the house for my commute, leave work and have dinner at the exact same time. I eat the same breakfast every day. I structure my work day in two-hour blocks to manage production. In between, there are many other little items in my routine that I stick to.
This is what works for me, however, it comes with its own set of pros and cons.
Having my day planned helps me start each day, even on my super anxious days. The structure it creates carries me throughout the entire day knowing exactly what is ahead of me, and what is coming around the corner.
More dependable and reliable at work
Having my daily routine established at work makes my production more reliable. It helps me be more dependable to my co-workers and my boss. I go into every day knowing I will have the time to accomplish my goals and finish my work with very few “loose ends” open. My routine helps me stay focused, and it also makes the day go by faster.
Ability to schedule mental health time
A very important part of my routine is my mental health time, which includes using mindfulness techniques, like yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, etc. Just knowing that this time exists helps me navigate my day more positively and gives me something to look forward to. I even schedule a “worry time” to get all my anxious thoughts out, acknowledge them, worry about them and then move on from them.
Freedom to set aside some “me” time
My “me time” consists of consuming some “brain candy.” My candy of choice is usually either music or comedy videos on the internet. The “brain candy” helps me shut off my brain for a while and there are no expectations to accomplish anything during this time.
Sleep routine has improved my sanity
Having a set time for bed, and a set time to rise every morning, helps me get an adequate amount of rest each night. I make sure to shut down my electronics by a certain time, do a quick meditation, brush and floss my teeth, and settle in for a good night’s rest. I don’t say sleep because sometimes it’s rest, not sleep, as ruminations and insomnia can interject. However, having a routine helps keep these issues at bay most nights.
Having such a rigid routine, while helping often, can also be a huge detriment to my life.
Any little change will throw my entire day off
Even the slightest little change can send my day, and my mind, into a downward spiral. God forbid, I oversleep my alarm, or even hit snooze for 10 minutes, my day is ruined. If I am tied up with a project at work and overrun my two-hour allotted block, it’s hard for me to cope. Most days I can recover, and find my way back to the routine, but some days it’s impossible, and this creates some of my worst anxiety days.
Not growing or expanding my life
My routine leaves little room to grow and expand my horizons. It makes me a boring person. Everything stays the same, which is good for anxiety, bad for life growth. There is no room for the surprise dinner invitation, or drinks after work, or even a friendly 20-minute conversation with a co-worker.
Routine cuts me off from feeling
Having each day set in stone helps manage my anxiety by not having to make decisions or think through things. But it also severs my ability to think freely, feel anything and step back and enjoy life. I find that most days I am on cruise control. Again, this is a good thing in the anxiety world, but in the human being world, it makes me feel like a regulated zombie sometimes. Days, weeks, even months fly by, and while I did not have any panic attacks or anxiety flare ups, I may have just missed six months of my life.
Unpredictability is the worst thing ever
The unpredictable nature of life, especially these days, is the worst part of being regimented. Every aspect of life is unpredictable. Changes are often things I cannot control — they can even be positive change — but most times I cannot handle the unpredictable aspect of life. Even worse, if an unpredictable event, for example, a pandemic arises, it can put me into an endless cycle of anxiety until I can alter my routine in some way to accommodate the change. Sometimes, it’s not possible to alter the routine, and this causes peak anxiety levels.
Adding something new can take a long time
Sometimes, I need to change my routine. This can take forever to install and will put me at an increased anxiety level until it becomes part of the routine. They say it takes 21 days to create a habit, the same can be said about a routine. Most of the time, the new addition is a positive one, one that I know will help me in the long run. However, I often won’t even try because of the time it will take to become comfortable with the change.
Finding a balance between having a routine that manages anxiety without it completely taking over your life can be a tightrope act — but I have found that this elusive balance does exist.
I have discovered recently that I need to add some flexibility to my routine to maintain a healthier mental health status. There were just too many days getting thrown off by miniscule changes. Now, instead of getting up at 5:28 am each day, I give myself a range. I can wake up between 5:20 and 5:40 and be okay. I can also afford to reduce my “me time” anywhere from the previously allotted two hours, down to 30 minutes if an event or unpredictable occurrence arises and be okay.
Allow for some “nothing” time
I have started to block out an hour or two of nothing. This way, I can temper the unpredictable nature of life and use my “nothing” time to accommodate any events that arise. I now do this for a block of my day at work as well (don’t tell my boss), and also section off a part of my after-work routine. This has become a positive aspect because I can extend some of the good parts of my routine into my “nothing” time if I need to.
Add time for relationship building
Be it with a significant other, or family, or co-workers, it’s essential to squeeze in some time to have relationships with other humans. The connections I make and build on only make me feel better and help lift the cloud of anxiety I live under.
Take time to step back and be mindful
Previously with my rigorous routine, almost every minute was allotted and planned out. However, it is extremely important to take time during the day and live life in the moment. Otherwise, I am just going through the motions and not truly experiencing life. I have found that these moments are starting to happen automatically, and it makes me feel like I am starting to live life more often.
Overall, I am still a massive work in progress, and each day living with an anxiety disorder is a struggle to manage. But finding balance with my daily routine has slowly helped me make positive changes in my life.
While routine is a good thing for an anxiety disorder, we need to be careful how rigorous and regimented our routine becomes. Nothing is more important than living your life, so remember to look up from your routine and live a little. These little chunks of living will become bigger and bigger each month. Who knows, with hard work and dedication, maybe someday the entire routine will look like this: wake up, live life, go to bed, repeat. We can only hope.
Mike Joslin is a freelance writer originally from upstate NY but has been living in Hawaii for the past 15+ years, a true paradise. Mike writes primarily about mental illness as he manages anxiety and depression. Writing helps him to express his feelings in a positive way and he uses it as relief from his own mental health struggles. Additional works from Mike can be found on Medium.
We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.
Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.
Find Your Local NAMI