28 Sept 2022

COLUMN: 'Having a routine ensures that our needs are being met'

Tipperary Tipperary Tipperary

Martina Brophy is a Senior Occupational Therapist working in the Mental Health Services and has a passion for Occupational Therapy in acute psychiatry.

Since March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused us all huge worry and stress in relation to all aspects of our lives. Each one of us has been affected in some way by Covid’s cold presence and cruel nature.

It has grasped at each and every one of us either physically or mentally or both.

Since January of this year we have felt its brutal presence now more than ever as we battle with each new day, the daily Covid statistics and the sense of a longing to be reunited with family and friends.

You may have noticed that a commonly repeated recommendation since the beginning of this pandemic was to keep a daily routine or structure to your day.

Equally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) highlights the need for families to “maintain familiar routines in daily life as much as possible or create new ones, especially if children must stay at home”.

Routines are essential at this time more than ever as we turn back to the “basics”- the things that give us control, consistency and predictability.

We seem to have a great understanding for the importance of a routine for toddlers and children, however when we reach adulthood some of these practices can disappear from our lives.

Occupational Therapists believe in the power of these routines, how they shape us as individuals and benefit us both mentally and physically.

Why is keeping a routine so important for our mental health?

Keeping up a routine that works for us can give us a sense of control in our lives which Covid-19 has snatched away from us over the last ten months.

Routines provide a sense of predictability and consistency which can be comforting and soothing not only to ourselves but the people around us and especially to children.

At stressful times like this, having a routine ensures that our needs are being met and guide us to live better mentally and physically.

For example – if you are mindful of eating your three planned meals per day at roughly the same time it may also prompt to you eat healthier. Healthy eating in turn can boost our mood, help us to lose weight if needed and improve our general physical health.

This also has a positive knock on effect on our mental wellbeing and helps us to feel better about ourselves.

What can help to build a routine?

Before building a routine – we need to evaluate what we actually enjoy doing every day, what we value, what we need and essentially what makes us feel good.

A very simple but effective strategy is to plan your day. Do not put pressure on yourself and think that your day has to be full and action packed- just think of what makes you happy and what is important to you.

Occupation Therapists help individuals to build balanced routines and break occupation into three main components.

To build a balanced routine each of the three components must be included in equal amounts.

Self-care – since the start of the pandemic we are hearing more about the promotion of “self-care”. Occupational Therapists have always been interested in this and view it as an essential part of our lifestyle balance – this involves all the practices we do to care for ourselves (mentally and physically).

“Grooming” during the pandemic has been the topic of many chat-show conversations on whether or not to wear make-up every day or to shave? If it makes you feel better then we must work on motivation to achieve this on a daily basis.

Productivity – This component addresses “productive” occupations which may not always be paid work – Please remember at this time to take achievable tasks and to plan productivity in relation to things that need to be done as this will bring a wonderful sense of achievement when you reflect on your day. Examples may be home-schooling, decluttering that kitchen press which has always been full of mismatched Tupperware or painting a room in the house.

Leisure – We must especially, now more than ever, take time during the day to engage in occupations that we enjoy and ones that bring us great pleasure to help reduce stress and anxiety. Now is also a great time to re-connect with old hobbies or use this time as an opportunity to connect with others using technology – we are social beings and need social contact (in its new form) now more than ever.

It is also really important to note there is no one right way to spend your time right now, however considering a balance of the above three components and remembering to engage with things that are important to you will maintain good mental health and help you to stay well.

And remember, as the saying goes: “One day at a time…”

Martina Brophy is a Senior Occupational Therapist working in the Mental Health Services and has a passion for Occupational Therapy in acute psychiatry.
Martina graduated from Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh with PG/DIP MSC in Occupational Therapy and also holds a Batchelor Degree of Social Science from University College Cork.

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