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Could Improving Your Daily Routine Make You Feel Better?

By Erica Patino
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
April 15, 2024

The word “routine” may not sound exciting, but the truth is that a daily routine can be good for you—especially when it involves healthy habits. A good routine can bring comfort, structure, and greater purpose to your life. And when you’re feeling stressed, turning to a routine may be just the remedy to help ground you.

“Creating a routine is essential because in a world where we have little or no control over so many aspects, our daily routine is something we can control,” says Tess Brigham, a licensed psychotherapist based in San Francisco.

The Benefits of Routines

You probably have at least a few daily routines, like taking a shower, brushing your teeth, or eating breakfast around the same time each day. Routine is beneficial in part because once you’ve done something many times, you don’t have to expend much thought or energy on it—which means you can save your efforts for more challenging activities, Brigham says.

In addition to saving you mental energy, routines may also help you manage your mental and emotional health. Routines can help you:

  • Reduce stress: A routine can add structure to your day that can help you manage your time and avoid worries about getting everything done. It’s especially beneficial if you incorporate stress management practices, like meditation, into your everyday routine.
  • Sleep better: Following a regular sleep schedule can help you fall asleep and wake up more easily and maintain your body’s internal clock, according to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. And the benefits of sleep on mental well‑being can be far-reaching.
  • Follow a healthy diet: If you incorporate meal planning and grocery shopping into your routine, you may be more likely to cook and eat healthy foods, which may benefit your overall mood, research suggests.
  • Get regular exercise: When you schedule exercise into your day and do it consistently, the benefits on your mental health and well‑being can be enormous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular exercise can also help promote better sleep, improve brain health, lower the risk for chronic disease, and help with weight management.

Is It Time to Tighten Up Your Routine?

Some people naturally prefer more structure than others, so not everyone may be a fan of a rigid routine. But having no daily routine, or an inconsistent one, can sometimes be problematic.

People who don’t have adequate structure to their day may end up being less productive and feeling worse about themselves, says Renee Solomon, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and the CEO of Forward Recovery in Los Angeles. “To sustain a healthy lifestyle, we have to create routines and repeated behaviors that are good for us,” Solomon says.

This is especially true when trying to break bad habits. “If we don’t have a specific routine, we will revert back to old, dysfunctional behaviors,” she says. “If there is no intention, we tend to choose unhealthy options.”

How to Build Your Own Healthy Routine

These tips can help you upgrade your routine or start a new one.

1. Decide on what’s most important to you.

Take stock of what you’re hoping to change or accomplish. “In order to decide which routines or behaviors you want to add to your life, you must ask yourself two questions: ‘How do I want my life to be different?’ and ‘How can I improve myself?’” Solomon says.

2. Build your routine little by little.

That is, don’t overwhelm yourself with too many changes too fast. A 2019 study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that healthcare providers had more success helping patients develop a routine that slowly incorporated several long-term changes, as opposed to asking for an immediate lifestyle overhaul. The study authors noted that routines take time to establish and that adding in too many changes at once can be difficult to sustain.

3. Start with something you can stick with.

Brigham suggests picking one habit you’d like to change—such as exercising regularly—scheduling it in your calendar, and then honoring that commitment. “Overall, we don't struggle with creating routines for ourselves; we struggle with sticking with it even when the newness has worn off or we don't feel like it that day,” Brigham says.

Keep your change simple at first, too. If you want to improve your sleep, you might try turning off electronics by a certain time each night, taking a warm bath, or listening to relaxing music, Solomon suggests.

4. Give a new routine some time.

It’s important not to get discouraged and quit a new routine too quickly. “It takes a long time for a habit to stick, so you need to give yourself at least three months to measure if this new behavior is working,” Brigham says. See whether you’re able to stick with it consistently and whether you’re noticing a positive impact from it—are you feeling better than you did before you started it?

5. Be kind to yourself.

It’s possible to fall out of a routine you set for yourself, as Brigham notes above, whether you simply don’t feel like it that day or something else got in the way (even if that something is a Netflix marathon). Regardless, it’s important not to beat yourself up and, instead, to accentuate the positive if and when you run into roadblocks and setbacks. They are a natural part of the process, and how you react to them may affect how easy it is to get back into the groove of things. So, be gentle and pick things back up the next day.

And remember, a routine doesn’t have to be boring. By incorporating activities you enjoy, a new daily routine can even be fun—with an added perk of better mental and emotional well‑being.

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