NEW JERSEY - The COVID-19 pandemic has led us on an unprecedented and unpredictable path. Since its start, there has been extraordinary amounts of uncertainty contributing to stress. There have been increased reports of depression and anxiety among individuals as compared to previous years and some individuals report feeling a sense of loss of control in their lives. At the crossroads presented by the pandemic, it is necessary to set a new course of how one works and lives, as well as finding ways to be resilient in day-to-day life. 

We are at a time in life where very little is “normal.” Right now, the fears and anxieties that people experience are realistic, but we cannot allow them to consume ourselves. With no clear endpoint in sight, the pandemic emphasizes the necessity of having a healthy routine to keep one grounded, while providing hope.

A routine means repeating activities in an organized manner which allows for predictability in the day.  Due to the repetitive nature, these routine actions become part of one’s memory and help prevent negative and anxiety provoking thoughts. A healthy routine related to personal and professional matters increases a sense of security in these otherwise uncertain times.

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Practicing a healthy routine fosters positive emotions, frees up time through planning, and induces a sense of calmness, aiding in stimulation of neurotransmitters like serotonin to help combat symptoms of anxiety and depression.    

Difficulty sleeping due to stress is especially common in the present times. A regular sleep routine improves mental agility, work performance, and emotional wellbeing by keeping one refreshed. Having a regular sleep-wake pattern that also includes time to unwind before sleep is of vital importance for one’s mental health. Sleep is often the first to be affected in times of stress and a disturbed sleep cycle predisposes one to mental health difficulties. Keeping a regular sleep routine can be an important first step in fighting the progression of stress by giving one’s body adequate time to recover.

Simple examples of healthy routine activities like eating at least one meal a day with family not only encourages cohesiveness, but also nurtures strong, supportive, healthy communication and relationships in stressful times. Eating at regular mealtimes also promotes good health and eating habits.

Having hobbies built into a routine is essential to having a well-rounded life. Hobbies provide a channel for healthy coping and problem-solving skills during the pandemic, but also towards general self-improvement. Hobbies allow an individual to engage with other like-minded individuals in addition to invoking a sense of accomplishment and restoring a sense of control. When we engage in enjoyable activities, we lose track of time and feel removed from the stressors of everyday life, which is a state of meditation. Hobbies are restorative for mental health, promote resilience and provide an optimistic outlook.

Adding in exercise to one’s daily routine improves overall quality of life by production of endorphins, the “feel good” hormones that aid in attention, focus, concentration and mood. A regular exercise routine  boosts confidence and promotes good quality of sleep, while increasing mobility. Additional benefits of engaging in physical activity include boosted immune system, improved flexibility, robust heart health, and healthy weight. Physical activity levels can be varied depending on individual age, ability and choices. Some popular choices of exercising include running/ walking, yard chores, or a formal exercise routine.

 It is important to set aside regular time for maintaining personal hygiene and taking care of oneself to improve stress-coping abilities during the pandemic and contribute to positive self-identity. 

Scheduling routine daily activities prevents procrastination, facilitating a feeling of accomplishment. Healthy routines alleviate stress & promote relaxation.

In preparing an effective routine, one must decide levels of importance for various daily activities and prioritize accordingly. As routines are predictable and consistent, they promote creative and constructive thinking, thus increasing efficiency. The predictability of a routine alleviates the feelings of hopelessness, becoming overwhelmed, and elevated anxiety in these challenging times.

  It is important to develop a healthy and helpful routine based on one’s current daily needs and activities, with built-in room for flexibility and modification. Add space for breaks to catch up with a friend or even that much-needed nap! Looking forward to these rewards will encourage one to stay motivated and focused when working on less enjoyable tasks.

In addition, re-evaluating these daily routines from time to time to see if they are compatible with one’s goals & needs, and making changes when necessary is crucial. It is important to build a routine around one’s productive imagination, with room for improvement and exploration of new ideas. 

In these ambiguous times, it is necessary to prepare a healthy routine that works best for you, one which provides structure, while restoring a sense of control and discipline so that you can function to your optimal capacity. Repetition ingrains a sense of comfort and regularity, more important now than ever, in the uncertain times of the pandemic. Healthy routines are a wonderful way to create harmony within oneself, as well as promote mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.

Aditya Datt Sharma is a Senior Undergraduate Neuroscience student at the University of Pittsburgh on the Pre-med track. Originally from South Brunswick, he was a part of the SBHS Class of ’17.