When the circumstances of chronic illness pull you into chaosMany of us are in a seasonal transition. We in the Northeast are moving (hopefully!) into a warmer time. For our southern hemisphere friends, the seasons are turning colder. Transition times are opportunities to shift habits and behaviors. Any transition, between times of work, after a bout of illness, moving to a new home or even something as minor as a seasonal change, invites us to adjust our routines and do something different.

The change in habits can be beneficial. We shake ourselves out of the mindless way we go through each day, by letting go of a regular schedule and allowing new things to happen.

But letting go of habits, or, more problematically, not forming regular routines, can also harm us.

In Mason Curry’s book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, he writes. “..one’s daily routine….can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time ( the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism. A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.”

Curry writes about artists and thinkers who built structure and ritual into each day in order to do significant creative work, but the process is no less important for those who live with “limited resources” of time, energy and optimism due to chronic illness.

The times when someone is tempted to drop routine often come in a transition due to a flare, or a time of ongoing pain. Exercise, connecting with people, eating well, and of course, sleep routines, disappear.

Curry’s words are a reminder that this is the time when we need our structures the most to help us move through the difficult and limiting times.

What routines are most important to you and your health?

I’ve asked a number of people and looked around, and here are the most popular.

-Brushing my teeth

-Getting sleep

-Eating vegetables every day

-Walking or stretching for ten minutes a day

-Taking my meds at the same time very day

-My meditation

Those same folks admitted that some of these were the first habits to go when they were stressed or when they traveled or something else changed in the environment.

When I talked with them, we spent a little time strategizing how to keep habits and supportive routines in place. They gave themselves some good advice.

Notice your routines –pay attention to what you do each day that matters. Then, when there is stress, pull yourself back to center. We can’t return to our routines if we haven’t ever named what they are.

Don’t take your habits for granted. Our habits have taken time and energy to get in place in our lives. It doesn’t take too many skipped sessions to break the exercise habit. We only have to begin eating badly for a day or two before we are giving ourselves a pass on eating fries and dessert.

Look at the positive outcomes you get from your routine. It may not be easy to see the payoff from a night of rest, but the benefit is there. We have more energy and ability to be productive the next day. Remind yourself of that when the TV or internet beckon late at night. In a similar way, track how your routines give you that extra physical or mental bandwidth so you are not having to make decisions very often during a day. That gives you an automatic boost when you need the willpower to make a hard decision as the day goes on.

What routines expand your limited resources? How do you get yourself back on track when circumstances pull you into chaos?