The Soothing Comfort of Ritual and Routine
Folks who have survived a disabling, debilitating or life-threatening illness or injury often comment upon recovery how much they relish being able to once again carry out the routine chores of daily life that we in times of good health consider to be mundane and even boring.
The very things we argued with our parents to avoid doing as children, rebelled against as teen and neglected when possible in the freedom of young adulthood are often among the greatest rewards of recovery.
After considerable thought and observation of this seeming irony, I have concluded that once one settles into the realities of mature adulthood, the rituals and routines of daily life provide a soothing comfort and a balancing certainty that serve in the background so we can engage fully in life by day and relax to sleep soundly at night.
For most of us life is about more than having a reliable way of keeping their life organized, their home functionally neat and clean, and their bills paid and food made. Those are not the things we jump out of bed with glee to start our day. But without an underlying structure for taking care of the routine things that much be done life can gradually grow frustrating, troublesome, chaotic and even dangerous
So daily rituals and routines actually free us to focus on the things in life we do jump out of bed for be that enjoying time with friends, supporting ourselves with meaningful work, participating in our favorite leisure activities, caring for and enriching the lives of our children, continuing to learn and grow as individuals, fulfilling our spiritual needs, helping others or contributing to the community.
Not knowing the mundane things that keep chaos at bay will be taken care of smoothing and quickly we’re left with a perpetual state of uncertainty, disappointment and worry.
“Where is that light bill? I think it needs to be paid sometime soon.”
“Oops, forgot my pills today. Now I feel wretched.”
“There are no clean clothes. What am I going to wear to work? I’m already running late.”
“Didn’t get a chance to stop at the store for groceries, so it’s fast food again tonight, “
“There aren’t any clean dishes; they’re all in the sink,”
“Where the heck are the scissors?”
“My checking account is overdrawn again. How did that happen? The rent check bounced.”
“I wish I’d replaced the batteries in those smoke detectors; fortunately it was only a small fire.”
“No one put air in the tires. Now the front one is flat.”
“If only I’d taken the dog to the vet sooner.”
The best way to avoid such snags is to turn routine requirements into routines themselves and do them automatically as rituals, i.e. always take pills right after getting out of bed, clear and rinse off dishes right after you finish eating, Saturday is laundry day – first load goes on while enjoying morning coffee, first weekend of the month bills get paid, etc.
Usually after consciously doing such tasks ritually without fail over 6 to 10 weeks they become habits. You won’t need to think about doing them anymore. They will just get done.
Here are some possible to help create de-stressing routines:
- Make a list of things you want or need to turn into routines to be sure they get done without your having to constantly concern yourself with them.
- Assign a realistically convenient time and place for getting each one done. When possible identify times that link these routine tasks to things that already happen automatically, i.e.:
- When the sun comes up or the alarm goes off, immediately orient yourself to the day of the week and the date.
- Take pills with breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- Take dishes the sink, wash or put them in the dish washer immediately upon rising from the table or where ever you were eating.
- Check email right after breakfast befor leaving for the day.
- Put things lying around back in their place either immediately after you using them or pick up whatever is lying around before going to bed.
- Have an in-your face calendar that is always handy so you know what day, month and year it is.
- If you don’t know for certain what needs doing on a particular days, check your calendar before you go to bed and when you wake.
- Put routine activities like bill paying, car maintenance, trips to the doctor or vet, etc., on the calendar at the time you learn of them.
- Make up the bed rights as you climb out of it.
- Wear a watch or carry a cell with an alarm so you know what time it is and can be cued to certain time-sensitive requirements during activities where you are likely to lose track of time.
- Have a place for everything and keep everything in its place. (This will save you incalculable time in not frantically having to look for things when you most need them.)
- Have everything you need in order to carry out routine tasks in convenient, nearby places.
- Get everyone you live with on board with routines and schedules so they will understand how and when these things are handled. Doing these routines cheerfully together as a family is especially helpful when there are young children in the home. They can start out almost like a game. i.e. Who can get their dishes cleared first.
These specific examples are examples, not suggestions for how you should do it. Fit your routines into what best suits your life.
Yes, it does take a little time at first to set up routines and turn them into rituals, so approach setting them up one at a time. Once you have one in place take a break to enjoy having it off you mind and then take on the next one. Never be so rigid that you become a slave to your rituals though. There will need to be occasional exceptions, of course, when an emergency throws everything off course. For example, if this Saturday is your birthday do Saturday’s laundry on Sunday that week. If your son is in the hospital, the house won’t be picked up until you bring him home.
If this seems arduous at first, remember if you aren’t suffering from a life threatening or disabling illness or injury you can be grateful for the chance to relish running your like the way those who do suffer with such burdens would love to get the chance to do once more. Once your routines are set, you’ll be able to jump out of bed each morning feeling pleased that you have given yourself the gift of knowing you’ll enjoy the soothing comfort of a life that runs smoothly in the background while you carry one with life.
Having routines doesn’t mean you can’t also enjoy plenty of novelty, spontaneity and surprises in your life. The comfort, constancy and certainty of familiar rituals provide the sense of safety and security we need to welcome and enjoy the unexpected. Even when life is hard or unpleasant we will know that at the core of each day all is well with the world.
If you believe you or someone you love is seeking counseling, contact me.