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Roamers Therapy I June 2024

Our daily routines are part of our self-care. By building daily routines, we form a list of actions that nurture our body, soul, and mind. We all have unique daily routines that fulfill our needs, such as work, school, social activities, or exercise. Performing daily routines may have become automatic. It’s not always easy to follow these routines, and you may have occasional slip-ups. However, breaking down routines so many times and feeling guilty about it might be a warning sign. Changes in mood, losing interest in something that was found joyful in the past, and negative effects such as hopelessness or pessimism might be related to or cause the change in daily routines. These changes are known as depressive symptoms. Depressive symptoms might prevent you from taking action. In this therapy sketch, we will look closer at the importance of daily routines when feeling depressed and how cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps us build daily routines to enhance self-care.  

What is a “ daily routine”?

Daily routines are frequent and consistent habitual activities that one engages in. Your body has its own clock to schedule daily routines via circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm defines your daily routines, such as the sleep and wake cycle and metabolism, and is also related to your eating patterns. However, not every daily routine is defined by our circadian rhythm. Daily routines range from exercise participation to occupational, leisure, social, and personal care. It can comprise social rhythms that often include other people, directly or indirectly. This routine might include some tasks we like, such as socializing with friends or getting a cup of coffee from your favorite coffee shop, and some tasks you might not like, such as grocery shopping or using transportation to return home. Even though you aren’t fully aware of it, daily routines are important because they lessen stress levels by structuring the day and minimizing uncertainty. Also, it helps to regulate your mood by giving you a purpose and structure. 

Changes in Daily Routine

These daily routines may change temporarily due to illness or workload or permanently due to job changes or relocation. Daily routines are fluid and can change accordingly as life changes. However, sometimes routines can be disrupted even when there is no reason for them to change. The number of tasks we have in our daily routine may be too much, and doing all of them for a long time may cause burnout, which is feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. Burnout includes physical symptoms such as fatigue, mental symptoms such as poor quality of work in the tasks, and emotional symptoms such as feelings of anger and depression. The tasks may not be as enjoyable as they used to be. There may not be enough energy and motivation to perform the daily routine. These changes may be followed by changes in circadian rhythms, such as disturbances in our sleeping and eating patterns. These disruptions in the routine can be related to depressive mood. 

How does depressive mood influence our daily routine by affecting our behaviors?

People with depressive moods or symptoms feel sadness much more intensely, frequently, and for a longer period of time. If you are experiencing depressive symptoms, you may feel bad about yourself and pessimistic about the future. You might also suffer from a loss of enjoyment and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy and a loss of interest in them. This is very effective in changing your routines. Even simple tasks such as washing dishes or getting a bath can become extremely difficult. This leads to disruptions in important areas of life such as work, family, and social life. The sadness, unhappiness, and pessimism you might feel can gradually lead to hopelessness. The hopelessness leads to a vicious behavioral cycle. Lack of motivation and energy due to sadness causes you to reduce your activities and disrupt your daily routines. However, the disruption of daily routines further increases feelings of hopelessness. Not engaging in any activity will prevent you from having new and good experiences and feeling positive emotions. Similarly, disruption of daily routines at home and at work can lead to feelings of guilt and failure when the workload starts to pile up. Feelings of failure and guilt can further demoralize you and lead to more inactivity. 

How can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques help?

CBT incorporates techniques for exploring thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and body sensations. One technique in CBT that can support is behavioral activation. Behavioral activation can help you enjoy a healthy routine by encouraging you to engage in activities even when you may not “feel” like it to see if it affects your mood. A depressive mood leads you to believe that you cannot change how you feel emotionally. Being behaviorally active will improve your mood and strengthen your sense of self-efficacy. When you think about starting any activity, you probably have thoughts such as I won’t enjoy it, I can’t do it, I’m too exhausted, etc., and as a result of these thoughts, you remain inactive. This inaction leads to a deterioration in mood and a decrease in your sense of self-efficacy, thus creating a vicious circle and breaking your daily routines. Even if you engage in various activities, you might often dissatisfied with yourself and not enjoy what you do because of your self-critical thoughts. Behavioral activation helps to identify daily tasks or activities you can do despite these thoughts, and carrying them out will help you feel good, express your thoughts, and enjoy yourself.

How to optimize your daily routine?

Here are some tips for utilizing behavioral activation to optimize your daily routine if you feel stuck on building a daily routine or maintaining it:

  • Monitor your daily activities: Observing your activities during the day is important for identifying and improving your daily routine. 
  • Planning enjoyable and meaningful activities: Finding enjoyable activities will change the course of your routine if the daily activities you are already engaged in do not make you happy or bring you joy. To achieve this, you might try to include activities you used to enjoy doing in your daily routine or add activities that can be done according to your interests.
  • Resolve potential obstacles to planned activities and take action: It may be important for these activities to be small-scale in terms of feasibility at the beginning. Incorporating time-consuming or financially demanding activities into your daily routine may become exhausting. For example, stopping by a favorite store on your way home can be a small but effective change. It may seem difficult to take the first step after planning, but observing the change in your mood can help you stay motivated once you have taken action.
  • Identification of goals and values: Every daily routine has a function that allows it to become a routine. These daily routines serve the physical or mental health of the person. For example, eating keeps you healthy, while calling your best friend when you get home provides social support. When adding an activity to your routine, setting a goal to add it to your routine gives you the motivation to keep it in your life. 
  • Reducing avoidance: Daily routines may seem automatic, but sometimes, they can be very challenging to fulfill. In addition to external reasons, many internal factors, such as low motivation, low mood, or depressive symptoms, may prevent you from doing the activity. When the activity is not done several times in a row, you may not want to engage, which can lead to a break from the routine. To prevent this, recognizing that slip-ups are normal and showing self-compassion when we are unable to do the activity occasionally can be important for maintaining a daily routine.

When you develop routines, you create a special daily schedule for yourself. This schedule helps you get through the day by removing the uncertainty in your mind and guiding you to take action. However, when you feel depressed and have depressive symptoms, you might notice that you are having interruptions in your routine, and this awareness might lead you to further guilt and hopelessness. The feelings of guilt and hopelessness trigger inactivity, disrupt routines deeper, and create a vicious cycle in which you might feel like getting stuck. Building a new routine or keeping up with the old one by tailoring it according to new needs might help you step out of the vicious cycle.  However, it is important to keep in mind that optimizing your daily routines may not always be sufficient if you are feeling depressed. Therefore, it is important to remember to seek help from a mental health professional if necessary. 

While our physical offices are located in South Loop and Lakeview neighborhoods in Chicago, Illinois for in-person sessions, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more.  

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.