“Routine is rather like the egg whites in a batter: it imparts little flavor, but it holds everything together.” — Josiah Bancroft
Experiencing a significant loss opens your eyes to see many things, including just how lopsided your life has become. From learning how to live life apart from a loved one to exploring newfound rhythms to experiencing unpredictable shifts, grief is unsettling.
I remember exactly where I was in March 2020 when news aired about COVID-19’s deadly appearance in the U.S. And just as I began to wrap my mind around the country’s lockdown, my dad fell seriously ill, landed in ICU, and died just one week later. This occurred against an already existent grief-filled landscape.
Following my dad’s death, I grasped for some semblance of ‘normal.’ My spirit, mind, and body, each out of sync in its own way, wrestled day and night to achieve balance … or at least, a shift in the direction towards balance.
Little did I know I’d make some interesting discoveries along the way, primarily about my ordinary days and extraordinary challenges within them. The most important discovery — actually, re-discovery … was the importance of routine.
Yes, the ‘r’ word we sometimes hate. However, please bear with me for a moment.
Here are three things I re-discovered about routine …
It helps improve overall health. Don’t believe me? An April 2020 article highlights the health benefits of keeping a routine; check it out here: https://www.verywellmind.com/the-importance-of-keeping-a-routine-during-stressful-times-4802638. When I returned to work a month after my dad died, I realized the profound impact my broken routine had taken on my mental and physical health. With no need to wake up at a specific time or meet with anyone, days morphed into nights. I discovered that it was not only challenging to concentrate for even short amounts of time, but it was also difficult to still myself. See, the heightened arousal that comes with grief can over-stimulate the nervous system, making it darn near impossible to achieve harmony in the mind or body. So I made the decision to return to my daily routine in order to help myself create predictable moments throughout each day. While I couldn’t control much of what occurred following my dad’s death, I could at least control the times of day I ate, talked with someone, or moved my body. This alone offered me an incredible boost, both physically and mentally.
It reminds you to keep going. Can I be real? My inner grief voice loves to scream, “Just lay in bed, grieving heart!” While this may sound compassionate and comforting, I know it’s a trap. In my world, grief loves to dictate my coming and going and often, it encourages me to remain in the same place. However, we all know that nothing in life remains the same forever. Change is the norm, whether we embrace this truth or not. Keeping a daily routine invites me to see change for what it is — an opportunity to explore something new in life. As I’ve been intentional about setting aside time to outline my routine, I’ve discovered areas where I struggle to keep going. For instance, several months after my dad’s death, I realized that I hadn’t been consistent with my physical health routine. Of course, moving was challenging, as is often the case when you’re grieving. At the same time, the awareness gave me the fuel I needed to begin the process of slowly infusing exercise into each day, if only for a few minutes. I’ve been amazed to see how my body movement has served as a signal for my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to do the same.
It creates space to think about the future. I’ve always been a fan of writing things down and sticking to some sort of routine. Part of my enjoyment relates to my ability to check things off ‘the list’ as I complete them. And another point of satisfaction rests with my longing to look ahead and see what’s down the road. Yes, I have ‘control freak’ tendencies! When my dad died against COVID-19’s backdrop, I couldn’t see a clear path. Truthfully, I found it difficult to look forward to much of anything, again a typical byproduct of grief. With the restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic, even planning an event to memorialize and honor my dad’s life felt blurry and impossible. Roughly 6 months after his death, however, I began taking steps to not only consider daily routines, but also future ones. The question that loomed in my mind was: “What else might I prioritize in my life tomorrow?” ‘Tomorrow,’ a word I found overwhelming to consider. Yet I had to. I needed to. As I flipped to the tomorrows in my planner, I began to jot down ideas I might include in my routine — gardening, rest, reading, painting. And with each passing day, my heart started to anticipate the next day … not always with great hope, but with openness. Friend, sometimes a small opening is all you need.
Routine, while imparting little flavor, helped me hold things together along the grief journey.
You may be reading this thinking, ‘Man, I hate routines.’ I get that. And I hope you know the routines I speak of here are not rigid activity-filled days. On the contrary, they’re the bare minimum. They’re what I like to call ‘anchor points’ — moments you can look to throughout the day to help anchor you in the present and encourage you to consider the future.
It’s a tricky dance in the grief world, I know. Grief is complicated as is, and the thought of adding anything to the mix can feel unbearable.
So as you consider routine, be gentle with yourself. It’s about taking small, yet meaningful, steps to live in the face of loss.
What thoughts come to mind as you think about your own routine?
Friend, I challenge you to take a few moments to jot down how you might sprinkle a little routine into your day. You may be surprised by what you discover. Or re-discover.
If you’re interested in learning more about managing your lifestyle, love, leadership, and loyalties to God, self, and others, click here: https://mekelharrisphd.com/.
5 Ways to Unwind RIGHT NOW!
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Dr. Mekel Harris is a Memphis-based licensed psychologist who loves helping other perfectly imperfect folks navigate life's challenges in order to grow in lifestyle, love, leadership, and loyalties to God, self, and others.
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