Mental Health News The Importance of Maintaining Structure and Routine During Stressful Times By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MSEd Facebook Twitter Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book." Learn about our editorial process Updated on August 29, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Amy Morin, LCSW Medically reviewed by Amy Morin, LCSW Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk, "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Verywell / Bailey Mariner Key Takeaways Even if you don't typically thrive on a strict schedule, having a routine can be helpful in times of unpredictability, uncertainty, and stress.Implementing a structure to your day can give you a sense of control. It can also improve your focus, organization, and productivity.Having a routine is about more than just your day-to-day responsibilities and your work—don't forget to make time for self-care. Some people love to have a solid daily routine, while others shudder at the thought of having a predictable schedule. During times of great stress, however, maintaining structure and routine can help you feel more organized and in control. Having a routine can be helpful at any time, particularly if you are trying to establish healthy habits, but these routines can be particularly important when aspects of your life feel uncertain. Press Play for Advice On Creating Good Habits Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring Katy Milkman, PhD, shares how to build healthy habits to create lasting change. Click below to listen now. Follow Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts A Sudden Lack of Structure Many people are either working from home or faced with the prospect of an unknown period of unemployment. Those working at home may quickly discover that the constant isolation and lack of a normal schedule can be mentally taxing. Rachel Goldman, PhD When people don't have a routine or structure to their day it can cause increased stress and anxiety, as well as overwhelming feelings, lack of concentration, and focus. — Rachel Goldman, PhD A lack of structure and routine can actually exacerbate feelings of distress and make you pay more attention to the source of your problems. As Rachel Goldman, PhD, a psychologist and clinical assistant professor at the NYU School of Medicine, explains: “If people don't have structure and are sitting around with less to focus on, then they also probably will find themselves thinking about the stressful situation more, which can also lead to additional stress and anxiety." One way to get out of this cycle that promotes ruminating over the source of your stress is to maintain some structure and routine throughout your day. The Benefits of Having a Routine Research has consistently shown that routines can play an important role in mental health. One study, for example, found that routines could help people better manage stress and anxiety. Having a regular routine can help you: Lower stress levels Form good daily habits Take better care of your health Feel more productive Feel more focused Getting necessary tasks out of the way can also help you find more time for healthy behaviors like exercise and leave you more time to enjoy fun activities and hobbies. Focus on Things You Can Control Managing your own behaviors can help you feel more in control of the situation. Goldman recommends focusing on the things that are within your power to control. Rachel Goldman, PhD A good place to start with creating a new routine is to set wake-up and bedtimes, as well as meal and activity times. — Rachel Goldman, PhD The key is to create a routine that adds structure and a sense of predictability to your day. Of course, your schedule may change somewhat depending on the day of the week, but sticking to a basic structure for when you will wake, eat, work, do activities, and sleep can help you feel less stressed out and more organized. Structuring your day also ensures that you accomplish those basic tasks that must be done, which will leave you with the time to schedule in other things that you want or need to accomplish. You’ll feel more organized and productive with a regular routine, which will help you feel more proactive and in control in the face of a stressful situation. Follow a Routine That Supports Your Health There are some things that you can make a part of your daily routine to help manage stress levels. These include: Staying active and getting regular daily exercise Making sure that you are well-rested Eating healthy meals on a regular schedule Setting realistic goals Trying to stay positive Preparing for challenges but not ruminating on things you can't control Staying in touch with friends and family members Setting aside time for activities that you enjoy Of course, the situation you personally are coping with can also affect how easy or hard it is to stick to a daily routine. Make Your List One helpful activity is to make a list of the things that you normally do during the day. Include everything from work to meal preparation to household chores. Once you have an idea of the basic tasks you need to accomplish, you can start creating a general outline for what you might need to accomplish each day to stay on track. Stress can make it hard to concentrate, so outlining these daily activities can help you better focus on what’s important. While its important to get the essentials done, be sure to find things that you can look forward to, whether it’s watching a favorite television show or calling up a friend. Making these little rewards a part of your routine can help you stay upbeat and focused when you are working on a task that you might not enjoy as much. Find What Works for You Is it better to have a structured daily schedule or just a general to-do list for the day? Some people might thrive with a highly structured daily schedule that outlines activities in specific blocks of time, while others might do well with a loose list of things they need to get done in the day. How do you decide which approach is right for you? Consider your motivations as well as what you need to get done. “If it is something that is of high importance and needs to get done on a specific day, then scheduling it into your routine and carving out that time may be necessary to make sure it gets accomplished,” Goldman recommends. In other words, deliberately schedule a specific time to take care of those high priority tasks. Knowing that you have that time set aside for those tasks will leave you free to focus on using the rest of your time effectively. Goldman also suggests that it may be helpful to schedule things that you may not be motivated to do. Rachel Goldman, PhD When we don’t feel motivated to do things, it is very easy to procrastinate doing them and they will continue to get pushed for the next day and the next day. — Rachel Goldman, PhD Knowing that you need to do those tasks at a certain time on a certain day will help keep you on track and hopefully overcome the urge to just keep putting them off. Remember It Takes Time and Practice Just like trying to create a new habit, starting and sticking to a new routine takes some time and effort. You know yourself best, so if something doesn't seem to be working, try tweaking your schedule to make it work for your needs. Goldman recommends paying attention to how you feel throughout the day in order to determine what times of day you are the most productive. "If you feel like each day you feel unmotivated and lethargic at a certain time, then that is a sign that you may need a mental break at that time," she says. When you find yourself in those moments, think about what you might need to feel better and get motivated. That might mean that you need to take a break, go for a walk, have a snack, or spend some time working on a hobby. Structure your day to make the most of the natural ebb and flow of your energy levels. You'll get more done and ensure that you're getting what you need in terms of rest and relaxation. “Plans don’t always go as planned, though, so remember to be kind to yourself,” says Goldman. “This is not the time to put extra pressure and expectations on yourself. It's not easy to create new routines, or add structure to a day, when our lives feel completely disrupted and turned upside down, so it may take some time to get used to this "new" routine and be able to feel accomplished.” What This Means For You While having a routine is important, give yourself some flexibility and don’t beat yourself up if you have trouble sticking to your own schedule. Everyone copes with stress differently. Having a routine can help you maintain a sense of normalcy and focus through tough times, but don’t stress yourself out more if you sometimes deviate from your plans. 2 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Arlinghaus KR, Johnston CA. The importance of creating habits and routine. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2018;13(2):142–144. doi:10.1177/1559827618818044 Eilam D, Izhar R, Mort J. Threat detection: behavioral practices in animals and humans. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2011;35(4):999-1006. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.08.002 By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book." See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.