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How to Adjust to a New Routine

Change can be stressful. Here's how to do it right.

by Gretchen Brown
June 18, 2020 | Living

There's something comforting about an old routine. The way you always know you'll wake up to iced coffee. The man with the craft beer hat will be at your bus stop. You'll shuffle into the lounge to heat up some soup for lunch, and your coworker will be there.

It's calming in the same way as waves rolling in on a beach. It's expected.

Getting used to a new routine, then? It's a hurricane.

"Adjusting to a shift in routine can be one of the most stressful experiences in a person's life, especially when the new routine is dramatically different than the old one," said Shashita Inamdar, a licensed physician and a board-certified child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist.

Routine helps us feel like we have control over our lives. Change, on the other hand, can make us feel lonely and sad.

But there are things we can do to make adjusting to a new routine a little easier.

Man meditating. REWIRE PBS living new routine
When we make a change, we're going against built neural pathways. Changing your brain — literally — isn't easy.  |  Credit: Adobe

1. Ease into it, if you can

One study found that folks are more likely to welcome change at work when their company leaders emphasize what's staying the same. And that could be translated to your personal life, too.

Some level of continuity helps us feel some comfort amid change — that our identity, at the core, is still there.

"If possible, make small changes each week to take on your new routine, instead of trying to change your entire routine all at once," Inamdar said. 

"You're more likely to succeed at your new routine in this progressive way, and experience less stress."

For instance, if you're transitioning to working back in the office after some time working from home, see if you can arrange to split your time working from home and the office. 

That way, the transition isn't so jarring.

2. Check in with yourself

It's important to focus on your mental health before, during and after any transition.

"If we are able to create an internal landscape of feeling settled, external changes do not rattle us so much," said Alice Kerby, a doctor and health coach.

Kerby recommends daily practices like meditation, qi gong or other grounding exercises that can help you feel in tune with your mind and body.

Another easy grounding exercise can be focusing on gratitude, either mentally or in a journal. 

Folks who are dealing with mental health issues like depression may find it even harder to incorporate a new routine, since they already may not be interested in most activities. 

When we make a change, we're going against built neural pathways. Changing your brain — literally — isn't easy.

"Make extra time for self-care," Inamdar said. "Give yourself extra downtime and indulge in familiar activities that bring you joy." 

3. Get ready to be uncomfortable

An informal survey from Freakonomics author Steven Levitt found that most respondents ended up happier after they made big life changes.

No matter how necessary or freeing that life change will be, the transition to it can be the hardest part. Give yourself credit throughout the process.

"Successful people give themselves credit, and they stick with it," Kerby said. 

"Yes, it will most likely be uncomfortable at times. So what? Get used to the idea that you might be uncomfortable and just accept that."

No level of easing into a new routine will make that discomfort completely go away. Embrace the mess, if you can.

Kerby said that many folks either take on too much or give up too quickly. Make sure you don't bite off more than you can chew, but know that you're capable of working through the change.

"Create one new habit as part of the new routine, and stick with it for 30 days," she said. 

"Congratulate yourself for doing it well, even if you didn't do it perfectly. Giving yourself these accolades and positive reinforcement is crucial to establishing lasting new routines."

4. Seek help if you need it

You don't have to adjust to a new routine alone. Take the time to reach out to friends and family. If they're not going through it right now, chances are they've been there before.

In some cases, you might benefit from additional professional support to help you through it. There's no shame in that.

"If changing your routine is a bit too stressful or is causing you to feel symptoms of anxiety or depression, don't hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for guidance," Inamdar said.

Gretchen Brown
Gretchen Brown is an editor for Rewire. She’s into public media, music and really good coffee. Email her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @gretch_brown.
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