A solid morning routine has long been the backbone of my self-care practice. As someone who deals with depression and anxiety, it makes a noticeable difference in my mental health (and I definitely feel an even bigger difference when I skip it). You don’t have to take my word for it, though. Therapists will be quick to tell you the mental health benefits of starting your day this way. “A healthy, low-stress, [and] focused morning routine sets the tone for the whole day,” clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D., tells SELF.
It’s not just about being able to pat yourself on the back for following your routine like a Real Adult. Cementing some morning habits can make it easier to prioritize your mental and physical health throughout the rest of the day too. As soon as you wake up, every decision you make dips into your brain’s willpower reserves. The brain is an incredible organ, but even it has its limits, and there’s a lot of research out there that points toward our willpower being a limited resource. At some point, those reserves run dry, and it becomes a lot harder to turn down instant gratification, which may be why you find yourself skipping a cycling class you normally love after a long shitty day in favor of downing some wine at home.
Of course, these willpower-depleting decisions are unavoidable; our lives are full of them. That’s where a good morning routine comes in. When we automate our mornings, we develop habits that soon feel second nature, says Howes, which may wind up cutting out some depleting activities like deciding what to eat or arguing with yourself about hitting the snooze button again. Personally, I’ve found I’m much more likely to make decisions that support my self-care and well-being when I haven’t spent the morning scrambling and stressed. Plus, a lot of activities you can include in your morning routine may be self-care all on their own.
So let’s talk about some of the things you might want to add to your morning routine. Everyone’s ideal morning routine will be different, so the suggestions on this list are meant to be starting points, not a step-by-step guide (especially because who would have time for this all???). A morning routine might also involve some creative maneuvering to implement (like waking up a little earlier to fit in some solo time before your kids wake up, or involving them in your routine somehow). Experiment with what works for you, and remember that the key is consistency.
1. Make your bed.
Yes, making your bed is technically a chore, but it can also be a deceptively simple and tiny way to make yourself feel good. The reasons are manifold: It goes a long way in making your space (and mind) less cluttered, it encourages good sleep hygiene (who doesn’t want to crawl into a freshly made bed at the end of the day?), and it might also do some surprising psychological work behind the scenes too.
In an oft-repeated quote, retired Navy admiral William H. McRaven once said, “If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. And by the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.”
I never used to be the type of person who made her bed every day, but after stumbling across this tip in my mental health reporting, I decided to give it a try. At first, it was simply…nice. With a made bed, I found it easier to keep the rest of my room clean, which is always good for my mental health. I didn’t realize just how much the practice grounded me and served as a guidepost for other good habits until I stopped. After a few weeks of feeling more scattered and depressed than usual, I realized, Shit, I haven’t been making my bed. Turns out, it made all the difference.
2. Nail a “getting ready” order.
Remember that decision fatigue we just talked about? It’s extremely applicable to getting ready in the morning. Most of us have that bucket of things we do every morning to prepare for the day (you know, getting dressed, brushing our teeth, etc.), but you might not have it down to an exact order yet. Maybe sometimes you jump straight from the shower to doing your hair while other days you lounge around in your towel scrolling through the morning news.
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