I miss my routines.
Over the years, I’ve built dozens of routines that have improved my life–routines that make going to the gym nearly automatic, routines that make it easier to eat in a way that reflects my values, routines that increase my contact with other people even though my natural introversion can lead to isolation. These are routines built to increase my self-care, which honestly is a challenge for me otherwise. In the past, I found it hard to prioritize myself if in the moment I had to make a choice–right now, do I do what I need or what someone else needs? Most of the time, in the moment, I would more readily take care of someone else. But when these things are routine, when they are habitual, I do what I need to do for myself and I feel better for it.
But my routines have gone all to hell these days.
I am a teacher, and school has been closed down, possibly for the remainder of the year. In my life before pandemic, I worked too many hours, and I had to be very strategic to get everything done. I welcomed any bit of extra time to rest, connect with friends, and to mindfully plan the next busy day. I eagerly filled nonschool days with activities and self-care. But that was before businesses started closing down. And it was before it was unclear if I was making an unethical choice every time I stepped out the door.
And so now, with sort-of school slowly becoming a reality, I’m not quite sure how best to take care of myself. Would it help to get back to prepping my meals? (Some of my previous breakfast and lunch practices are posted here, if you are interested.) Maybe I’d eat better if it were all decided for me each day. However, every trip to the store has become an act of foraging for prefered staples–seeking out and competing for limited prized goods like beans, chicken and frozen broccoli. Inconsistent availability makes it difficult to plan meals ahead of time. And besides, giving myself some food variety is an appreciated source of entertainment right now.
Should I write down my “gym” and “running” days on the calendar and schedule them like appointments with myself? It might help to feel like I’m accomplishing something when I can check them off, but uncertainties in other aspects of life make it hard to know when to reliably fit those in. I started off pretty enthusiastically figuring out home versions of various lifts, but as work is coming back, and directives from the state and school district change on a daily basis, I can’t reliably determine when I have time for an hour of “lifting” on any particular day. And there are still days when I seem exhausted by it all, and the best thing for me is to let myself sit like a loaf on the sofa with a cat in my lap.
I acknowledge that some of the mini-habits are still in place. I’m still brushing and flossing my teeth. I did laundry, although it did not get put away as rapidly as it usually would have. I’m going for walks most days. I’m still mostly going to bed at my usual bedtime, and I’m enjoying sleeping in. I’m still eating a good amount of fresh fruit, vegetables and some protein at most meals (although there’s also a good amount of brownies, too). It doesn’t feel like enough, but it’s what I am managing to do right now. I’m trying to embrace an 80/20 mindset–80% intentional, 20% whatever. I’d be more comfortable closer to 92/8, truth be told.
I don’t have a solution to offer here. I feel like it’s important just to observe the challenge right now and to be kind to myself (ourselves) if I’m struggling to maintain my healthy habits and routines to the degree to which I prefer. I genuinely don’t mind being a little lax for a while, as long as it’s not indefinitely. And I think that’s where I get anxious and stressed–without knowing for how long this will be my new normal, I don’t know how important it is to develop new routines. I suspect we are in this for a long time, and so I want to find solutions that feel real and meaningful. I’m not there yet, but I am trying to believe I will be soon.
How about you, dear reader? Are you missing your routines? Have you found a new set of habits readily available, or are you still struggling to find them?
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher who misses her students. She can be found using resistance bands while pretending she’s picking up heavy things and putting them back down again, in Portland, Oregon.