How to feel a little less crazy; maintain routines to reduce stress

One of the most common things I am hearing right now is “I’m not doing anything well.” We are all feeling stretched too thin in every direction there is to be stretched. And that is a terrible feeling. Especially when we wake up the next day and surprise, it feels like Groundhog’s Day… again.

I have discovered over the past few weeks that keeping a loose routine has been my saving grace. When I thought this “new normal” wasn’t lasting quite so long, I felt even more motivated to create a routine down to 30 minute intervals. Now, I realize that won’t work for us. Instead, I have figured out our routines exist around meal times, and that is what is keeping us somewhat together.

Benefits of Routine

The mindfulness app Headspace has a great article about the benefits of routine. Clinical psychologist Dr. Steve Omra said that “Routine also helps with stress…Once this becomes your normal routine, it’s easier to accomplish everything, because it becomes habit.” Career coach Marty Nemko points out another soothing effect: routine is “something you know you can do well,” which can be comforting during tough times: “Modern life, increasingly defined by unpredictability, can be anxiety-provoking, and routines provide an anchor of predictability.”

My current favorite podcast, Feel Better, Live More just had an interview with John McAvoy. McAvoy, now a free man and Nike sponsored athlete, previously served two terms in jail. During one term, he spent a year in solitary confinement in a 12X8 cell. On the show, he talks about how important it is to accept the “new normal” and then cope by structuring the day. While he could have simply counted down the days, instead he took control and kept a routine. He choose to better himself by creating a “cell circuit” and centered his day on exercise and reading.

The title of that podcast episode is “How to Thrive in Lockdown” and it was quite fitting how many parallels could be drawn. While I am not in a prison, some days I feel like I am. Below is a breakdown of how I am structuring our days during this Stay at Home order, with a 2 and almost 4 year old.

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Morning Routine

Having a loose sense of routine has been our saving grace. The morning routine is as follows:

  • Get up at 7:00 (both kids have a Hatch light that changes at 7:00 AM and that is their ticket out of their rooms, even if they wake up before then)
  • Get dressed before going downstairs
  • Eat breakfast
  • Have Keener do his nebulizer/watch TV

This morning routine stays the same, every weekday morning, and the kids know what to expect. That is the beauty with routine — everyone knows what to expect which creates for more enjoyable time together. I even have this visually posted for the kids so if there is a question such as, “Can we get dressed after breakfast today?” I remind them that the schedule shows “get dressed” before “eat breakfast.”

The reason I do this is not because I actually care if they eat breakfast in their pajamas. It is because I am trying, with all of my might, to reduce power struggles right now. That said, within the routine, I am *trying* to let more go. For example, this is Keener’s outfit today. He is doing his zoom preschool call and as you can see, his shirt is clearly on backwards. Although the recovering control freak in me squirms, I didn’t open my mouth. He got dressed on his own before breakfast — win. In the words of Anna and Elsa, know when to LET IT GO.

Post Breakfast, Pre Lunch

This time is not nearly as scheduled as I initially attempted. It is from about 8:30-11:30 and consists of playing, art, building, zoom preschool, puzzles, reading, being outside, getting exercise, chalk, sensory activites, etc. I try to have 1-3 activites on tap, but otherwise I have really been following my kids lead.

For example yesterday, we were outside using this awesome rocket launcher which then led to races, which led to collecting sticks. Keener then wanted to count the sticks and we decided to tape them to big brown paper. Having a roll of big brown paper is essential. You can put it under any art project, use it as its own art project (have you seen the “mail a hug?” so cute!), take it outside, use it as wrapping paper, etc. I just ordered another roll as we have been going through it now more than usual.

No matter what we are doing, another part of the routine is that we clean up before starting the next activity, when appropriate. For example if we are doing puzzles, we always clean those up before moving on to the next activity. Keener has felt the frustration of not being able to find a piece to a puzzle. He now understands the importance of putting all of the pieces away.

Lunch and Nap/Quiet Time Routine

From 11:30-1:00, we are cleaning up, making lunch, eating, and getting ready for naps/quiet time. This is also a great time we use the website Epic which has over 40,000 digital books for kids. Many of these can be read aloud which is awesome. My kids are able to independently listen to stories (you see each page of the book while it reads) while I am making lunch.

After lunch, we read books together and every goes down for quiet time/nap time around 1:15. Grace (almost 2.5) always takes a nap and Keener (almost 4) gets to choose between a nap and quiet time. Either way, it is from 1:15-2:45/3:30. At 2:45, Keener gets to use the iPad for 30-45 minutes or until Grace wakes up, whichever comes first! (He also knows that if he wakes her up while he is doing quiet time, then there will be no iPad.)

Evening Routine

From 3:30-5:00, the kids have a small snack and then we either go outside and play, go for a walk, or do some of the activites listed above from the morning block. I expect the kids to play together while I make dinner and we eat together from around 5:30-6:00.

Around 6:00, we put the TV on and Keener does his medicine again. He has gotten really into Terrific Trucks (on Hulu). This has been a welcome break from Peppa Pig and Curious George! Grace also has been enjoying Charlie and the Numbers (also on Hulu) and Keener likes it as well.

Bedtime Routine

This is my favorite routine of the day as it has the greatest reward waiting for me at the end. It is also the most challenging as I am exhausted. What makes it easier is that it is has become a very set routine which makes it incredibly predictable for everyone. No later than 6:30, we go upstairs. The kids pick out their own pajamas (which they enjoy doing) and take showers together. We used to only do baths but then I gave them the option and they have been choosing a shower – works for me!

Then Keener gets his pajamas on by himself, I help Grace, and we go to read books. *I haven’t been as strict about Keener picking up the toys in his room after quiet time and that has been biting me in the butt. Having the toys out definitely serves as a distraction.

After pajamas are on, they each pick out a book. If they are taking forever to come over for books, I use a natural consequence; I will calmly tell them “You are using your time to play instead of read. That means we won’t have time for each of your to choose a book. That will make it a “mommy’s choice” night. I am going to count back from 10 and then I will be selecting the book and starting to read.” Keener has come by zero every time. Grace may or may not which I’m fine with. I calmly tell her, “Grace, we are starting books and you are missing them which is your choice.” (She usually finishes whatever she is doing and comes within 1 minutes of starting books.)

After books, we brush teeth, we sing to Grace *more to come on this time as Keener has been really silly during songs*, and tell her good night. Then Keener and I go into his room and he gets snuggled in with his “friends.” He gets to pick one story that I (or my husband) narrates aloud. I tell him goodnight and almost without fail, he tells me what he wants to eat for breakfast. He then asks to have his door open ‘just a little bit.’ I tell him “of course. Love you Bud.” and then leave.

Routines are predictable and predictable is calming. Especially during such an unpredictable time. See if you can figure out what parts of your day to create a routine so that everyone is on the same page, whatever page that is for your family. Enlist your kids in creating the routine with you. Together, lay out the parts and have them help you put them in an order that makes sense (i.e. for bedtime, brainstorm everything they need to do and work together to put them in order for that night). Who knows, one night you might brush teeth before bath and sing songs before books – it could get crazy! However, having the same predictable elements each night may help everyone feel a tad more calm and a little less crazy.


  1. Great post! Routine is absolutely essential in creating an atmosphere of action instead of reaction. It is comforting and reassuring to know that there is some sense of control and meaning with respect to our world and our place in it. It is especially significant during this time when so many routine activities outside the home have been suspended. We must sort out the confusion and orchestrate our days in ways that bring satisfaction and joy rather than frustration and boredom.

    Routine in our lives is much like organizing our belongings. It simplifies our days and relieves stress and anxiety associated with things being out of our control. Thank you for this much needed message of hope amidst the despair.

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