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How do habits, routines, and rituals support us during the holidays and stressful times?

Rondalyn V. Whitney, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA

January 8, 2021

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Question

How do habits, routines, and rituals support us during the holidays and stressful times?

Answer

  • Habits, routines, and rituals to help us feel organized and calm and normalize our daily experience. 
  • The more internal disorganization we experience, the more we rely on external structure and organization to feel calm and at peace. 

Habits, routines, and rituals help us feel organized and calm, and they help to normalize our daily experience. The more internally disorganized we are, the more we rely on external structure and organization to feel calm and at peace. That is a tenet that we use not only for ourselves but also for our clients, especially children, across the lifespan when we are having moments of disruption. This could be due to an injury, a disability, or something happening in the environment. I think this is one of those pieces in our practice that we hear so much about that we forget to think about what it really means.

For example, I have a habit of making a cup of coffee every morning. I go down the stairs, and I make a cup of coffee for myself in the morning. It is a habit that I have done so many times that it has become a routine. Another thing that is true is my alertness in the morning is not as high as I would like it to be. I have a tendency to drop things or be kind of "fumbly." One of the things that I have learned to do to combat this is to set up my coffee cup at the Keurig before I go to bed. Then, when I wake up in the morning, I have set myself up to be successful instead of rooting around to find a coffee cup and potentially dropping it. I also have some favorite coffee cups. I also make sure that the coffee cup that I like the most is washed and ready to go. This habit supports my morning routine. Another ritual of mine is that every day at five o'clock, I set out cheese and crackers and have a glass of wine. This is my family's happy hour. My in-laws have had this particular ritual for at least 30 years, and it was well-established when I met them. It signified there was an ending of the workday and the beginning of family and friend time. When my mother-in-law passed away, that ritual got disrupted, and we had to find a way to replace that for my father-in-law.

We use these external organizing strategies to help us feel more organized when we cannot find that organization inside. This applies to our children as well. Some children have more difficulty getting themselves organized than others. The little squiggly guy had a lot more difficulty getting himself organized for a picture than the older son. We had to bring in an external strategy to help him to organize himself to be able to sit long enough for a picture to be snapped. Thus, the more internal disorganization we experience, the more we are going to rely on the external structure and organization in order to feel calm and at peace.

Many of us have routines or rituals like setting the table in a certain way. This helps us feel organized. You may have a special centerpiece from your mom or your grandma's china. It can really help you. However, it can also be disruptive. What might bring us a feeling of calm and order might be disruptive for someone else. We have to be almost like a detective to see if we can figure out the stressors. 


rondalyn v whitney

Rondalyn V. Whitney, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA

Dr. Rondalyn Whitney is an Associate Professor and Director of faculty Development & Scholarship at West Virginia University.  Dr. Whitney writes prolifically on the barriers occupational participation primarily in families raising children with developmental disabilities. Dr. Whitney’s research interests are in health related quality of life, toxic stress, and emotional disclosure through personal narrative and journal writing.  Her primary outcome variable of interest is enhanced social participation for individuals with disabilities and their families.  She is currently completing an advanced certificate in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University.  Please see Dr. Whitney’s profile on LinkedIn for more information or contact her at rondalyn.whitney@hsc.wvu.edu


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