How Daily Rituals Help Ease Anxiety & Depression

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woman wearing headphones covered in blanket at home

During this difficult time of Covid-19 — with people feeling stuck at home, isolated, frustrated by the slowness of the vaccines, and thrown out of our regular schedules, many people need help in going forward.

There are widespread news stories of suffering. People are becoming more and more anxious, feeling down, and even suicidal.

To get through this time, in addition to reaching out and helping others, we also need to help ourselves. Although there are a number of ways to keep ourselves going forward, one thing we need to start doing is daily rituals.

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Daily rituals are beneficial to our well-being in stressful times. 

You may prefer spontaneity and the freedom to do anything you want. But, scientifically, it turns out that rituals may help you during challenging times.

Behavioral scientists Francesco Gino and Michael Norton published an article in Scientific American in 2013 on the benefits of daily rituals in stressful times. 

They stated, "Rituals performed after experiencing losses — from loved ones to lotteries — do alleviate grief, and rituals performed before high-pressure tasks — like singing in public — do in fact reduce anxiety and increase people’s confidence."

We feel more in control of our lives with daily rituals.  

One definite way you can add some control to your life is by developing daily rituals.

Scott Berinato, a professor at Harvard Business School has also studied rituals and their effects.

He says, "We feel out of control when we experience loss — we didn’t want it to happen, but we couldn’t control it. That is, in and of itself, a very unpleasant feeling, that sense that you’re not in charge of your life. Rituals restore some of that control."

Daily rituals don't have to be complicated. 

"I don’t want to learn some new complicated thing!" you may say. "Life is hard enough right now without that!"

A ritual, in its simplest sense, means having a practice, a routine, or a time to do a specific action.

Here are a few examples:

1. Having a 15-minute meditation time every morning in a quiet corner of your house, using a simple inner chant or the line of a prayer or poem that you particularly like.

2. Going on a walk every day around the park nearby and quietly observe the plants, the birds, the insects, the sun shining on the drops of water on the leaves, whatever you're seeing.

3. Establishing a simple yoga or workout routine that you do, either alone or by Zoom with others each day.

4. Starting each day by writing down what you did the previous day and noting your plans for the coming day.

5. Texting back and forth with a sibling every day at about 6:00 p.m. and talk about what you experienced that day.

6. Setting aside a five-minute daily period in which you appreciate everything you can think of in your life to be grateful for.

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Incorporate gratitude into daily rituals. 

A friend and mentor of mine described to me his talk with another person who was having difficulties in his life. My friend suggested that the person regularly say aloud the things about his life that he was thankful for.

The person said, "But I have nothing that I can think of to be thankful for! Nothing at all!"

My friend responded, "Then, your mantra should be, 'Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!'"

He was suggesting that if we think more deeply, all of us can find something to be thankful for — and that using the ritual of saying, "Thank you!" would bring these things up to the person, eventually.

What might it be like during this challenging time to have a period of time each day simply to chant to ourselves, "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"?

It might prompt us to recall the amazing aspects of our lives that we actually are grateful for but hadn’t considered.

Get grounded with daily rituals.

So, I urge you to consider setting up a regular ritual for yourself, one that's possible and do-able for you. Discipline yourself to follow it for a specific period of time and then ask yourself how it's affecting you.

And maybe you will find that it can help ground you and support you through this very challenging time and that it will give back some feeling of control.

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Ramona Buck is a mediator, trainer, and consultant for conflicts in the workplace, community, and family, including multi-party issues.