Good habits disrupted
January 4, 2011 8:49 AM   Subscribe

I need help dealing with the emotion/mental stress that comes with screwing up a positive routine.

About two years ago, I made a committment to start living healthier (like a number of the New Year's AskMe posts I've seen!); I work out three times a week, I cut out a lot of processed sugar and fat from my diet, and started eating much more fruits and vegetables. I like doing this--I feel better, my measures of health are better, and I look better. I have a set routine that I have gotten into, but the problem is, I get very anxious and upset when my routine is broken.

Today is a good example--I had been out of town for the past week and a half, and my routine was all shot to hell. But I had accepted that, and was okay with it. I wasn't thrilled about it, but I had acknowledged that, in order to take this trip, I would have to sacrifice some parts of my healthy lifestyle temporarily. I got in Sunday, and began easing back into my usual life. Today was the day I was to hit the gym and eat like I normally do, but my plans have already been derailed for today at least. Something came up at work, and I wasn't able to make it to the gym. And I just realized that I forgot to pack one of my veggies snacks in my lunch! I won't get all my servings of vegetables today without them.

And I just feel awful about it--anxious, upset, pretty sure that I can feel my body falling apart as we speak. I'm only kinda joking. I hate this feeling, and this isn't the first time I've felt it. On other occasions, when my routine has been disrupted, I feel like I get into a funk that lasts the whole day, if not longer, and I'm already starting to get anxious because I realized I won't have an opportunity to work out again until Thursday. In addition, I feel like I don't deal with stress as well throughout the rest of the day. Another time, I had biked to the gym, and for some bafflnig reason, my bike lock had broken. I was so extremely upset; I couldn't work out! I had to bike to a place to buy a new lock, and by then, I didn't have time to do my regular routine. I felt like the rest of the day had been ruined.

I am looking for advice on how to better handle when my routine gets disrupted--does anyone have some thoughts that have worked for them in a similar situation? I'm not looking for how to better schedule or stick to a routine--that hasn't really been an issue. Nor am I looking for non-gym exercise routines--the gym is actually the only place that really works for me. The problem is the few times my routine doesn't work for whatever reason, and how I can better handle it.
posted by Ideal Impulse to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I have the same problem sometimes. I think there's no getting around being upset at longer-term disruptions like one week, other than trying to address stress/issues in life in general. (I'm betting that health routines aren't the only area of life involving stress for you, and that you get attached to routines in general?) You can also try branching out into other forms of exercise, like running, that you can still do on the road.

For the shorter-term disruptions, one thing that helped me was committing to exercising almost every day of the week, rather than three days only. That way, I know that missing one day for whatever reason isn't a big deal, and it's actually good to get the rest.
posted by yarly at 8:59 AM on January 4, 2011

Would it help you to jot down some realistic, rational thoughts at a time when you're not feeling disrupted and unhinged, that you can look at when you do start to feel really upset, that would provide some perspective and calm you down? For example, I learned from my nutritionist that a healthy way to view my eating and nutrition habits would be to view them over a 3 to 5-day period of time, rather than as a daily snapshot, meaning that missing veggies one day or even two, overdoing it in carbs and underdoing it in protein on a particular day doesn't much matter, it's more important to consider what I do regularly, which you can see more realistically over a period of several days. So, when a day gets disrupted, even a couple days, your body isn't falling apart, it only feels like it. But obviously when you're super upset, it's difficult to separate what you know from what you feel. So, perhaps if you write down some thoughts like the one above, and, "I can trust myself to make healthy decisions," and "Variation is nothing I Can't handle," "This day cannot realistically affect my overall health," etc., you can look at that those statements when you're feeling really upset to help ground you.
posted by Rudy Gerner at 8:59 AM on January 4, 2011

My favorite thing about the Zone diet (other than the fact that I lost a bunch of weight on it) was this philosophy: when you follow the plan, you're "in the Zone." But you're only in the Zone for about four hours, until your next snack or meal. So if you don't follow the plan for a meal, you're out of the Zone - but again, for only about four hours. That broke it down for me in a way that made it vastly less stressful to slip up.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:02 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Could you set up an alternate routine (or even several) for occasions when your routine is disrupted.

ie If I forget my veggie snack, I will acknowledge that I am unhappy but recognize that I haven't entirely fallen off the wagon, then I will eat something else instead, and I will eat a special veggie snack when I get home.

or If I miss my gym session, I will acknowledge that it will disrupt my day a little, but accept that it isn't going to impact on tomorrow's session, and I will ride the long way home today.
posted by Ahab at 9:02 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can identify. I don't have the same kind of routine you do, but I understand what you mean about feeling anxious and disconcerted when you get off-track.

It may sound simplistic (and it's easier said than done), but I've found that it helps to remind myself that no matter what happened today, tomorrow is a chance for a fresh start. You can even be light-hearted about it: Heave a big sigh and tell yourself in your best Scarlett O'Hara voice, "After all, tomorrow IS another day!"

Even if you're off-track for a whole week, remind yourself that it doesn't negate all the on-track days you accumulated before. It sounds like you've been doing great things for yourself. No matter how many times you derail, just keep moving forward (or, as Dory says in Finding Nemo: "Just keep swimming").
posted by amyms at 9:10 AM on January 4, 2011

I get these feelings too when I get routines disrupted. I'm also OCD, so routines are very important to my stability in general, and I've had to really master little tricks for making myself restabilize. What I do is this:

-Remind myself that feeling out of routine and bad about that is actually a positive. It means that I *have* positive routines, and that I am mentally dedicated to maintaining them.

-Remind myself that being out of routine for a bit is totally okay, and plan one small way to head back in the routine's direction. In your situation, I'd probably take a couple of extra minutes to run the stairwell at work if you have one whenever you get the chance during today. When you get home, take a short walk. Just do little things to remind yourself that you like being active and healthy, whatever they are.

-As far as when situations go drastically wrong (bike lock breaks, etc.), just try to take some deep breaths, assess what you can do to correct the situation, and try to remember that there is basically nothing you can do. I try to turn it into schadenfreude, and write the day off with the knowledge that it was a one-off thing, that tomorrow I willl be back on.

tl;dr: Try to keep yourself on super small scale, internal goals (e.g., even if I can't make the gym, I can run these stairs/take a walk today) and attempt to view your habits/routines as part of your larger life, rather than as something you're trying to hold on to that doesn't really suit you (which is sort of how I was conditioned to view my new positive habits of running and eating right). This way, missing them will feel bad, but it won't feel like you are losing your grip on them and turning into someone else.
posted by traversionischaracter at 9:11 AM on January 4, 2011

In general, I don't feel like I'm married to routines. In fact, I haven't liked them very much. But for this purpose, a set routine and schedule is the only thing that works (that was kind of the turning point for me, two years ago--I realized I needed to actually shedule time in to work out, reguarly, instead of thinking, "Well, I can probably go on Wednesday," and I needed to actualyl write down the food I ate instead of thinking, "Well, I had that apple and some salad today, I think, so that works.") Maybe that's one of the reasons this is so upsetting--this scheduling doesn't come naturally to me, so it feels like another ball I dropped or something.

I'm also in school and working, so my days are packed pretty tight. Literally every half hour until 8 tonight is accounted for. I was even thinking about heading over to a grocery store and buying some sugar snap peas, but I don't think I even have time for that. As much as I like the idea of an alternative routine, I don't think that can happen.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 9:13 AM on January 4, 2011

Stop thinking about breaking up your life into such neat little chunks. "Healthy" doesn't really follow a calendar so much as a consistent set of actions, so if you miss a day here and there, or forget vegetables for one or two meals, it's not going to affect your overall health that much.

Keeping a routine is important, but if you work out tomorrow rather than today, your body won't suddenly fall apart. Track things by the week sometimes, and by the hour others. If you ate something bad ten minutes ago, you don't have to wait until tomorrow to "start fresh," and if you missed a whole week of exercise due to an awesome vacation somewhere cushy, you can pick up again.
posted by xingcat at 10:03 AM on January 4, 2011

Would doing some token/symbolic exercise help? I'm talking situps or jogging in place or jumping jacks. Just something to remind your brain that your body is moving and it still likes it and isn't as you say, falling apart.
posted by lhall at 10:06 AM on January 4, 2011

With regards to routines, I have recently started trying to not thing in terms of unbroken chains, so it isn't 1, 2, 3, miss, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, miss, 1, 2, etc. it's 1, 2, 3, miss, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, miss, 10, 11, etc. Every time counts as much as every other. Everything you do is better than anything you don't do.
You don't have to be perfect, good enough is good enough.
posted by Iteki at 10:35 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a runner. I run for fitness (usually between 30 and 40 miles a week). However, I haven't run much for the last four weeks because of the holidays and work and a brief cold and other stuff. Come to think of it, 2010 has not been my best year for running. None of that changes the fact that I am a runner. I'm just a runner who isn't, at the moment, running much. But I ran this morning and will be running again tomorrow and that's all fine.

You are a healthy eater who gets plenty of exercise. Oh, okay, you didn't exercise yesterday and you ate crap today, but that doesn't actually change the fundamental facts of who you are. The schedule doesn't turn you into a healthy person, the schedule just gives you the structure so that you can be that person.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:49 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

What if you think in terms of "snow days" like they do in elementary school? They plan out the calendar for the year, but they build in 2 or 3 extra days just in case something happens on one of the scheduled days. If nothing happens, those days are free days.

For you - you could plan to work out in X way on MWF, and possibly do Y exercise on Saturday if one of the other days didn't work out for some reason. Maybe this type of plan covers a month instead of a week; or incorporate some of the ideas above like: If I miss Monday, I can run stairs or do situps on Tuesday morning (or whatever).
posted by CathyG at 11:14 AM on January 4, 2011

When I get derailed - like yesterday I was all set for the gym and then got hit with a freaking sinus migraine UGH - I try to do a little something that makes me feel a bit on track like getting the healthiest snack out of the vending machine (almonds are better than a drive thru burger!) or doing a set or two of air squats, chair dips, etc in a deserted office or conference room.
posted by pointystick at 12:20 PM on January 4, 2011

The words of Samuel Beckett help me to no end:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
posted by tel3path at 2:11 PM on January 4, 2011

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