What’s the first thing you do when you stumble out of bed in the morning? Your regular a.m. decision could impact how the rest of your day unfolds. According to researchers at the University of Connecticut, rituals—intentional behaviors throughout the day that have a purpose—give your brain a perception of control that kicks in when you’re faced with worrying situations. The new study shows that rituals work as coping mechanisms to ward off anxiety. “Rituals give people an increased sense of personal control and structure in their everyday lives and especially during times of great uncertainty,” says Sue McDonald, a licensed mental health counselor and life coach in Naples. “When you engage in rituals your mind shifts from focusing on your stress to focusing on the ritual itself.” Read on to see how your daily rituals are benefitting your life or how to incorporate them more often.
Once a day: Make your bed. It might sound silly, but this ritual is powerful because it builds momentum to tackle the rest of the day. “No matter how bad or stressful your day becomes, you made your bed,” says McDonald. “And if that is all that you complete, it is still a success. You have accomplished one task, even though it’s small, and it’s in your control.”
Once a week: Walk outside and leave your phone at home. Pay attention to sensory details, such as how your feet feel in the sand or the rustle of the leaves on the sidewalk. As you stroll, take slow, deep breaths then exhale as if through a straw. Think of this time as a walking meditation. “People tend to undervalue the power of breathing for bringing calm to the body and mind,” says McDonald. “The parasympathetic nervous system will be activated just by using this strategy.”
One a month: Write a note or a thank-you card—it can be to your neighbor or your best friend, as long as you recognize that this person has recently made a positive impact in your life. “The reward is that we are focusing our attention on something outside of ourselves, another person, and away from our problems,” says McDonald. Expressing gratitude actually makes your brain release the feel-good chemicals dopamine and serotonin, and decreases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.