Looking for Structure in an Unstructured World: The Importance of Insignificant Routines

Although you would never think it if you wandered around in my house, I am the type of person who absolutely thrives in an environment full of schedules, organization and routines. All those things I rebelled against when I was younger have served me very well more often than not in my adult life. Sure, I’ve had to adjust the way I do things to accommodate my anxiety, and re-adjust again out of consideration of my decreased productivity potential and increased need for rest after becoming chronically ill in my thirties. But in all that time I’ve never stopped loving a list – I’ve just learned to cope with my need for shorter, more manageable ones.

During times of increased stress – which I’m fairly sure the last few years have been for pretty much everyone who is paying any kind of attention to anything – I tend to lean on the crutch of routine, even insignificant routine, to cut down on the likelihood of dropping into a doom spiral or battling constant paralyzing anxiety. But I tend to forget that any system, no matter how well-designed, will inevitably break down over time if it’s not properly maintained.

I’m fairly good a building routines, but I can be dreadful about maintaining them.

Dakota and Charley are also a big fan of routine, thankfully.

Since about mid-April, I’ve been in a state where my stress levels have increased to the point where it is finally impacting my ability to be functional on a day-to-day basis, and that’s mostly due to the impact it has had on even being able to control the things that were previously controllable. I’ve mostly been able to keep to the routines that keep my environment in working order – the dogs are fed & walked on schedule, the bills are paid, and the groceries ordered and put away. But over the last six weeks or so, I’ve lost my grip on my habits that primarily exist to self-soothe, and make sure that I’m taking care of myself adequately.

There have been too many nights of poor sleep, too many days where I couldn’t force myself to cook so my food intake suffered for it. Just too many times where I got caught up in something I had zero power to effect, and in doing so, missed out on opportunities to improve something within my sphere of influence. I’ve allowed the gloom to fester, and I’m finding it takes more and more effort to control my temper. Probably the hardest pill to swallow is that – in theory – it should be far easier right now to maintain good habits & adequately recharge my personal batteries than it has been in years, and I cannot seem to keep it together even on a very basic level.

I’ll admit this post has gone far off the track that I had planned for it; my intention had been something a little bit lighter about how so much of modern gaming is designed around the player feeling the need to build routines, from MMOs with daily quests & content lockout schedules, to mobile games with login rewards, to single player experiences like Animal Crossing & Cozy Grove that rely on real-time mechanics. I had been engaging daily with several types of games with these mechanics even after taking a break from MMOs; Cozy Grove every morning, and a couple of mobile games on my tablet every evening. But over the last few weeks, I’ve abandoned all of these things that asked for regular interaction. For me, those daily insignificant tasks were comforting, and even while I have no particular desire to go back to those specific games, I’m feeling the loss of the meaningless structure they were providing me.

The fact that I’m able to – more or less – put these feelings into words makes me feel like I might be pushing through this particular rough patch. I’ve come to terms with the fact that, yet again, I need to take a hard look at my life as a whole and put some serious energy into re-prioritizing if I want to be in a better place than I am currently. The constant war against both entropy and stagnation is both physically and mentally exhausting, and I admit that I’m not entirely sure I’m up to the task of diving headfirst back into it, but I can’t shake the feeling that I need to do something.

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