How Variety Boosts Our Mental Wellbeing
Are you someone who loves routines?
Routines are great and there are a lot of benefits to having them! They help us be more efficient, help us procrastinate less, reduce our stress by having things already planned out, etc. They help us operate as more proficient, dependable people, and give us more confidence that things aren’t just falling through the cracks without us noticing.
But routines don’t work for everyone. They also can’t really plan for the unpredictability of life–so if you’re someone with a strict scheduled routine and something goes wrong (you car breaks down, you get ill, etc) your routine can actually add stress because you know you won’t be able to keep up with it while dealing with a crisis.
There is also a risk of boredom, feeling like each day is monotonous when we rely too much on our routines. It’s easy to get stuck in a routine that doesn’t challenge us, or even worse that reinforces toxic or unhealthy behaviors that don’t serve you. You can miss out on opportunities that don’t fit in nicely with your routine, and that can challenge or even prevent personal growth!
This is why variety matters.
Not only is monotony boring, but it can actually increase stress and contribute to burnout; whereas new & novel experiences actually “pump dopamine into our brains.” How else can variety benefit our mental health? Here are a few ways:
Putting yourself in new situations forces you to grow:
When you put yourself into a new situation, you’re challenging your brain. It doesn’t have the experience to depend on, so you’re learning the skill of adapting to new situations, of learning new skills, and you’re also giving yourself space to be “bad” at things which helps relieve stress and pressure you may put on yourself to be perfect all of the time.
Variety increases creativity:
There is no way for creativity to grow when we force ourselves to do the same thing over and over again day in and day out. Being exposed to new things, ideas, people and experiences naturally stimulates your brain and can unblock that creativity that monotony hinders. It also can stimulate your creativity by giving you the opportunity to see new perspectives. Instead of experiencing life as you normally do, you are taking yourself out of what you know and experiencing something new!
Variety increases our feeling of autonomy:
When you’re not held captive by a strict routine, you can make more choices on your own as they come up. You get to make choices at your own pace, at your discretion. No one else–and nothing else–is dictating how you spend your (free) time. You feel less feeling like a child completing a checklist, and more like an autonomous adult empowered to make their own choices!
Okay, so how can you add variety to your life? Here are four ways:
You have to eat daily anyway, right? Why not mix it up! This is also a great way to get you excited about nourishing yourself, instead of making, cooking, and eating seem like a chore you have to get through. You can add variety by trying different cuisines, learning new dishes to make, cooking with other people, etc.
Lots of us spend lots of time watching TV (especially in the last year) so why not consume something new? Pick a genre you don’t normally watch/ or read (or listen to! Could be with music or podcasts, etc). and make it a goal to incorporate that once every week/month/etc. Figure out a balance that works for you, both limiting rewatching so you’re not always sucked into mindlessly watching TV, but also so you’re not forcing yourself to have every interaction with media be a novel one. It’s also okay to need a night to relax and re-watch Parks & Rec!
This has been a big topic of conversation throughout the pandemic, and for good reason. Hobbies are a great way to both ground yourself (ex: by making something with your hands), learn new skills, and try new things. You can ask your friends what their hobbies are, or to teach you or give you tips on how to start if you don’t have any ideas! Or you can join a club to get yourself out of your house and meet new people who enjoy things you’re interested in.
There’s lots going on all the time (even in a pandemic! Virtual events are very popular) you just might not know about it. Take some time to look for local businesses on Facebook, Instagram, or wherever you spend a lot of time online. There are often local art newspapers that have information on local events, and they might even have newsletters you can sign up for so you get updates sent right to you. Make it a habit to check what’s going on in your community and pick at least one event to attend every month (or week if you’re more of an adventurous person!)
Do you need help breaking out of a monotonous routine? Contact us today, we can help!
-Brice N Sanner, LMFT