Over the past seven months, remote working and schooling wreaked havoc on American households navigating the new pandemic reality. Many suddenly found themselves working remotely for the first time and feeling overwhelmed without their old in-office workday routines. At the end of the day, they didn’t feel satisfied with what they’d accomplished, regardless of running around “putting out fires” all day long. Sound familiar? You’re certainly not alone.

The good news? Rolling with the chaos isn’t your only option. Studies show that adopting healthy lifestyle routines can reduce stress and improve longevity by an average of 13 years. Even in these unusual times, you can create structure and establish habits to combat stress, work better, and give your brain a break.

3 Stress-Reducing Tips for Remote Working — or Anytime:

1. Examine your limiting beliefs.

Our thought patterns influence the way we experience the world. If your inner voice always says you’re not looking forward to the next day and you’ll be exhausted, is it any wonder you then experience exactly that? You can change this pattern by taking responsibility and ownership of shifting your mindset. 

First, observe your self-talk and keep it short and kind. For example, when reflecting on your day you could say, “I did a really good job,” or “I tried my best.” Leave it at that, then move on. The idea here is not to overanalyze or waste time being hard on yourself.

Next, get clear on your personal purpose for creating and maintaining a healthy routine in your life, like “I want to have more energy during the day,” or “I want to be able to focus,” or “I want to be clear on how to navigate this work situation,” or “I want to spend time with family and be present and have energy for it; that’s why I’m doing this morning routine.” Find your WHY. 

The pandemic reality might feel like “Groundhog’s Day” right now, but you don’t have to stay trapped in that way of thinking. You are in charge of your routine and your time management; you can choose to organize and prioritize. And you can do so with confidence, knowing that committing to your routine will decrease stress and improve creativity and productivity. It’s about making a decision and then taking just one step at a time. 

2. Create a morning routine — and start it the night before.

Use the last 20 minutes of your workday or your evening to plan out the next day. Take note of meetings, appointments and deadlines so you don’t return to your desk with any surprises. This will also save you from wasting an hour trying to figure out what you’re doing that day while your inbox dings in the background. Other steps you can take to start your morning routine the night before include:

  • Taking care of mundane tasks before you go to bed (i.e., dishes, lunch prep, laundry, charging devices, picking out workout and work clothes for the next day).
  • Eliminating clutter to start the day fresh; make sure your desk, common areas and kitchen are cleaned up to avoid overwhelm the next day.
  • Setting your intention for the next day. 
  • Planning an intentional evening and bedtime to allow for 7-9 hours of sleep.
  • Using an alarm, but don’t hit snooze. 
  • Keeping your phone (even if it’s your alarm) out of reach overnight. (You’ll have to get out of bed to turn it off.)
  • Waking up earlier (just five minutes at a time). This is an easy early-morning “win” you can take into the rest of your day.  

3. Create success in your morning routine by building in options.

If you don’t already have a morning routine, start small and include movement. Here are some steps you can follow as you get started: 

  • Get up.
  • Go to the bathroom and brush your teeth.
  • Have two glasses of warm water. 
  • Review your intention from the night before. 
  • Avoid social media and emails. 
  • Walk for 10 minutes and do some light yoga, or do stretching and breathing exercises. Even a few minutes of jumping jacks or jumping on a mini trampoline can get your heart rate up and make a huge impact on your energy level throughout the day. If you don’t like to exercise or are just getting back into it, listen to a book on tape or make a playlist to get you going.
  • Shower and get dressed with the clothes you laid out the night before.
  • If you drink caffeine, research suggests you wait until after 10:00 a.m. 

When first creating new habits or routines, many think they need to start big, like exercising for an hour in the morning. It’s fine to set your ideal, and if you can achieve that on a given day, great! Most of the time, though, we have a lot going on: life happens, work happens, kid stuff happens, different stresses happen. 

Instead of skipping your routine due to stress or circumstance, decide what an acceptable version of your routine looks like, such as two minutes of breathing, three minutes of stretching, and walking around the block. A middle version of your routine could be doing breathing exercises for three minutes, stretching for 10 minutes, and walking for 25 minutes, or lifting weights, doing a HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout, or yoga for 20 minutes. Figure out what an ideal, middle, and acceptable routine look like for you so you can stay on target. 

Don’t beat yourself up if you fail to follow your routine. Think of your new morning routine as a skill that needs to be honed. Try again tomorrow, and allow for changes and flexibility. Routine is the antidote we all need right now to beat pandemic stress and anxiety so we can live and work our best. Start small, form healthy habits, and you’ll be well on your way to a more clear and balanced day, even in uncertain times.