Between Routine and Grief

“What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”  -Helen Keller


I realized early in life that I am not at my best in the morning hours. I rise most mornings at 5:30 to the sound of birdsong and distant train rumblings far away. It’s a peaceful awakening. I definitely don’t bounce out of bed with a spring in my step, but I do get out of bed with purpose. It’s a time that I find solace and peace, a deliberate act that is now part of my routine.

Experts say that almost 80 % of our day is driven by routine and habit, and when we are forced to change our routine, it results in chaos to our system. Our brain, wired for response and cue, is now at a loss of direction and guidance. I recently experienced this situation first hand, and it totally disrupted my morning routine, one that I had spent years perfecting.

One of the steps of my morning routine is to enjoy my first cup of coffee and retrieve the newspaper from the front steps. There is just something so peaceful about the aroma and tang of a good cup of coffee, coupled with the news the paper provides. The paper also serves to connect me to the community, providing snippets of events, functions, and tidbits that I would otherwise not be aware of. I knew that this pandemic was having a devastating effect on the newsprint industry and that our local paper would not be spared of cutbacks. They even warned the readers how and when it would take place, but somehow I resisted the inevitable. 

Yes, my morning routine was disrupted this month when the Duluth News Tribune was reduced to only delivering a real paper twice weekly. Though they offered readers the option of online membership, things were just not the same. I noticed this some time ago. Holding a Kindle or smartphone is NOT the same as holding a book with a spine and pages. Now, before you accuse me of whining into my coffee, hear me out, please. I am grieving! It’s not just the fact that I don’t have my paper in my study with my coffee, but that this change signifies the end of an era. I either have to change my routine or replace it with something else. 

This pandemic crisis has meant that many of our routines have changed on a global scale. Sometimes grief is the result. It hurts when something important has been taken from us. The result is always the same, we feel bereft and confused. Routine helps us cope with change, and more importantly, it helps to reduce stress levels. When your life is organized and set in a routine, you know exactly what to expect.  This takes the guessing out of the equation, alleviating the symptoms of anxiety. Our brain craves routine, and so does our entire limbic system.

It appears that we will most likely continue to see change and disruption to our routines in the coming days and months. Knowing that, how do we prepare our mindset for the uncertainty ahead? I have shared in some of my past writings that my new routine is meditation and mindfulness. It has replaced my morning newspaper. So how do we replace those lost routines?       

Here are but a few suggestions to consider:                                                                                                                 

1) Find humor in the situation. Try not to take yourself or the situation so seriously. This mindset can provide some degree of levity and lightness to your heavy load. What’s interesting about humor is that it can be a shared experience and it helps in the healing process.  

 2) Talk about the problems more than the feelings. We all have feelings and have been taught to “suck it up,” but research has shown that continually talking about our negative emotions can actually hinder our healing process. I’m not saying to dismiss your feelings, but consider spending more time actively identifying the problem and zero in on the solution.                                                           

3) Focus on your values instead of your fears. Reminding ourselves of what’s important to us; family, friends, faith, achievements, great music, artistic expression, connectedness, and so on can create a surprisingly effective buffer against whatever troubles may be ailing us.

I’ve heard it said that our post-pandemic world will not look nearly like our pre-pandemic world, and I wonder if many of us remain paralyzed by this thought. The first stage of grief is paralysis, a sudden lack of options, and the confusion of disruption. However, the important thing in dealing with grief is understanding your emotions and your capacity to overcome and even flourish in the days ahead.


Learn more about Jeff’s work at RSI on our Community Connections page.