Policy & Issues

Daily routines and rituals bring peace of mind

Senior citizens on a morning walk in Thiuruvanmiyur. One can realize how important routine and rituals are when they go unperformed. File Photo: N. Sridharan  

The morning cup of coffee, midday walk and pre-bedtime read have something in common. They are all routines, or rituals - small but only seemingly insignificant.

You realize how important they are when they go unperformed. For some people the day is ruined if the newspaper is not delivered in the morning. Or they feel that something is missing if there is no book to read in bed at night.

“People feel uneasy or dissatisfied if their routines are disturbed,” said Michael Schellberg, a psychologist from Hamburg. The reason is that they provide peace of mind.

Routines and rituals follow unvarying patterns. People do not guide them but are guided by them. They are often moments of reflection, when people let their thoughts wander.

There are major social rituals, for example those at life’s transitions such as a baptism, wedding or funeral. Every culture, social class, family and circle of friends has its own rituals. They not only provide peace of mind but a sense of belonging as well.

Every individual also has daily routines that give the day structure. Many of them, too, are performed at transitions: the cup of coffee before work and reading before going to sleep.

“You can’t do without routines. They’re scripts that every person has,” Schellberg said.

But why is it important that certain actions always proceed in the same way? “The human brain constantly seeks structure,” explained Peter Gross, a psychotherapist from Cologne. If structure is lacking or begins to falter, a feeling of insecurity results.

Even people who do not observe rituals come to realize their importance because they quickly fall foul of people who do. The latter are amazed or even offended if, for example, someone shows up at a funeral in bright clothing or flouts custom by not shaking hands as a form of greeting. Politeness, too, has a lot to do with rituals.

“A ritual always involves ‘if-then,’” Schellberg said. “If a certain thing happens, then a prescribed reaction is required.” Should the other person not react as expected, it could be because he or she is unfamiliar with the ritual. Most people automatically assume, however, that not observing a ritual is a calculated expression of disrespect. And so misunderstandings are bound to occur.

Routines and rituals are normally good things. Everything proceeds automatically, and you can relax and let your thoughts wander. Almost everyone has a pre-sleep routine, for example airing out the bedroom while brushing one’s teeth, then reading a book for a while before lying down to sleep.

Rituals are helpful in highly emotional situations like funerals because the step-by-step actions are prescribed. They provide the bereaved with instructions on what to do next.

“Rituals also help to close the chapter on something old so that something new can begin,” said Elke Overdick, a psychologist from Hamburg. In uncertain and hectic times they become particularly meaningful and people cling to them. It can be the morning conference in the office or afternoon cup of tea that is a constant in a hectic day.

A lot of people are not aware of the importance of routines and rituals until they retire. Then they have to write their daily script anew because many of their routines were job-related. “The loss of these supports causes an inner chaos,” Gross said.

Routines are a problem, however, when they are observed no matter what the circumstances. “Routines can become compulsive,” Overdick noted. A person then becomes dependent on them and is locked in an emotional straitjacket. At worst, this dependency can even lead to an obsessive-compulsive disorder with panic attacks.

What psychologists call “magical thinking” is much less harmful but still obstructive in daily life. For example: “I can’t work if I don’t drink a cup of coffee in the morning!” Pedants, who greatly value structure in their lives, generally need more routines than do people who tend to be disorganized. And routines gain in importance for most people with advancing age. To prevent routines from becoming rigid, psychologist Peter Gross advises doing things, even trivial ones, differently at times.

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Printable version | Jan 14, 2022 5:19:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/policy-and-issues/Daily-routines-and-rituals-bring-peace-of-mind/article16243322.ece

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