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Habits Help to Ground Us in Times of Stress

By January 23, 2022May 31st, 202410 Comments

Often at the beginning of the year people talk about breaking bad habits and creating new routines. Just as often these efforts fail because our habits; good and bad, are ingrained in us. It is very hard to change an established habit. We have set routines we follow whether we realize it or not. Most of the time we don’t recognize that we are following a routine we just automatically follow certain steps to complete a task. Today I want to talk about the ways in which habits help to ground us when everything else in our life is up in the air.

What is a habit?

A habit, according to James Clear author of Atomic Habits, “Habits are the small decisions you make and actions you perform every day.”

3 Habits which help to ground me

One of my habits is to make my bed every day after I have my breakfast. It doesn’t matter where I am, this is my habit. I do it automatically – even when I am staying in a hotel. This routine tells me my day is starting. Making my bed is something I have been doing since I was a very little girl.

Once I’ve had breakfast and made my bed it’s time to go for a walk. It’s also my habit to get up very early. I love the early morning hours, just as dawn in breaking. The colors in the sky are just gorgeous. The air, even in summer, is fresh. I use this time to think about the day ahead. My two dogs, Miles and Josie, have different walking patterns. Josie is a very fast walker. This is when I get my real exercise. Josie and I cover about 2 miles in less than 20 minutes. Miles walks slowly. He likes to sniff every blade of grass and takes his time covering about half a mile in 20 minutes.

Another habit is to plan what I am going to do the next day in the evening. I like to review the things that I have accomplished and then think about what I will do the next day to move my projects forward. It helps me to maintain progress. Even if all I do is complete one very small task, like making a necessary phone call, I feel satisfied because I have done something. This habit of planning for the next day also takes all the details off my mind which lets me relax at night and fall right to sleep.

Habits help to ground us

When everything around us is out of whack our habits help to ground us. These small daily decisions help us to stay on track and to navigate around and through whatever is happening. Let me give you an example.

I have moved house twice in the last ten days and I am about to move again. The closing on my townhouse had to be pushed past the date when my lease on the furnished apartment was expiring and I was unable to extend it. So, I moved everything out and into a friend’s house.

I arranged for a one-month lease of a small furnished apartment in the same building as my other rental. This apartment became available after four days at my friend’s house.

Later this week I will close on the townhouse and move in. No more temporary furnished apartments!

Moving is stressful

Moving is one of the most stressful things we do in life. It’s one of those life-events which turns everything upside down.

When you move in there is the furniture to arrange, boxes to unpack, and belongings to put away. We must remember where things are kept, and each new home has a different lay-out. I found myself forgetting which way to turn to find the bathroom.  

My habits help to ground me each time I move. In the morning, I get up in each new bedroom and make my bed. Then my dogs and I go on our walk around the neighborhood. I know that at night I will make my plan for tomorrow. My list of appointments, errands, calls, emails and steps to take to move projects forward provides structure and stability to my days.

Everything else around me can be topsy turvy but I am secure when I follow my tried-and-true habits.

Do you have certain habits which ground you? Would you like to cultivate habits on which you can rely in times of stress?

The Clear Space for You virtual clutter support group run by Jonda Beattie and me is a place where you will receive guidance, support, and accountability as you work to create these habits or on any other project of your choosing. Join us.

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer® ,a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization®, Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC and co-owner of Release●Repurpose●Reorganize, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia.


  • Lucy Kelly says:

    What a challenging time this is for you, Diane!

    I absolutely love that your three habits are things you can do absolutely anywhere. My three grounding habits are

    (1) Breakfast, no matter what.
    (2) A walk outside, no matter what.
    (3) Doing the dishes before I go to bed, no matter what. I call it “closing” and it helps me stick to habit #1, because getting breakfast is easy when the kitchen is ready.

    I wish you the very best for these final steps in your resettling process, and many happy walks with Miles and Josie in your new place!

  • I think the habit that grounds me (and my family) is preparing for the next day the night before. it helps me to be able to hit the ground running in the morning–spending more time ‘doing’ than thinking about what I need to be doing. My kids have jumped on the ‘night before’ bandwagon, too. They’ve seen the benefits of preparing in advance and I think they’ll take this important habit into their adult lives.

    Best of luck with your move!

  • Julie+Bestry says:

    At best, your life has been a moveable feast this past year. At worst, I’m sure it has felt like chaos. I love that you’ve been able to focus on the grounding habits and routines that help you feel like you’re still you.

    I can’t say that I always make my bed (a not-grat habit that living alone makes easier) and I certainly never rise early. But like you, I plan the next day before I go to bed. I may close out my workday with a list of priorities for the next day, but I still check and update it before getting into bed. As I head off to dreamland, I feel secure that while there may be surprises in the next day, I do have a handle on most things set to come. My second main grounding keystone habit: breakfast (every day, without fail and with Flintstone’s vitamins). When I travel, it may seem inflexible of me, but I know that for my health as well as my sanity, I need a sit-down, juice-and-food breakfast. It’s not just about nutrition, but about having a buffer, before the wild things come calling. And my third grounding habit is walking. Not in the morning, like you, but a guaranteed 10,000 steps (or more) every day, and during fair weather, about half of those are at night, in the quiet still of the evening. These are the habits that make me feel like me, even when the world around me feels foreign.

    I hope you love your new, PERMANENT home.

  • I agree! I, too, walk first thing in the morning. It’s so refreshing and allows me to clear my mind and observe the outdoors. Plus, I get my two miles walk before work.

    Habits do help us when everything is crazy. I notice that having a little control over my day helps significantly with my happiness.

  • Oh, Diane! I can only imagine how stressful this time is for you with so many moves in a short period of time. But I LOVE how you allow your positive habits (making the bed, walking your pals, and planning) to ground you EVEN during challenging times. This is the magic of habits and honestly, self-care. You are doing those things that make you feel OK while helping others too. That’s the secret and you’re doing it!

    I’ll be thinking of you as you settle in to your new home. I know you’ve been waiting for a long while and have experienced many delays and changed plans along the way. But how magnificent it will feel after you close, move in those boxes, and begin to lovingly unpack one carton at a time. And then in the spring, your garden will be there waiting for your love and attention.

  • Seana+Turner says:

    Yes, I think I have habits for just about everything! Whenever I have something “new” enter my life, I try and figure out a new habit to make it work.

    I feel for you – that is a LOT of moving! I wish peace over your final transition, and JOY in the new townhome. If anyone can manage this, you can. All those strong executive functioning skills are probably coming in very handy right about now!

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