Structure in Unstructured Times


We made it to summer!

As we enter the summer months, the days get longer, the weather gets warmer, and we tend to let out a collective sigh of relief. Even if your work schedule doesn’t change during the summer, something about this time of year feels different. Lazier, less scheduled, and more open to possibilities.

For many people, children, teenagers, students, and teachers, summer means a drastic schedule change; Going from having your days scheduled to the minute, to having hours of free time. While this is great at first, it can get old fast. 

How Does this Impact Mental Health?

For some, merely the idea of not knowing what comes next can be stressful. Knowing something as simple as if you will brush your teeth before or after you shower can make an enormous difference in how we feel when we get up in the morning. This can be true with depression, anxiety, grief, phobias, and many other mental health struggles. For people with anxiety, schedules can help remove the unknowns. For people with depression, not having to decide when or how to do something can dramatically improve functioning. Having something to do when you get up helps to create accountability to get out of bed in the first place. 

 So how do you impose a structure on yourself without outside commitments?

Here are some tips for how to provide structure for yourself or your child during the summer months:

  1. Schedule out your basic needs first. When are you getting up? What are you eating that day? Are you planning to get physical activity? What comes first- Coffee or a shower? A morning routine can make a big difference in setting the tone for the rest of the day.
  2. Create a framework that is realistic. For example, if you aren’t a morning person, summer does not have to be the time to try a 5 am workout routine. If you are a social person, schedule time with friends! If you get tired in the afternoon, schedule a nap!
  3. Plan fun activities among the un-fun. Fun is important! If you have summer reading, or SAT prep, mix in a trip to the movies with friends, or some time at the pool. Having an activity to look forward to can really make the less fun activities a little easier.
  4. Write it down. It’s easy to forget what comes next without writing things down. A calendar, journal, or even a phone app can help a lot at maintaining your routine. You can write a detailed schedule, a basic to do list, or something in between!
  5. Ask for help. Involve friends and family in your daily routine. Planning events with others creates accountability. Also, if other people know about your schedule, you are less likely to have to change it on a whim. Other people can’t respect your schedule if they don’t know about it.
  6. Stick to it. A schedule can feel uncomfortable at first. The more you practice maintaining your routine, the easier it will feel. Sometimes this takes a little bit of time!

While structure is important, unstructured time is important as well. Just because you have a schedule for the summer, does not mean that you need every minute of your day mapped out. If a rigid schedule creates anxiety, give yourself a little breathing room, time for spontaneity, and time to just relax. Alternately, if you prefer to have every minute mapped out, that’s ok too. If you are still uncertain as to how to best create a routine, a therapist can help you to better understand your individual needs.

If you are struggling with managing your time, or feeling like you need someone to talk to, give us a call at 217-203-2008 or email us to schedule an appointment!