My Morning Routine

Waking Up Ritual (15 minutes)

  1. Start my timer
  2. Spend  few minutes following a guided ‘Welcoming the Day’ meditation from Stop, Breathe & Think
  3. Drink a glass of water
  4. Eat a handful of nuts
  5. Stretching and strengthening exercises from Arthritis Research UK.  I’ve put the exercises in order so I can do the first few still lying in bed, the next few sat on the edge of the bed, and lastly standing up.

Once I’m up I’ll get dressed, set the timer again, have breakfast, then start a little ritual to clear my mind and then another to started on focused work.  In practice these routines flow into one another.

Clocking In Ritual (15 minutes)

  1. Take a cup of tea up to my desk
  2. Start my timer
  3. Check my work and personal email and add items that need attention to my to-do list
  4. Brainstorm anything that comes to mind – worries, jobs that need doing, distractions and ideas I want to follow up.
  5. Add any items that are tasks to my to-do list.  If I’m worried, anxious or have anything on the list that’s likely to distract me I might do a little thinking or writing about it immediately, or add a task to my to-do list so I can come back to it later.
  6. Check the schedule on my calendar still looks sensible.
  7. Adjust my pacing timer to suit how I’m feeling today.

Deep Work (15-25 minutes)

  1. Play the same piece of music.
  2. Open a jar with a drop of bergamot essential oil in it.
  3. Write the question I’m trying to answer today on my whiteboard.
  4. Write out what I’ll be doing (reading x; thinking about y)
  5. “Un-icky” anything that still seems a bit vague or scary
  6. Make a start


Rest Days

When I read this article about the importance of rest days it was like a light bulb went off in my head.  Sometimes I need to rest as I’m recovering from illness, but I don’t need to wait until I can’t carry on at all before allowing myself to rest.  I also need to rest on average days to take of myself.  After the worst of a migraine is over I often have days when I am completely exhausted and unfit for much, but not so ill that I feel content to do nothing all day.  Every so often, at other times I am just worn out for no reason in particular.  My instinct has usually been to press on, to try and catch up.  But this rarely results in much productivity, just a lot of frustration.

This article suggested an alternative.  And it has been really effective.  As soon as I declare a Rest Day (usually sometime mid-morning, after several false starts, lots of absent-minded staring and weak attempts to coax myself into action) the day turns around.  It’s not avoiding work.  It’s not laziness.  It’s not procrastination.  It’s giving myself, my mind and my body, what I need – and taking pleasure in doing so.  It’s an act of self-compassion and kindness.

How I put the idea into practice

I don’t tend to have particular days set aside on my calendar as rest days like the author of the article.  I tend to take them when I can feel myself slowing down.  I don’t know if this is the best strategy but it is still an improvement on my previous approach.

I don’t just wing it on a rest day.  I want the day to feel relaxed and easy-going but I don’t want to skip my self-care and good habits.  I use gamification for motivation and rewarding myself, and I don’t want to lose precious points.  As I am deliberately doing the right thing for myself I think that should be rewarded too.  So I have made a list of relaxing, enjoyable and restorative activities that I can do when I need a rest day.  In writing my list I thought about things that are relaxing for my body, for my mind, things that lift my mood.  Doing these things ‘counts’ in the same way that completing a housework or study task would count as time well spent.

My symptoms aren’t always predictable, and often produce conflicting needs.  Today my mood would be best served by visiting my allotment and doing a little planting.  But my body hurt just having a shower so that’s out.  Lying down reading yesterday was nice, until I started to get double vision from the migraine.  Having a long list of alternatives to hand makes it easy to find another activity to switch to.  My list is a work in progress.  I keep a copy on my to-do list app so that it is accessible wherever I am.

I set my pomodoro timer for 60 minute ‘work’ intervals and at the end of each hour I have a fifteen minute break for eating, moving about, whatever I need.  I use Habitica for tracking my healthy habits and goals and my daily routines.  The essential self-care items are tagged and those are the only ones I need to attempt on a rest day. To avoid accumulating damage my avatar visits the inn for a rest too.

Sometimes I will spend the whole day resting.  Sometimes I drift back into light housework or easy work tasks as I begin to feel better.

My list

  • read a book
  • read in bed
  • make a mug of hot chocolate
  • eat ice-cream
  • call a friend
  • write a letter or text
  • write in my journal
  • dictate ideas for my journal or blog
  • memorize a poem
  • listen to music
  • watch a familiar film
  • do a crossword
  • gardening
  • yoga
  • daydream
  • meditate (especially these self-compassion meditations)
  • watch crap telly
  • read gardening book and make plans for the next season

Getting adjustments in place at college or university

I was one year into my PhD when my chronic illness surfaced.  It has been and continues to be a huge adjustment.  I’ve had to learn new ways of organising my work, of doing the basics like writing, reading and researching for my degree.  All this alongside managing my symptoms, looking after myself generally and having time off sick.  It’s been a huge learning curve.  I’ve had support provided through my university and funded by the Disabled Students Allowance that has helped with some of these adjustments.  Not everything I have been offered has turned out to be helpful.  There’s also a cost in time and energy of pursuing support, getting assessment done and learning new software that needs to be weighed against the benefits you might gain from getting extra support.  I feel that it has been worth it in my case.  The support I have in place helps me to get more out of a good day, and to keep going a little longer on a moderately bad day.

Funding for adjustments:

If you are in Higher Education in England you may be able to apply for the Disabled Students Allowance to help pay for adaptations.

If you are in Further Education your college is able to claim back funding for support it provides.

Under the Equality Act 2010, they must make reasonable adjustments to avoid disabled students being placed at a ‘substantial disadvantage’. They receive money from the EFA and/or SFA to meet the costs of reasonable adjustments. In colleges this is usually called Learning Support and it is provided in a way to enable them to be flexible in the way they support all their students.

Disability Rights UK

There may also be adaptations your college or university can make that don’t require funding, such as accommodations to your schedule, deadlines, providing PowerPoint notes in advance or help using the library.

 Some of the adjustments I have in place:

Adjustments provided by my university:

  • Library books will be found and kept at the desk for me
  • Adaptive software:
  • Lectures will be in lower floor rooms
  • Study coaching
  • Voice recorder
  • Chair adapted to my needs
  • Longer loans on some library books
  • A budget for taxis

Other places to look for ideas or find assistance:

Disabled students helpline Disability Rights UK

Factsheet ‘Adjustments for disabled students’ Disability Rights UK