These are strange times, indeed. And if you’re finding yourself engaging in some strange-to-you behaviors—well, that might not be so odd at all.

Maybe, for example, after weeks of sequestering at home, you’ve decided “Why bother getting dressed?” and fallen into the habit of wearing your pajamas all day. Look no further for validation than ABC reporter Will Reeve, who recently went viral after videoconferencing in to “Good Morning America” wearing a dress shirt, suit jacket…and no pants.

It’s funny—and relatable. (Reeve later shared he was wearing workout shorts under his jacket, and joked that he had “arrived in the most hilariously mortifying way possible.”) But when routine behaviors like showering and dressing for work in the morning or going to bed at a decent hour get tossed aside for long periods of time, it can significantly impact your mental health.

“Routines give us a sense of control, structure, consistency, and duty,” explains Julie Kolzet, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in New York City and Psycom Advisory Board Member. “They are plans, and when we can cross items off our list, that contributes to enhanced feelings of self-efficacy. Without that, there’s a lack of reward that can lead to depression.”

If, like many of us, you’re seeking ways to maintain your sanity, it might be as easy as reinstating some of your same-old pre-coronavirus habits that slipped away without much fanfare. Here are five to put back on your list of regular to-dos.

#1: Put On Real Pants In the Morning…

All those adages—dress for success, dress the part, dress how you want to be addressed—exist for a reason. “What you’re wearing can affect your level of confidence, concentration, and detail,” says Dr. Kolzet. In fact, a number of studies have found that wearing more formal clothing improves information processing and cognition and results in a greater sense of personal power and independence.

Even so, you don’t have to don an uncomfortable or constrictive outfit; just opt for something business casual versus casual, says Dr. Kolzet. “Pants provide some structure, literally and figuratively; sweatpants are more free-form and amorphous.” And of course, don’t forget to throw on a decent shirt, too.

#2:…But Maybe Hop in the Shower First.

You don’t have to shower every day, and in fact, experts warn that doing so could kill off beneficial bacteria and lead to dry skin that’s more susceptible to unfriendly microorganisms. But there are a few things to be said for staying on top of your personal hygiene.

“Just like with putting on pants, showering and grooming give us a sense of control, a feeling of professionalism, and in general make us feel better,” says Dr. Kolzet. “They also contribute to our ability to conquer more throughout the day.” Just think about how much time and angst you save when your boss springs a last-minute Zoom meeting on you and you don’t have to stall to make yourself presentable.

It’s also about considering those around us, notes Dr. Kolzet. For instance, if you have kids, it’s important to set a good example for them, and establishing routines in the house also helps them find calmness and stability. Partners and coworkers appreciate a clean you, too. “Of course, you can’t smell somebody over Zoom, but it has more to do with respect for colleagues and also the work in general,” says Dr. Kolzet.

#3: Eat Normal Meals at Normal Times.

Stress snacking, boredom eating, instant access to a kitchen stocked with weeks’ worth of shelf-stable groceries…no wonder it didn’t take long for memes like the “Quarantine 15” and “fattening the curve” to gain traction. Whether or not we are collectively putting on pounds during these days at home remains to be seen, but we’ve long known that disrupted eating habits can significantly impact mental health and mood.

“Food is an external cue that helps regulate our circadian rhythm, an internal biological clock that manages your feelings of alertness and sleepiness,” says Dr. Kolzet. “When these rhythms are disturbed, that can increase the risk for some forms of anxiety or depression.”

Eating regular, healthful meals also provides mental fuel for cognitive performance, plus it can act like an anchor around which you can schedule other work- and self-care-related things, says Dr. Kolzet. “You can use meals to set boundaries: It’s much easier to tell your boss ‘1 o’clock is my lunch break’ than ‘sorry, can’t meet, 3 o’clock is lunch time.’”

#4: Stick to the Same Bedtime and Wake Time.

Sunlight is an even more powerful external cue for regulating circadian rhythm than food, says Dr. Kolzet. If you’re sleeping long past sunrise and staying up later than usual, you’re not giving your brain the doses of daylight it needs to sleep long and well. And there’s ample research to support the fact that even partial sleep deprivation decreases cognitive performance, attention, working memory, and mood.

“Experts used to think that insomnia was a symptom of depression, whereas now we know that by fixing sleep, you can actually improve mood,” says Dr. Kolzet. Setting a strict sleep and wake schedule is one powerful way to do that. For one, it helps reset your biological rhythms. “You’re also starting out the day to have a sense of mastery and pleasure by the simple fact that you won’t be staying in bed, sleeping, and getting nothing done.”

#5: Declutter a Little.

Turns out living under one roof 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is not exactly conducive to having a neat and clean home—especially if you’ve got children and pets in the mix. But just because no one else is going to see it, that doesn’t mean you should let the mess take over.

You know if it’s messy,” says Dr. Kolzet. And findings in the Journal of Neuroscience suggest that clutter impairs the brain’s ability to process information, stealing our productivity and leaving us cranky and distracted. Even so, don’t feel pressured to keep your home pristine from top to bottom.

“It’s true we want an environment that’s conducive to organization and order,” says Dr. Kolzet. “But that could be accomplished by decluttering just your workspace, or by designating a small area of the house where the clutter ends and organization begins.”

In fact, whatever habit you aim to renew on this list, Dr. Kolzet stresses that the point is not to make yourself feel more overwhelmed than you already do. “Many of us feel like the rug was whipped out from under us — we’re nervous about our jobs, we’re dealing with the loss of loved ones,” says Dr. Kolzet. “Don’t overburden yourself with more to worry about, and remember that every little bit helps.”

Last Updated: Sep 8, 2020