Forming healthy habits in the a.m. is key, say experts. But those privileged, detailed, hours-long morning routines that are supposedly all about self-care? Yeh, pssh.
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An influencer recently posted the details of her morning routine, which involves brewing coffee, meditating, writing in a gratitude journal, listening to a podcast or audiobook, and stretching, among other things. Apparently, the whole process takes a casual two hours.

Look, there's no denying that it seems like a lovely, calming way to start your day on the right foot. But, for most people, it also seems wildly unrealistic.

How does it feel when a regular, time-strapped person sees influencers, celebrities, or frankly people they know who just have vastly different lifestyles, repeatedly tout the essential nature of a morning routine — one that involves lattes made in an expensive Starbucks-grade machine and a battalion of pricey skin-care products, all performed against the backdrop of a perfectly curated home? Surprise! Not great.

In fact, the effect of repeatedly viewing these "perfect" portrayals can be damaging to your mental health, according to Terri Bacow, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York City. (Related: How Celebrity Social Media Affects Your Mental Health and Body Image)

"People of privilege, I would argue, have more time, have more money, have more of bandwidth, says Bacow. "If you have two jobs, if you're struggling to make ends meet, you're not going to be thinking of [creating this kind of morning routine] as a coping strategy. A lot of psychology boils down to self-esteem. Seeing this content is not helpful, particularly when you're already feeling that baseline insecurity." (Related: How to Make Time for Self-Care When You Have None)

And a lot of people are feeling that insecure right now. Maybe you're a parent trying to manage working from home without childcare. Maybe you're one of the many people who lost a job during the pandemic. Maybe you're struggling to hang on to your personal relationships. Whatever the case, if you're already worrying that you're not meeting expectations in one area of life, these messages about "how to live your best life every morning" can make that feeling worse, explains Bacow. And even if you don't feel like you're falling short, the narrative that you need to prioritize self-care before you even begin your day can be daunting at the very least. As if there wasn't already enough pressure to simply stop hitting the snooze button (i.e. doing so can make you groggy), now you're being told you need to wake up even earlier so that you have ample time to do a litany of things if you want optimal wellbeing. (Related: 10 Black Essential Workers Share How They're Practicing Self-Care During the Pandemic)

"To be clear, I think self-care is really important," says Bacow. "But I do think it's gotten carried away a little bit and maybe going in the direction that's a bit...extra. It's sort of like the toxic positivity thing. It's too much of a good thing. [I read an article in which the author] argued that self-care works better when you subtract vs. add. People think 'let me add the meditation. Let me add the yoga.' But who has time? She argues that self-care really works best when you're taking things off your plate. That really resonated with me as a parent."

For parents, in particular, seeing this morning routine content can be especially unrelatable (as well as self-esteem-crushing), say Bacow and Amanda Schuster, who are both mothers of two. Schuster, a 29-year-old nurse manager in Toronto, recalls coming across an Instagram video of an influencer showcasing her morning routine with a newborn baby. The video involved applying her skin-care products (which appear to be part of a sponsored post) and snuggling her baby on an artfully made bed. Schuster, who believes this sort of content can make other moms feel like they're failing, felt compelled to comment and point out that the video is not what mornings look like for the vast majority of new parents.

"When I first saw [the video] it kind of made me upset," says Schuster. "Seeing somebody blatantly lie like that for a promotional ad was a little bit jarring to me, especially as a mother, knowing how toxic it is to see that kind of lifestyle on social media. We all know it's not real, but to a young mom who doesn't have a support system or who looks to social media for that support system and seeing that unrealistic take, it can be extremely damaging."

Therapist Kiaundra Jackson, L.M.F.T, agrees that parents are particularly vulnerable to these messages. "Most mothers can barely shower or use the restroom in peace, let alone have a two-hour morning routine," she says. "Social media is great but it's also, to a certain extent, a facade. I see people who are sad because they think they're supposed to have this perfect lifestyle. Their life looks very different from that, and they feel like something is wrong."

With these caveats in mind, Jackson and Bacow agree that morning routines are still a good thing — they just don't have to be as involved as those you often see online.

"Knowing what to expect and forming habits enables a sense of order and control," says Bacow. Having structure reduces anxiety and depression." But a routine doesn't need to be a two-hour ordeal...or a beautiful one. It just needs to be manageable and involve repetition. "Repetition is important to creating routine because it involves something called behavioral rehearsal, [which] enhances learning and leads to a sense of mastery," she explains "It also makes something more familiar; familiarity leads to comfort and comfort, in turn, promotes a sense of control and well-being."

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Credit: Delmaine Donson/Getty

"There are so many things beyond our control, and we thrive on consistency," says Jackson. "That's really what morning routines and night routines are — that consistency makes us feel grounded. It brings a level of stability that is comforting to people."

You also want to keep things simple when it comes to creating an effective morning routine. "It's so important to be flexible and make it work for you," says Bascow. "If a routine is not realistic or achievable, it is more likely to fall apart, which is not great for self-esteem." (Related: Why We Really Need to Stop Calling People "Superwomxn")

"Make time for what you really value," explains Jackson. If you really value prayer in the morning or working out, you can find a way to do it. But that doesn't mean it's going to be easy or IG-worthy. "It may be turning on a workout video and you have one baby in your arm while you're trying to do squats," she says. And if you can't find a way to do it or stick to a routine? Don't beat yourself up. "Life happens," she emphasizes. "Emergencies happen, work schedules change, children wake up in the middle of the night. There are so many different things that can happen." And more often than not (especially since the start of the pandemic), "you have to wear a whole bunch of hats," she adds.

Both Bacow and Jackson note that privilege has seeped into society's idea about both morning routines and self-care in general. On social media, those concepts are presented in ways that put luxury front and center. As a result, you may feel like you need the silk pajamas, the fancy candles, the organic green juice, the expensive moisturizer, the top-of-the-line fitness gadget — and that your daily routines should be built around those things.

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But the truth is, you're not failing if you don't have the time and/or the resources to create morning routines that match those of your fave influencers or wealthy friend with a nanny. Even if your own routine simply involves having a cup of coffee, listening to music while you get dressed, or giving your kid a hug before your day begins....it's still serving you.

And if that thing you do every morning — i.e. scrolling social mediaisn't serving you well? Well, maybe your a.m. routine would be better without it. "If you wake up and the first thing you do is get on social media and you're upset because someone else is married and you're not or someone else is rich and you're not, and you carry that anger throughout the rest of the day, that isn't healthy," says Jackson. "But when you start with [something positive], it shifts your energy and puts you on the top for the rest of the day."

"Focus on the things you can control," she adds. "If you find one or two things you can hold onto, that will help your mental health on a very high level."