Iris’s life was consistently inconsistent. Her loving mom was a musician, and they moved around chasing gigs. Friends, housing, and financial stability would come and go. But, no matter where they were, one ritual was reliable: gelato. When feelings were big or situations scary, Iris and her mom would pull out their trusty gelato machine, follow the recipe scribbled on a torn napkin, and eat the gelato. Life continued to be unpredictable following Iris’s mom’s death. Iris dated an abusive man, broke free of his hold, moved to New York, and created a brand-new life. Through it all, Iris returned to gelato, a ritual as solid as a rock.
Rituals are (1) particular acts, (2) performed in a specific manner, which are (3) frequently repeated. People who use healthy rituals have an increased ability to savor experiences, an enhanced sense of control, and reduced anxiety. Rituals create meaning, connect current and past moments, and ease feelings of grief. They work because enacting rituals requires focus and activation of the parts of the brain used to process emotions.
Healthy rituals are effective in moments big and small. Here are some examples of developing healthy rituals.
Daily Transitions: Pick a few behaviors to help you switch from home to school or work and back again. Ideas include stretching and then washing your hands, taking a short walk around your block while reciting affirmations, or meditating for a few minutes.
Processing Big Feelings: Extreme happiness and sadness can both feel overwhelming. Knowing you will process these emotions consistently and reliably can help the feelings seem manageable. Ideas include baking and eating the same cookies, walking a specific route, taking a scented bath, or listening to a tried-and-true playlist.
Highlighting Meaning: Milestones, family events, and new life chapters sometimes don’t feel complete without rituals. Ideas include reciting familiar sayings, preparing and consuming similar foods, or taking pictures over the course of many years in the same spot.
Note - Religion provides a variety of helpful rituals, and investigating your religion’s rituals could be interesting.