Being Spontaneous Comes With Mental Health Benefits Galore

You may have heard that following a routine could improve your mental health. According to Indumathi Bendi, M.D., "Carrying out routine activities reduces stress by making the situation appear more controllable and predictable." Bendi continues, saying that "When you reduce the number of decisions you have to make each day, you'll have a deeper sense of peace as well as relaxation of the mind and body" (via Piedmont). Therefore, carefully planning out your day could greatly improve your well-being.

However, some also believe that spontaneity could be beneficial to your mental health as well. Making small changes to your daily routine, such as taking the long way home or walking outside instead of on the treadmill, can greatly improve your everyday life. At the same time, this doesn't mean that you should throw your routine out the window — Instead, it's best to follow a schedule without letting it rule your life. It's also crucial to know the difference between impulsivity and spontaneity, as well as the three key benefits of being spontaneous, which is all outlined below.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Routines and spontaneity aren't at war

While spontaneity can disrupt your routine, this doesn't mean that it needs to be at war with your daily schedule. As stated, routines are extremely important to be able to relax and reduce stress. If you removed your routine altogether, your mental health would suffer — but the same can also be true about sticking too closely to your schedule. Therefore, it's important to balance these two aspects of your life.

To do this, it can be helpful to understand which things to be spontaneous about and which things should follow a fairly strict schedule. A 2020 study by the Journal of Global Health differentiated between primary and secondary routines. Primary routines are the things our bodies and minds need to stay healthy, including eating the right foods, sleeping the right amount, and partaking in personal hygiene. These are not the things that you should be spontaneous about. Instead, you could switch up your secondary routines, which include being social, relaxing, exercising, and partaking in work or study habits. Because these things are more flexible, they can be slightly changed without creating more stress or other negative effects. 

Impulsivity is not the same thing as spontaneity

It's also important to understand that spontaneity and impulsivity are not the same things. Being impulsive means doing something without thought, while being spontaneous means doing something without planning beforehand — and there's a massive difference between these two things.

Ann Holm, who works with neurologically impaired individuals, says that spontaneity is never seen as a concern, while impulsivity is, per Ann C. Holm Coaching. She says that impulsivity is "a contributing factor in poor follow-through, inadequate problem solving, poor judgment or the cause of an injury or neurological event itself." Further, according to Clinical Psychologist Linda Blair, "There's no thought process whatsoever in impulsivity. But spontaneous people, by staying connected with your gut, you're responding to your emotions, you're doing a logical process, which takes longer" (via Vox). Therefore, in order to be spontaneous but not impulsive, think through your actions to make sure they're not going to negatively impact you in the future.

Spontaneity fights against burnout

The first benefit of spontaneity is that it can help individuals from feeling symptoms of burnout. A 2016 study published by World Psychiatry said that burnout is caused by stressors from someone's job and that it has three outcomes, including feeling mentally exhausted, becoming more cynical and detached, and feeling a lack of accomplishment. 

Burnout often occurs when someone is doing the same tasks day after day, and after a while, doubts about their effectiveness or about their purpose start to creep in. Fatigue can be a side effect of one feeling like their life is dull or boring, which often happens when a routine is followed too strictly. On the other hand, breaking up your routine can help fight these feelings and give your life more purpose. Doing things outside of your comfort zone or out of the norm can release dopamine, which can in turn help you feel more motivated and may give you a new sense of passion. 

Spontaneity reduces stress and creates memories

If you often feel stressed, partaking in spontaneous activities that inspire awe could be beneficial. According to a 2021 study published by J Pers Soc Psychol, seeing something that brings awe, such as a vast view from a high point, can decrease stress and improve well-being.

Another way spontaneity could improve your life is by helping you be more present, which could create more memories. When you do the same thing day after day, moments are lost, as you pay less attention to them. It's like the phenomenon of driving a familiar route but not being conscious of driving, sometimes called highway hypnosis. However, when you take another route or do something different, you're forced to pay more attention, which can make you feel more present. A 2012 study published by Psychol Sci. found this to be true: Those who partake in awe-inspiring things, often done spontaneously, feel like they have more time and experience greater life satisfaction.

Spontaneity helps you think more creatively

Finally, spontaneity expands your brain and helps you think more creatively, which would benefit your mental health. Creativity comes with spontaneity in two ways: First, you may be forced to think outside the box to come up with ways to break your routine, and second, many of the spontaneous things most people partake in are creative, such as cooking a new food, exercising in a new way, or trying out a new hobby.  

Kim Nguyen, clinician at Diversus Health, speaks on the mental health benefits of being creative: "Using our creativity, we can also practice releasing and letting go of what could potentially become toxic to our mind, heart, soul, and body." Nguyen then names some creative practices many use, which include writing, dancing, drawing, composing, and painting. However, there are also less obvious ways to be creative, such as approaching a conversation in a new way or trying a new problem-solving tactic at work. Being spontaneous often encourages you to be more creative, which will in turn improve your mental health.