What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
I check my phone. Maybe you meditate, or have your caffeine fix. What comes after that? Do you have a set skincare routine? Do you put on another working from home outfit to power you through the umpteenth day of quarantine? Whatever it may be, the internet defines your post-waking ritual as your morning routine. And we’re obsessed with hearing about them.
We define the ‘ideal’ morning routine to include what is commonly known to be good for you. A splash of exercise, a touch of skincare. A sprinkle of breakfast. But quarantine has been a transformative time in allowing us to develop, curate and show off our individual, more personalised morning routines.
Like most other things in life right now, TikTok has been playing a large role in reframing the way we think about our morning rituals. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that amid the wealth of knowledge on the app, there is a space where thousands of users share their personalised morning routines. To date, the #morningroutine tag has over 2.2 billion views. These videos aren’t shared by celebrities, they come from real people. They are accessible and easy to take inspiration from. No £1,000 Moon Juice drops à la Goop here.
Twenty-nine-year-old Vi, the creator behind @whatsonvisface, makes her morning routine content regularly connect with her 662k followers (one of whom is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) through the medium of skincare. Vi thinks her videos have gained so much positive traction because they are accessible and attainable. “My unfiltered, raw personality comes through in my videos and I guess it resonates with people and makes them want to hang out with me,” she explains.
As she sees it, a truly motivational, feelgood morning routine is made up of what is important to you. Her morning routines might consist of skincare but that doesn’t mean they don’t serve a greater purpose. Vi has a video series on TikTok called “overcoming depression”. It’s a video diary in which she documents her day as she tries to incorporate healthy habits into her life. Some days are better than others but no matter what, she always starts her morning with a skincare routine.
Vi tells me that her mental health has been her struggle for the last few years and that the coronavirus pandemic has certainly made it worse. “If it wasn’t for my morning skincare routine, a ritual I created by myself for myself, I would be in bed all day every day,” she says. “Having a morning skincare routine that I enjoy helps me get up every day and start my day focusing on myself, which then snowballs into doing more throughout the day. In many ways, it has helped me reclaim some normalcy in my life.”
If it wasn’t for my morning skincare routine, a ritual I created by myself for myself, I would be in bed all day every day. In many ways, it has helped me reclaim some normalcy in my life.
Tessa McNeil (@tessamcneil), 24, a TikToker whose Sunday morning routine — which includes seemingly mundane activities such as her pouring a boiling kettle, making her bed and watering her plants — has surpassed 40,000 views, tells me that she was incredibly surprised at how popular the video was compared to her other content. “Having made the video just for fun, it was really fun to see people’s positive responses!” she tells me. “I think one of the reasons people like morning routine videos is because they are both soothing to watch and give a sense of having a ‘put together’ life. I think it’s similar to buying office supplies, you feel productive by association.”
However Tessa, like Vi, notes that perfection is not and has never been her goal. “A video never shows the full picture,” she explains. “You can see I make my bed and water my plants but it doesn’t show you how long it took me to clean the laundry off my bed or sweep up the fallen dirt from my plants. It’s hard to see these seemingly perfect lives online and compare your chaotic mornings to them. I think once you remember you’re never seeing the full picture, morning routine videos really can be an inspiration to create your own routine as opposed to a standard to compare yourself to.”
Where once we might have pored over the morning routines of high-achieving creative individuals like Beethoven or Sylvia Plath, mythologising them as we did, on TikTok we gain an insight into how people who face the same everyday struggles as us begin the day.
Sofia Marcilese is the creator of the wonderfully aesthetic GRWM (get ready with me) account, @_honeyberries. Watching her pop open the lids on bottles of shower gel and shampoo before zooming in on the slow drip of water droplets from her shower head is nothing short of the most divine ASMR.
Accessible and everyday as her videos might appear, there is a lot that goes into them. “I try to use soft, calming music and put clicking or satisfying sounds in the background,” Sofia told me when I spoke to her. “I also aim to make the visuals pretty and aesthetic with colour and light playing together. To get the right shot or perfect lighting, I usually have to wake up early; and it’s not just me but all the creators in the GRWM community that have to do this. It takes putting in extreme effort, with our main goal being creating videos that will leave viewers with a sense of renewed calm and clarity.”
That being said, Sofia puts a disclaimer on the videos to make it clear to her followers that not all mornings are made equal, even for her. “I don’t want my viewers to think that I have a perfect morning routine every day, because there are times when I’m too lazy to make a full meal or get dressed,” she explains.
The morning routine trend has allowed viewers to draw inspiration from thousands of videos, extracting tips and tricks from the content and using it in a way that works for them. I spoke to 27-year-old Madeline Faber, an NYC-based TikTok user, who has created her skincare morning routine by collecting information from other TikTok videos.
Maintaining boundaries is important for wellbeing, and morning routines are one way of doing that.
Professor Vanessa Bohns, Cornell University
“Quarantine hit my mental health pretty hard. For a while, I wasn’t eating or sleeping, and I certainly wasn’t washing my face regularly. It just didn’t seem to matter,” she reflects. “I didn’t go looking for morning routines on TikTok. I just came across @whatsonvisface, who spoke candidly about her struggles with depression which really spoke to me.”
“As I watched more and more videos, I found myself creating my own morning and evening routines to follow. It appears as though these popular TikTokers have all the secrets, tools and hot takes to unlock information on topics that may feel mysterious. Creators also answer DMs and comments, so it’s like having a personal expert on speed dial.”
Madeline says she didn’t know much about skincare before she started watching morning routines on TikTok but eventually something just ‘clicked’ for her. Now she has a routine, a ritual that helps her to get up and begin the day, no matter how she’s feeling.
It is the accessibility of TikTok content, coupled with the relatability of the platform’s creators, which has helped grow a community. Professor Sarah Heilbronner from the University of Minnesota’s department of neuroscience says that the popularity of morning routine content might be linked to anxiety being caused by COVID-19.
“The psychological impact of COVID-19 is and will likely continue to be substantial, although we certainly do not know all of the ways it will manifest,” she told me. “Perhaps people are looking for structure, when their own structures are upended. Routines can have very positive impacts on our lives, particularly if they are healthy and positive. It seems like most of the actions in the morning routine videos fit into that mould. You see people eating a healthy breakfast, brushing their teeth, etc. It’s worth noting that habits, whether they are good or bad for you, rely on very different brain circuits than flexible actions. This probably helps make them less cognitively tasking: you can usually walk to your office in the morning while also planning out what your first email will say, because walking to the office is not taking up much of your thoughts.”
This does beg the question: will we have to reinvent our morning routines when the world inches back towards normality? Perhaps, but the more established the routines are now, the more likely we are to take the fundamental psychological benefits and continue to incorporate them into our lives in the future as it shifts and evolves.
Things are far from perfect right now but those of us who aren’t key workers do have time. In that time we can listen to our bodies. We can take extra care of ourselves. Vanessa Bohns, an associate professor of organisational behaviour at Cornell University, tells me that this extra time has allowed us to create routines which, in effect, are boundaries against the rest of the world. Routines and rituals provide a buffer against that which is imposed upon us; that’s how they can provide self-care. “Maintaining boundaries is important for wellbeing, and morning routines are one way of doing that,” she explains. “It’s possible that people are deriving some sort of benefit along those lines from watching these videos and finding ideas to create their own boundaries.”
What morning routines on TikTok have shown us is that there is no right or wrong way to begin the day. Every person will have a different mantra. And the word ‘routine’ should work synonymously with ‘ritual’. Use this time to understand what it is that you need to feel good at the beginning of your day and incorporate it into your morning now. That way, when normality does return, you’ll be ready to face it head on.
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