Keeping Yourself Sane in Troubled Times

The first half of 2019 has been a troubling time with plenty of grief and stress to go around … and the rest of the year looks to be just as unpredictable. Here’s some timely advice on how to stay grounded as we brace for the months to come.

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Our country has been through a lot: We witnessed the worst mass shootings in our nation’s history. Our opioid and suicide epidemics show few signs of relenting.  We’re reminded on an almost daily basis of widespread sexual misconduct towards women of all ages, in all walks of life. And the list goes on. In fact, you likely have several personal crises you can add to your list.

Whether you are experiencing sorrow first hand, through the stories of loved ones, or from the media, we are all feeling an extra degree of stress and sadness with no sign of relief in sight.

So how do you stay sane? Short of finding a rock to live under for the foreseeable future, there are things you can do to handle it better and stay grounded. Here some tips I frequently share with my family and friends:

  • Maintain a regular habit of activities you enjoy.  Some will be more involved – i.e. play a round of golf, get a massage, work out, watch a movie or eat lunch with friends. Others take less time: Go for a walk, listen to music, close your eyes and breathe deeply, work on a crossword puzzle or Sudoku. Throughout the day, take five minutes of quiet and peace to give your mind a break and re-charge your batteries. You will be more productive overall if you do. 
  • Reduce sources of stress in your systems and routines. Objectively analyze yourself and your lifestyle, defining your strengths and weaknesses in specific categories.  Create an achievable and prioritized plan for improvement. Each day determine one thing you can do that day to help meet your goals, and then do it, even if you don’t feel like it.  Take one small step every day. 
  • Use non-destructive psychological or physical ways to decrease or eliminate the stress that does creep in.  For instance, rip paper into little shreds (you may wish to imagine that the paper represents a particularly vexing situation). Write in  a private journal that no one ever has to see — paper is unconditionally accepting, so you can vent, think things through, pray, or whatever you wish. Throw a tennis ball against the wall as hard as you can, catch it on the rebound, and throw it again, or stomp your feet on the floor as hard and fast as you can for ten seconds. Make a regular appointment to talk with a trusted friend or a group of colleagues. Each of these simple strategies, some of which only take seconds, can make a noticeable difference in your day. 
  • Consciously decide to put a smile on your face.  Smile when talking to an angry colleague or impatient child; your tone will immediately be much more calming.  Smile at someone on the street, at the beautiful sky or a magnificent tree, at a funny cartoon, or even at yourself.  Smile at the situation, even when you’re at the end of your rope.  You’ll find that if you do it often enough, you do in fact become happier.  
  • Reach out of yourself and help someone else. It can be as simple as helping someone carry their groceries, or it can be more involved, like volunteering to tutor a child or at a non-profit that shares your goals. It is healing to focus your gaze outward, and gives a sense of increased control with the knowledge that you are making a difference.
  • Make a list of everything and everyone for whom you are grateful.  Every evening, read the list. Then add at least one good thing that happened during your day, and at least one thing you did that made another person smile.

2019 has been a troubling year thus far, with plenty of grief and stress to go around even if you are not directly involved in tragedy. Following these simple tips can help decrease the tension as you face the headwinds of the coming months.    

Originally published in the Huffington Post, December 2017.

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