Keeping Yourself Sane in Troubled Times

12/26/2017 04:55 pm ET

2017 has been a troubling year with plenty of grief and stress to go around … and 2018 looks to be just as unpredictable. Here is some timely advice on how to stay grounded as we brace for the new year to begin.

Our country has been through a lot this year: We’ve witnessed the worst mass shootings in our nation’s history. Dozens of cities and states have suffered through a relentless onslaught of natural disasters. We’re reminded on an almost daily basis of widespread sexual misconduct towards women in all walks of life.

Whether you are experiencing the 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 a few simple 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 five minutes: 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 and each day determine one thing you can do that day to help meet your goals. 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 take ten seconds to stomp your feet on the floor as hard and fast as you can. 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 as if you are truly happy, 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.
  • 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.

2017 has been a troubling year with plenty of grief and stress to go around even if you are not directly involved in a tragedy. Following these simple tips can help decrease the tension as you face the headwinds of a new year.

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