We all want to be a better, less stressed version of ourselves in the new year. Actually accomplishing that? No easy task, especially amid an ongoing pandemic. Thankfully, there’s a slate of expert- and research-backed tips you can follow to channel a calmer, happier you in the new year. Fox News spoke to mental health experts for their secrets to help you glide into that saner state of mind.
1. Practice the "STOP" skill.
This is a savvy strategy shared by Dr. Sabrina Romanoff, clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University in New York City, from a branch of therapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT.
"Stop stands for: Stop; Take a step back; Observe; Proceed mindfully," she explains. "When emotions take over, you may find that you act impulsively. When you react impulsively, you do not have time to use your arsenal of skills."
When you find yourself on edge about something or feel yourself panicking, use "STOP" to regain control of the situation.
2. Or use the "TIP" skills.
Another M.O. from DBT, Romanoff breaks "TIP" down: "Tipping the temperature of your face with cold water; Intense aerobic exercise; Paced breathing, and Paired muscle relaxation," she says, noting that each of these techniques has the effect of quickly changing your biological response pattern to stress. "In turn, they lead to a decline in your emotional arousal. These skills work like fast-acting medications."
By grounding yourself in the present moment, you’ll be able to cope better with whatever’s at hand.
3. Immerse your face in cold water for up to a minute.
For a modified version of "TIP," just try putting your face in cold water, and you may be surprised at how the experience resets your mental outlook.
"Bend over, hold your breath, and immerse your face in a bowl of cold water for up to 60 seconds," offers Romanoff. "This is usually sufficient to induce the ‘dive reflex.’ The colder the water and the longer the immersion, the better it works."
As Romanoff further explains, the dive reflex is when our hearts tend to slow down below resting heart rate when submerged in cold water without oxygen, due to increased activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which decreases arousal. You may find taking an icy cold shower resets your mood, too.
4. Get outside during daylight hours.
It may be cold out, but getting outside is still important for your mental health.
"Having fewer hours of daylight can have a negative impact on your mood," Doreen Marshall, vice president of mission engagement at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) states.
To help cope with less sunlight, she recommends finding 30 minutes to get outside.
"You can simply sit and watch the sunrise or walk around your neighborhood Whatever you do, just make an effort to make it a daily habit," she says.
If you’re physically able, don’t worry about running or jogging to reap the health benefits of getting outdoors — a walk will do the trick.
"Many people think that you have to do vigorous exercise to get benefits, but research, including in my lab, has found that you really don't," echoes Thomas Plante, a psychology professor at Santa Clara University and adjunct clinical professor of psychiatry at Stanford University Medical School. "Stress reduction can be found by taking brief walks. Try to take a walk each day, even if it is only for 15 minutes, and you'll be less stressed over time."
5. Connect with others if you’re feeling lonely.
The pandemic has completely upended the way we socialize, and millions of Americans are grappling with feelings of isolation.
"Chances are pretty good that you are not alone in feeling lonely, and sharing how you are feeling may empower others to do the same," says Marshall. "Reach out to someone who may also be feeling that way and talk about ways you can stay connected and support each other."
It can be a little awkward reconnecting with people, but try to challenge yourself to send three emails a week to someone you haven’t heard from in a while, or call a different loved one each week to check in and see how they are doing. Not only will you brighten your own day, but you’ll brighten someone else’s.
"As the saying goes, what goes around comes around. We live in remarkably stressful and rather apocalyptic times where stress-related difficulties create a tsunami of mental health challenges," says Plante. "When we are kind to others they typically are kind back to us, a positive boomerang effect, that then can lower stress, anxiety, depression, for all of us."
6. Identify your triggers.
"The most efficient way to reduce stress is to begin engaging in stress reduction techniques as soon as you become aware that you are experiencing stress," states Lin Sternlicht, a therapist and co-founder of Family Addiction Specialist, based in New York City. "In order to do so, it is important to identify triggers that might invoke stress, thereby making us better prepared to deal with the stress when we anticipate it."
Triggers vary by individual, but they may include certain people, places, things, foods (caffeine is often a culprit), activities, times of the year or times of day.
For instance, if you know paperwork stresses you out, and you get a complicated health care form in the mail, rather than spiral into a tizzy, ID this as a trigger situation for you. Sometimes, simply acknowledging the trigger and taking a moment to pause will be enough to help make you feel better.
In these moments, rather than panic, you can also try doing something proactive like doing a quick guided meditation track, repeating a calming mantra or playing relaxing music. As Sternlicht also notes, pay attention to physiological cues you may have when you encounter a trigger, like muscle tightening or increased heart rate.
7. Remember the big picture.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to keep our daily, mundane problems in perspective.
"Too often we are stressed by the little things, daily hassles, making mountains out of molehills," says Plante. "We need to take a deep breath and ask ourselves if whatever is troubling us really matters in the big picture. If not, let it go."
When facing a stressful moment, you might want to ask yourself if this issue is something you’ll remember in two years, two months or even two weeks. Oftentimes, the answer is no to all three of those scenarios, even if things feel amplified in the moment.
8. Practice forgiveness.
Whether it’s a grudge you’ve been holding for decades or a close family member who is getting on your nerves, the act of forgiving is an amazing thing.
"Forgiveness is a powerful tonic for bitterness, anger and upset," says Plante. "Practice it regularly, not often easy to do I admit, but you can get better at it, and you will feel less stressed. "
9. Try the "Grounding Method."
Being in the here and now is easier said than done, but incorporating mindfulness techniques into your daily life can go a long way.
"An important technique to stop the stress response is to ground yourself in the present moment. Stress is often triggered by experiences that are not occurring in the moment, often stemming from past or future events and mind wandering," says Sternlicht. "As such, grounding oneself is an effective technique to relieve stress. There are many techniques to ground yourself in the present moment, and the more you practice them the easier and more natural it will become."
One of Sternlicht’s go-tos is the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Method.
"Simply think of five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. It’s a great technique to stop the ‘wandering mind’ from dwelling on unhelpful, stressful thoughts."
10. Try a stress dump.
Another strategy of Sternlicht’s, this freeing act can be done whenever you’re worried about something.
"Stress is a result of ruminating thoughts. As such, a helpful tool is to let them out and release them. I call it a stress dump, some may call it a brain dump, journaling or a list. The key here is to put pen to paper and start writing. You may want to write down things that are stressing you out and why they are stressing you out," shares Sternlicht.
"There is a physiological and psychological release that occurs when we take this action of literally getting the thoughts out of our head and putting them on paper. Doing so allows us to begin to separate our stress from being a part of us, and thereby putting some distance between us and our stress," she continues, adding that seeing our worries on paper may also sometimes help us realize that we may have been overreacting or catastrophizing our concerns.
"Lastly, sorting down our thoughts can also help us clear our head and begin to shift into solution mode and also become more organized with racing thoughts that we may be experiencing," she elaborates.