Managing stress with healthy coping mechanisms takes both patience and practice. As temperatures drop, the COVID-19 pandemic continues, daylight hours decrease and the holidays approach, it may feel as though you have less options to turn to for stress relief, self-care and relaxation. Controllability, one of the Principles of Resilience, is about making choices that help restore a sense of empowerment during adversity – from emotional responses to problem-solving actions.

Take ACT-ion this season for your psychological health. Review these ideas for responding to holiday and seasonal stress, this year and beyond:

Shift your mindset. According to a study from the National Institutes of Health, “negative information tends to influence evaluations more strongly than comparably extreme positive information.” While 2020 may have made it more challenging to seek out the positive in the day-to-day, challenge yourself to actively look for the good. After recognizing a negative thought, try brainstorming positive thoughts to counterbalance the feeling. Optimistic thinking is a helpful tool in living more mindfully. Focus on what is directly in front of you and practice gratitude to start seeing more of the positive aspects of your day. 

Try a new high-intensity workout. High-intensity aerobic exercise helps relieve stress. Even if you have just 20 minutes a few times a week, a light jog, quick bike ride or cardio circuit can help improve your endurance and reduce negative emotions. Building strength doesn’t have to happen at a gym – it can be done in confined spaces, with limited equipment or around your neighborhood.  

Pick up journaling. Feel like you have a lot weighing on your mind? Write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal. Journaling helps us reflect on our relationships, assess different perspectives and focus on the present. Try picking a time of the day or week to dedicate to journaling. If you feel stuck, pick a prompt: consider something you’re thankful for, an affirmation you want to tell yourself or even just catalog the day’s events in chronological order.

Boost your financial health. Small actions can pay off. As spending increases for many people this season, consider how you can start building new financial habits: set up automatic transfers to your savings account, review what you currently spend the majority of your earnings on, build a monthly budget or set a financial goal you’d like to meet by this time next year. Practice adhering to a budget by establishing some limits for holiday spending. Reflect on your desires for the future and get started in implementing a long-term retirement plan.

Drink mindfully. If you plan to drink alcohol this season, take it slow. If you choose to drink, think about how your beverage of choice tastes and smells. Keep a glass of water nearby to stay hydrated and consume your drink with food. If you find yourself using alcohol as a way to regulate your emotions, it may be helpful to take the Own Your Limits’ Drinking Habits Quiz.  

Build your spiritual health. Spirituality can help you cope with stress by connecting you with something bigger than yourself. Think about what gives your life more meaning and what inner values you turn to when you’re navigating a difficult experience.

Improve your sleep routine. Quality sleep improves our physical health, increases our lifespan and helps us stay resilient and prepared for our day-to-day experiences. Make your sleep environment as comfortable as possible: eliminate light and excess noise and ensure your room is at a comfortable temperature. Instead of scrolling social media before bed, pick up a hardcover book or other relaxing activity (e.g., light cleaning, a puzzle). Reducing your alcohol or caffeine consumption before bed helps improve sleep quality. As much as you’re able, make it a habit to wake up and go to sleep at the same time each day to help regulate your sleep pattern. Since it may be difficult to find a routine with work-related duties and less light, try incorporating a mindful practice to your sleep routine like a 10-minute yoga routine or guided meditation.  

Strengthen your relationships. We all need people to lean on, especially in times of change and uncertainty. Reach out to individuals in your support network and let them know how much you appreciate them. Schedule regular times to check in with your family or reconnect with a friend you haven’t talked to recently.

Learn a new recipe (or two). Get more healthy nutrients into your system by diversifying your palette. Focus on adding fiber-rich ingredients, like fruits and vegetables, to your plate. Challenge yourself to try in-season ingredients from a local farmers market. For ideas on how to get started, review lists from Nutrition.gov and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Schedule medical appointments as needed. Sometimes the hardest part of visiting the doctor is getting an appointment on the calendar. Take charge of your preventative health by working to schedule an annual physical or meeting with a specialist. Reflect on your family history, write out your current medications and plan ahead for support you may need in the next year. Access resources from the Defense Health Agency Connected Health mobile apps.

Make self-care a priority. Although this season focuses on giving to others, give yourself some time to relax, recharge and grow. Try a new meditative practice, like yoga or deep breathing, to slow down your day and feel more energized. Establish a new ritual or routine that is purely for your own enjoyment. This could look like a 10-minute walk each morning or a “screen free” hour in the middle of the day.

Even though seasons change, it is important to ACT all year long. Project 1 Small ACT is here to help you navigate stress and use healthy coping mechanisms for several different life experiences. For more tips on how to boost your psychological health, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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