This year more than any other we have learned that we are stressed beyond our limits. Stress was already becoming an issue with 66 percent of Americans approaching burnout before the pandemic, according to Gallup. Those who fared the best this past year were the ones who adapted by accepting things out of their control. In terms of controlling our mood, this means learning how to modulate our emotions in order to get our stress under control.
Here are six ways to get your reactions to stress under control:

1) S-T-O-P

One of the easiest ways to make immediate changes to your behavior is to remember to S-T-O-P, which stands for: Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed.
This technique was developed by Kabat-Zin, the father of modern-day mindfulness, STOP is a very powerful method for immediate behavior change. Once you identify that you want to change your behavior this approach will help. 

2) Perform a Stress Audit

The purpose of the stress audit is to uncover and focus on possible pent-up feelings in reaction to something that has happened, a stressor, or an incident of some sort. It is important to note that pushing down and ignoring feelings leads to emotional outbursts later. So, the value of the stress audit is to give your feelings a place to exist. Writing down what happened helps you examine what happened and every facet of your reaction: physical, emotional, verbal, and addictive.

3) Combat Stressful Shoulds

Do you ever catch yourself saying, “I should do this,” or “I should do that?” Some typical “should” include, “I should lose weight,” “I should save more money,” or “I should exercise more.” A “should” statement indicates an expectation you have of yourself that you are not yet accomplishing. The expectation is that you need to be different in some way, better than you currently are. 
Instead of “should” try using a “preference” statement. For example, rather than, “I should get more sleep,” try saying to yourself, “I would prefer it if I could get more sleep. Tonight, I am going to go to bed at 10:00, and I am going to begin my bedtime routine at 9:45.” This way you are setting a clear, specific achievable goal. 
Those who fared the best this past year were the ones who adapted by accepting things out of their control. 

4) Get Outside

One of the fastest ways to turn your stressful feelings around is to simply get outside. Even 10 minutes of outdoor time, be it sitting or walking will change your mood. As soon as the sun hits your skin, vitamin D is activated and causes a number of physiological responses in the mind and body. In terms of stress, light improves the communication between various parts of the brain to help you handle emotions. Furthermore, studies have shown that the more time you spend outdoors, the more serotonin you get and the happier you feel. And you also get a boost of endorphins, the feel-good hormone. 

5) Get Up And Move

Fitness activities are simple methods for changing your mood. The happiness chemical endorphins are released after aerobic activity. Try Zoom-based Zumba or Yoga. 

6) Fill Your Day with Sparkle to Find Your Happy

Sparkle moments are little moments throughout your day in which you can stop to feel happy about something you have accomplished or to acknowledge a positive action you have taken. When you take a moment to celebrate the little joyful moments throughout the day, you will be happier. 
One important way to find your happy midday is to acknowledge an accomplishment or finishing your power list. The brain really loves completions and rewards you with dopamine, a happiness chemical. Stop and acknowledge these moments and pat yourself on the back. 
Stress does not always have to weigh you down. While we all are still stuck in this limbo of not knowing when we’ll finally get our vaccines and when or if we’ll be able to get back to business as usual, we don’t have to dwell on the negative. If you catch yourself complaining about your life to whoever will listen, then you might want to consider any one of the above ideas. You are in charge of your mental health. You have the power to change your mind, your thoughts, and your mood. You just have to want it.


Janice Litvin