The beginning of the new year can feel like a motivating and inspirational time; January 1st often marks a clean slate on the calendar where people re-focus on goals or dreams they struggled to fully follow through with the year before. Many will make resolutions to meet certain goals for the new year and will make a dedicated effort to follow through with these things for as long as the motivation fires burn. Healthy eating, exercise, and work/career goals are all things that can get turned into resolutions quickly and without much thought, especially after the holiday season where regimented schedules become lax and can cause a person to slip into a pattern of unhealthy or unproductive choices. Some things that are often forgotten about when deriving new year resolutions, however, are mental health goals. While people focus on their physical health in an effort to recreate themselves, many overlook that having a strong mental game plan can actually help them achieve their other goals or resolutions!
Here’s a list of easy ways to improve your mental health this year with small, measurable goals:
Practice Daily Intentions/Rituals
Motivation is a mind game, and keeping your mind active with positive messages is key to dominating your goals! Setting up daily statements of affirmation can help your mind stay focused on healthy, positive choices and also help you feel better about yourself and where you are on your journey toward meeting your goals.
- Put up quotes, statements, or images somewhere you can see them every day and remind yourself to take a moment and think about them… or even to say them out loud! Hearing yourself say positive things about yourself and your progress will help to keep you on track.
- Rituals, or having a relatively consistent schedule of daily activities, can help you begin to make habits out of healthy choices. An example of a ritual you can start to help improve your mental health is waking up a half hour earlier to take a walk, breathe, meditate, or set some positive intentions for your day. That small amount of time can change your mood and motivation for the rest of the day!
Meditate and Be Present
Research shows that mindfulness, or the practice of focusing on what is happening in the present moment, can improve your mental health significantly over time. That’s because getting stuck thinking about the past or about what could happen in the future is a main source of depressive or anxious thoughts and behaviors. Meditation is a great way to stay focused on the present, as are other forms of breath work; breathing and focusing on the way your body feels as you breathe is a great way to stay focused on the here and now and can help you to feel more calm and focused throughout your day.
- There are lots of apps that have guided meditation or guided imagery for those who are new to meditation. You can also seek out training from a mindfulness professional or mental health professional who can help you learn how to meditate and be mindful.
Challenging Your Thoughts
The way we think can either be our greatest asset or our most ferocious foe. If your mind is pre-set to think negative thoughts about yourself, your abilities, and your worth, you are more likely to accept when your goals begin slipping and you’re more likely to feel worse about yourself over time. Being able to acknowledge and accept negative thoughts, but then challenge them and redirect them can help you steer away from poor mental health overall.
- First, it’s important to acknowledge that negative thoughts are normal and a part of life. Beating yourself up about having them is only going to make it harder to challenge and defeat them!
- After acknowledgement, it’s important to look for the evidence for the negative thoughts… are there parts of them that are accurate? Is there evidence for some of the critical statements you think? If so, then you know what you need to work on! A lot of times, though, there is no evidence for the negative things we say about ourselves. If you catch yourself thinking something that has no merit, you can challenge it and let it go! Giving yourself alternative thoughts to replace non-credible negative ones is important to keeping a healthy mental balance.
While many people make exercise or physical health resolutions at the beginning of the year to help with their body image or health, many do not realize that exercise is integrally connected to improvement of mental health as well! You don’t need to immediately jump to signing up for a triathlon to use exercise to help your mental fitness; starting with walking or stretching each day is a great way to connect with how your body feels as it’s moving, helps you stay present and mindful, and can help you become more aware of what kind of exercise your body needs and how being active can help the way you think and feel.
Setting Healthy Boundaries With Others
Most of our resolutions for the beginning of the year are usually focused on personal wellness goals, but it’s important to think about our relationships with others to also begin to make social improvements that can improve our mental health! Having conflictual or toxic relationships with others can make us feel resentful, unappreciated, or used, which can decrease the ability for us to see the positives about ourselves and our own lives. That’s why it is important to set realistic goals about the way we want to be treated, and to develop or maintain solid, healthy boundaries with those around us. Boundaries, or personal rules and limits about what you accept in relationships, are important in maintaining a sense of self-worth, but they also help others to know what you need and don’t need in relationships. Learning how to communicate about your personal boundaries and what you need in your relationships can help you feel more confident, more secure in your relationships, and can help your mental health overall as well.
Consistency Over Perfection
This is the hardest one for us to remember, but by far the most important. When implementing change in your life, you have to remember that it takes time for these things to feel comfortable and natural! Research shows that it can take an average of 66 days to solidify new behaviors and turn them into a habit. This shows that any changes you’re looking to make this new year will take time to adjust to and to become a normal part of your every day life. Some days will be harder than others, but if you can remember that consistency is much more important than perfection each day, your goals will be much closer than you think! While many of us strive to be perfect, no one ever is! Keep yourself honest and consistent, and you will see that over time you are able to do amazing things and reach your goals in a solid and healthy way… and being perfect won’t feel like the priority anymore. Once you can feel happy with consistent progress that isn’t perfect progress, you’re on your way to better mental and physical results!
Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events