New year’s resolutions, however infamous they might be for their ambitious and inconsistent nature, are often promising and well-intended. The end of the year can be a contemplative time for many people. It gives us an opportunity to recognise and reflect on aspects of our lives that we would like to work on. Mental health is increasingly and rightfully becoming one such space. More and more new year’s resolutions now focus on improving this aspect of life.
Before we set some mental health resolutions for the coming year, it is important to address the one question that new year’s resolutions always beget: how do we stay consistent with them? Often, resolutions are unrealistic and vague, making them difficult to follow through in the longer run. Consequently, you might feel disheartened and even disappointed with yourself for not being able to keep up with them. When you view something as a failure, it can adversely impact your mental health.
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How to set new year’s resolutions that are good for your mental health
While setting resolutions, it is important to keep three things in mind so that they are encouraging and good for your mental health.
Turn resolutions into specific and realistic goals
Be as clear and specific as possible. For example, if your resolution is to read more this year, keep in mind that this is fairly vague and does not effectively communicate what “more” might be. Translating this into a goal looks like: “I will read 12 books this year, one for each month”. You can make this even more specific by listing some books you would like to read.
Recognise that change takes time and effort
The change you so earnestly want to bring about in your life is going to take some time and effort. It helps to ease yourself into the process by setting smaller and more accessible goals in the beginning. In the case of a new year’s resolution to read more books, this would mean choosing simpler, smaller and more interesting books initially.
Know that progress is not linear
Most importantly, keep in mind that growth and progress are not linear. There might be days you pursue the resolution diligently, followed by days when it is very hard to do so. That’s okay. In fact, that is normal. Avoid beating yourself up for not following through. Instead, being gently accountable to yourself for the resolution will allow you to get back to it more quickly, rather than getting caught up in feelings of disappointment and failure. Be kind to yourself.
7 mental health resolutions for 2023
The intent of these new year’s resolutions is to improve your mental health. Treat this as a rough guide for turning resolutions into goals and your mental health journey. You could select those which resonate most deeply with you and adapt this list to what fits your needs the best.
1. Focus on your physical health to improve your mental health
Physical and mental health are deeply interlinked, with an improvement in one positively influencing the other. You can look after physical health in several ways, the most important being physical exercise, healthy eating and good sleep hygiene.
- Physical exercise: There is considerable evidence in support of physical exercise benefiting mental health. Consistent physical exercise is associated with a longer life span, delayed onset of age-related concerns and overall improved quality of life. Along with its psychological and immunity-focused advantages, exercise enhances an individual’s sense of self-efficacy and serves as a healthy distraction when distressed. It also helps prevent as well as alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Goal: Translating this resolution into a goal can look like dedicating 30 minutes every day to some form of physical exercise most suited for you, like taking more walks, going cycling, or simply stretching, to begin with.
- Healthy eating: Recent research suggests that there is a close relationship between your gut health and mental health, with your gastrointestinal tract being called your “second brain”. Along with the physical benefits, eating healthier also enhances mood and cognitive functioning.
Goal: Choosing one healthy meal in a day, exploring healthy alternatives for sugary drinks, replacing junk food with fruits and nuts, and practising mindful eating can be a good start. Take time to assess your diet right now and recognise what realistic changes you would like to bring to it to eat healthier.
- Good sleep hygiene: Sleep plays an extraordinarily restorative role in your life, improving your physical, emotional, and cognitive functioning. Getting sufficient sleep lowers the likelihood of depression, plays an important role in trauma recovery and helps with creativity as well.
Goal: Sleeping for 7-8 hours each night can be incredibly rewarding. You can build a small sleep routine such as making your bed, reading or doing breathing exercises. Apps like Wysa have a selection of tools focused on sleep hygiene and relaxation that can help you improve sleep time and quality.
Improving physical activity, eating and sleep hygiene together can immensely help improve your mood and overall well-being.
2. Build a support system and spend time with your loved ones
Loneliness is an increasingly common experience among the younger and older generations alike. Lack of social support can negatively impact emotional health and is often associated with more severe mental illnesses. However, having access to social support acts as a buffer against stress. This means that when stressful events occur and you have people you can reach out to and rely on, you are significantly less likely to experience extreme distress. In fact, human connections are one of your most basic and primal forms of emotional regulation. Spending time and effort nurturing your social system can be very helpful for your mental health. It lets you know that you are not alone.
Goal: Connecting with at least one friend every week (virtually or in-person), reaching out to family or friends when in distress, being there for a friend if and when they reach out to you and spending at least two minutes each day checking in with existing support systems are some ways of building and maintaining your social support.
3. Cultivate a hobby
Engaging in an activity you enjoy in your leisure time has several mental health benefits. Research suggests that people with hobbies are less likely to experience workplace stress and low mood, as hobbies bring with them a sense of joy and relaxation. Hobbies also provide an opportunity to express creativity and build social connections.
Goal: Reflect on an activity you enjoyed during your childhood, or something that makes you feel good today. Choose one or two hobbies you would like to focus on for this upcoming year. Make time for this hobby by either enrolling for a class or setting 20 minutes apart every weekend, to begin with. You could even do this with a friend or a loved one. Notice how you feel after you’ve done this.
4. Limit social media usage and screen time
Just as you’ve decided to finish a task or go to sleep, you receive a social media notification alert. As you check the notification, something else catches your attention, and before you know it, you’ve spent an hour doomscrolling. Invariably, this leaves you feeling worse than before. If this resonates with you, you are not alone. Social media, particularly when used for long hours, is reported to have contributed to an increased risk of a variety of mental health concerns like anxiety and low mood. This could be because of social comparison, isolation and cyberbullying. It also increases screen time, which can impact sleep and leave you less time to engage in other activities. Reducing your social media usage might help your anxiety, depression, loneliness, sleep problems and the fear of missing out.
Goal: Based on your present usage, you can estimate the amount of time you would like to spend on social media daily. Some ways of reducing screen time and social media usage include using app-based timers on your phone to alert you about usage, engaging in at least one meal without your phone, and keeping it outside the bedroom at night.
5. Practise meditation and mindfulness
Meditation and mindfulness give you space to pause and reflect, allowing you to slow down and increase your emotional awareness, in a chaotic and bustling world. In fact, practising meditation and being mindful can help you in improving emotional regulation, reduce physical pain and alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Goal: Meditation and mindfulness require consistent effort. Starting with mindfulness for even one minute every day can be helpful. You can slowly increase the time as you see fit. Mindfulness and meditation apps like Wysa have also proven to be useful in improving mental health. For instance, Wysa has exercises that focus on deep breathing, mindful eating and grounding techniques.
6. Practise gratitude
Remember those moments of fleeting gratefulness when you know you are having a good time? It can leave you with a sense of fullness and joy. Intentionally practising this gratitude every day helps improve interpersonal relationships, ease mental health symptoms, and build a sense of optimism for the present and future.
Goal: As a mental health resolution, practising gratitude could look like maintaining a gratitude journal, taking a minute every day to notice the positives of your daily life or even building a fun and simple gratitude jar.
7. Seek help when needed
Finally, along with doing everything else to look after your mental health, seeking professional help can be incredibly valuable. If you are feeling overwhelmed, distressed or even curious about the process, starting therapy is a good idea. Therapists are equipped to support you in understanding your concerns better and, together, both of you can develop plans to navigate through these concerns.
Goal: You could start with identifying local mental health practitioners and reaching out to them. If seeking in-person or online therapy feels intimidating, text-based options like Wysa can be a good start. Wysa provides personalised and evidence-based therapeutic tools along with connecting you to a trained emotional well-being professional to help you navigate your mental health journey.
Mental health resolutions, like any other new year’s resolutions, hold immense potential to improve your life. Self-care in the form of physical activity, cultivating a hobby or seeking professional help, can go a long way. Be kind and flexible as you put these resolutions into practice in the new year. Remember, change is slow, non-linear and rewarding.