After a year like 2020 we are all looking forward to a new year where we can start fresh and look ahead. There is the old tradition of making New Year’s resolutions, often giving us a little inspiration as we head into the cold winter months. The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that we start out with the best of intentions, but often our motivation fizzles out after a couple of weeks, causing us to let go of new habits, leaving us feeling guilty and disappointed.
This blog post will provide you with tips and information to assist you in setting resolutions you will stick to. Be mindful that this time of year normally poses challenges related with our mental health, and restrictions related to the pandemic have compounded those struggles. It may be helpful to consider setting resolutions that focus on improving symptoms of or developing coping skills for managing behavioral health issues. Here we offer some suggestions on how to prioritize mental health in the new year.
- Set SMART goals: This technique of goal setting is used in a wide range of settings from corporations to counseling. The acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound; with each step helping you refine your goal further making it more attainable and realistic.
- Specific goals should be clear, with you exploring: what you want to do? Who you need to help? Why you want to do it? What are the obstacles and advantages?
- Measurable goals aid in tracking progress and identify ways of measuring progress. An example may be that you want to improve your guitar playing, so a measurable way of working towards that goal may be practicing playing the guitar for an hour three times a week.
- When assessing whether a goal is achievable a good guideline is that it is challenging while still being possible. If a goal is too difficult or too easy to reach it can be hard to remain motivated, so this step should have you evaluating: what is worth your time? What interests you? What can you realistically get done?
- Goals are relevant when they mean something to you. So set goals that are important to you; don’t set goals because someone else wants you to or it feels like something you should do. This step has you examining how your skills match the goal, if it is worthwhile, if the timing is right, and if it is financially possible.
- Having goals be time-bound keeps you on track and often forces you to make a plan for how to meet your goal. Generally people will set an overall deadline with an idea of what they will be working on until that time; for example what you will do today, 2 weeks out, 2 months out, and so on until the goal is met. Be careful about setting goals that someone else has control over. An example of this may be wanting to improve your relationship with your son. This is not something that you have complete control over, so it may be more reasonable to set a goal of working on learning and using healthy communication skills in all of your relationships in the hopes that it improves things with your son.
- Be Kind to yourself: If you are having a hard time sticking to your resolution give yourself a break. There is a natural tendency to want to beat up on oneself if a goal is not met the exact way it was planned, but this approach just leads to bad feelings and an increased likelihood of giving up. Try talking to yourself like a friend or a child who is having a hard time; using positive and compassionate self-talk can be a natural way of boosting motivation.
- Learn from your struggles: Having a hard time doesn’t mean you need to give up on your goal. If you find that something isn’t working, explore why that may be and make adjustments to your plan as needed.
- Notice and celebrate progress: As you meet deadlines and pass milestones on your journey towards meeting your goal, take the time to pat yourself on the back and notice how far you came. You worked hard, so give yourself a little credit. Set up appropriate rewards along the way. An example could be buying yourself a new pair of pants after you lose a certain amount of weight.
Behavioral Health related Resolutions
- Prioritize self-care: Making time for the things you enjoy promotes happiness and boosts self-esteem, by sending the message that you are important. A lot of times our hectic lives can get in the way of prioritizing self-care; one way of increasing the chances of practicing regular self-care could be setting aside the same time every week. Remember that self-care is anything that helps you recharge and attend to your needs, so it can be anything from a weekly karate class to taking a long bath a few times a week.
- Work on maintaining healthy habits: This area focuses on being healthy physically in order to encourage better mental health, and you may notice are things people usually set resolutions around. Some common examples are increasing physical activity, improving nutrition and diet, developing better sleep hygiene, making and keeping doctor’s appointments, maintaining personal hygiene, or cleaning your living space regularly.
- Increase socializing: Good relationships and regular contact with people is important in maintaining good mental health. Humans are social beings, and it is imperative that we attend to our social needs. The pandemic is creating more obstacles to socializing this winter, which makes it more vital than ever to make sure we find a few ways to connect throughout the weeks and months. This will require some creativity, so here are a few ideas: start a letter correspondence with a friend or family member, send loved ones cards, send an email, set up times for video call gatherings/dates, call someone every night, start a text thread with people close to you.
- Learn a new skill or hobby: Learning something new helps pass the time and increases self-esteem. Seeing that we can learn something new (even if it is hard) helps us see that we can adapt and grow. When we see what we are capable of, we tend to see ourselves in a better light.
- Consider starting therapy: If you find that you have been struggling for a long time with little improvement, it may be time to get some outside help. Sometimes we can’t do it on our own, and there is no shame in seeking the assistance of a professional for support. Professionals have skills that can help you work through the hard times in your life, and offer the unique experience of having a person to turn to who has nothing to do with your personal life. You may consider services through Vernon’s Lead Mental Health Agency Hockanum Valley Community Council (860)-872-9825, ECHN’s adult ambulatory behavioral health services (860)533-3434, or find a private practice therapist through www.psychologytoday.com or other internet tools. Remember that it is a sign of strength to ask for help.