How to make New Year’s resolutions to help bolster your mental health
The New Year is upon us, and this is a time of year that people often stop to reflect on what they can improve and change in the New Year. Although many people focus on outcome driven goals such as weight loss or making more money, I would encourage people to think about goals that can improve how they feel, which can bolster their mental health and be more sustainable in the long run.
How can New Year’s resolutions bolster mental health?
A skill from a form of cognitive behavioral therapy called DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) developed by Marsha Linehan, is called the PLEASE skill. This is a skill that helps individuals improve their ability to regulate their emotions, particularly by reducing their vulnerability to negative emotions.
PLEASE stands for:
PL: Treat physical illness – Take care of your body. See a doctor when necessary. Take prescribed medication.
E : Balance Eating – Don’t eat too much or too little, eat regularly and mindfully, stay away from foods that make you feel overly emotional.
A: Avoid mood-altering drugs – Stay off non-prescribed drugs, including alcohol.
S: Balance Sleep: Try to get the amount of sleep that helps you feel good. Keep to a sleep program if you are having difficulty sleeping.
E: Get Exercise: Do some sort of exercise every day. Try to build up to 20 minutes of daily exercise.
The idea behind this skill is pretty simple. When you are not taking good care of yourself, and let’s say you are sleep deprived, hangry, and hungover, you are not likely to be able to regulate your emotions well.
Backed by science
The research is clear that the mind and body are intimately connected, and healthy habits promote positive emotional and physical health. For instance, research finds that physical activity is associated with decreased depression and anxiety. Studies also find that people who eat a poor diet are more likely to report symptoms of depression compared to those who eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fish.
How to stick to those resolutions
Many people complain that it is tough to maintain their New Year’s resolutions. Oftentimes, people describe getting off to a strong start, but lose steam over time. Here are some strategies to help you stick with your resolutions.
Do it for yourself. Studies show that people who are “externally motivated” are not likely to stick with something compared to those who are “internally motivated.” For instance, if you are hitting the gym to try to get a “bikini body” you are not as likely to stay with your exercise routine as someone who is doing it because they enjoy it.
Take it one step at a time, and set SMART goals. Many times people become demoralized when they cannot accomplish their initial goals. They then feel like their goal is impossible and not worth continuing to try for. Try to make SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals. For instance, saying “I will eat 3 vegetables today” would be a SMART goal, whereas “I’m never eating junk food again” would not be.
Get support. Research finds that people are more successful at establishing healthy habits such as starting an exercise routine or quitting smoking with the support of others. You don’t have to go at this alone. Going after a goal with the support of a friend or loved one will make reaching your goal more likely, and more fun.
Be gentle with yourself. If you slip up or find engaging in your goal difficult, treat yourself with kindness rather than criticism. Remember that picking up new habits is hard and takes time. Remember also that just because you did not engage in your goal today does not negate the hard work you’ve put in. Think of each day as a new opportunity to take steps towards your goal.
Celebrate and reward yourself for your progress. Instead of discounting and downplaying your accomplishments, celebrate them! For instance, if you met your weekly exercise goals, you could reward yourself by taking a nice bath or getting a massage. Rewarding your progress will help reinforce your behavior.
Don’t think of it as a “New Year’s resolution.” Ok. I know this is a bit of a curveball since the article is about New Year’s resolutions. However, I think one of the reasons New Year’s resolutions don’t stick is because people’s perspective is that it is a resolution only for the time immediately following the New Year.
Instead, think of the resolution as a life goal. If it is important to you, keep working at it until it becomes a habit and a routine part of your life. Also, remember to reflect and set goals throughout the year, and not just around the New Year.
A final word
If you want support and guidance around following through with a New Year’s resolution or other important life goal, feel free to reach out for a free initial consult.