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New year’s resolutions for better mental health

Updated: May 7

I’ve often spoken out about the negative effects of New Year’s resolutions on mental health and even though I still feel this way, I appreciate that it’s a tradition which can’t always be ignored.

Whether we like it or not we end up in those uncomfortable conversations at work or around the dinner table, talking about the year ahead with built-up anticipation.

When thinking about resolutions we usually pick frugal things that often involve sacrifice instead of change. When you really think about passed resolutions, they seem to be unnecessarily harsh. Instead of saying “I aim to have a healthier lifestyle and have my 5 a day” we opt for “I want to lose a stone” or instead of “I’d like to complete a book in the next 6 months” we decide “I will read my book for 1 hour every night”. Harsh right?

Everyone likes a good challenge but they aren’t positive changes unless you are confident in their execution and ongoing upkeep. I find my only ongoing resolution has been the constant disappointment after I fail.

Why do we do it anyway?

I am convinced that we set New Year’s resolutions because of an unfounded sense of “wiping the slate clean”. Something about January the 1st gives us a feeling that everything that has come before can just be forgotten, after all, how else did we come up with the term “new year, new me” (which I hate by the way)

Every year that passes builds up a picture of who you are, the trauma and the joy. Getting caught in the cycle of New Year’s, the start of the month and Mondays can be a bad one.

How many times have you missed a gym session on a Monday and then said “I’ll start next Monday” …why? There are still 6 more days you can get up and go! Why do we write them off? When you really think about it, it just sounds silly, but I guess it’s our excuse to get another 6 days of procrastination behind us before we actually have to do something, ultimately making the day we do go back much harder.

We do the same thing in the new year. The most productive resolution anyone can have going into 2023 is to decide to not do “the Monday thing” (in my opinion of course!)

Choosing your resolutions:

If you are determined to set some resolutions for yourself, try asking the following questions before choosing them and it may well reduce the negative effect later in the year:

Is this realistic? (If no, modify to become more achievable, any goal is still a goal)

Do I have the time for this? – Don’t choose resolutions that will cause more stress to a busy schedule, you’ll ultimately end up making excuses as to why you can’t fit it in.

Can someone else assist me? – You might need help in completing a goal, reach out before you start, just because it’s your resolution doesn’t mean support isn’t available or allowed.

Can I start off slow? Maybe you can make it easier by starting slow and building up. Get yourself used to the small changes before diving right in.

How will this improve my life? – Do you really feel that completing your resolution will improve your state of mind or quality of life in general? If the answer is no, maybe there is something more productive you can choose to work towards.

If you feel motivated to create some resolutions this coming new year, maybe consider the following:

Couch to 5K - As someone who constantly said they can't even run down the street when I set my goal to complete the NHS Couch to 5K no one was more amazed than me when I did it.

This is a great New years resolution because it starts off slow, is completely free and guided throughout.

Start with a counsellor - If you don't have one already it's well worth looking into different therapies and what might benefit you. There are plenty of diverse options available most of which aren't on the NHS. This may seem like a negative, but not being through the NHS means you have more control over which therapy you have and for how long.

In terms of expense, counselling can seem considerably outgoing and I know things are already stretched. The benefits of counselling can hugely outweigh the cost implications in the long run but to make this more achievable you might look into putting money aside you would have spent on something else, maybe cigarettes, alcohol or lowering your phone contact and putting the extra pennies into the pot.

Start Journaling - I'm always going to promote the benefits of journaling, not just the Discovery Journal, but whatever kind of journal you think will work for you. If you've never done it before you might want to start off with a guided version or set a goal to write once a week even if you have nothing to say, this will help you get into practice.

Change a snack to a healthier alternative (build-up) - I have always found dieting to be so difficult and unnecessary in general. Surely it's just common sense that if you cut out entire food groups or deprive yourself of something you are used to consuming, it's only a matter of time before you cave. Small changes can be better in the long term and act more like a lifestyle change without the need for restriction. Changing white bread for brown or toast for crumpets can make a big difference.

Join a class - Any class will do, whether it's creative or exercise. A class will keep you on track, not only because it's usually a set time or day but because you'll look forward to social interaction.

Learn something new - This one is great if you pick something of benefit to your life. It can be easily dropped if there is no real incentive. Try and choose something which relates to your life. For instance, if you want to learn a language you might find choosing the language of the place you are planning to visit in 2023 will keep you motivated.

Oh! And also try not to pick something that requires a lot of "stuff" You may get a false sense of achievement by committing to the purchases but not to the actual task.

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