We all know about making “New Year’s Resolutions.” Common resolutions may be to lose weight, quit smoking, or start a new hobby. These may be good resolutions in themselves, and we are now in to the third month of the New Year so did you made your mental health New Year’s Resolutions, too?
Remember that your resolutions should be specific to your needs, not what others say you should do. Maybe you should lose weight, quit smoking, or start a hobby, but should they be priorities? Will they, at this moment in time, help or harm your mental health? If you give yourself the goal of exercising 3 times a week, will that actually cause you more mental stress if you really don’t have the internal drive to do it? Choose resolutions with your own mental health and immediate needs in mind.
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You may have heard about making S.M.A.R.T. goals. This acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-limited. It’s a good general guideline, but don’t stress out about making sure you hit every point!
The idea is to choose “Specific” actions that are “Realistic” and “Achievable” for you, personally. “Measurable” might mean writing down your mood each day to see progress over time, but if this causes stress for you, try a weekly, big-picture evaluation. “Time-limited” may refer to short-term and long-term goals or goals that are connected with a specific event in life, like preparing for your wedding or graduating college.
Mental Health Goals for 2021 – or Any Time
Some big picture goals and suggested actions include:
- Practice self-love and self-compassion: Start every day with a positive statement about the day and about yourself – “today will be a great day” or “I can handle anything that comes my way today” or “I am a strong person”; post supportive quotes and images where you’ll see them every day and say them out loud; develop consistent self-love rituals, such as journaling, regular pampering sessions, and meditation or deep breathing.
- Practice mindfulness or meditation: Take time daily to just be present in the moment – sit quietly and listen to your breathing, notice sounds of birds, the warmth of the air around you, and relax; take time daily to pray or to meditate on positive thoughts.
- Set boundaries: Learn to say no to activities that overwhelm you; decrease interaction with individuals who produce anxiety in your life. If such an individual is a family member or co-worker and difficult to avoid, consider counseling or support groups to help you improve the relationship or cope in a healthy manner.
- Care for your body: Develop an exercise routine that is realistic for you. If you have a dog to walk, that counts. Maybe “power walk” instead of just walking casually. Find a friend who also wants to get in shape and help each other with your goals.
- Challenge negative thoughts: Develop the skill to examine your thoughts and watch for negativity. Everyone has negative thoughts sometimes, but you don’t have to believe everything that comes into your mind! Control negative thoughts by evaluating if they are actually true – often there is no evidence to support the thought. Even if it is partially true, be kind to yourself, because no one is perfect; direct your mind to thoughts that challenge the non-credible or half-truth. For instance, if you think, “I’m so stupid!” ask yourself, “Is that really true?” Of course, it’s not. Replace that negative thought with examples of your intelligence. This is an excellent habit to develop.
- Manage stress, anxiety, depression: Evaluate stressors in your life and find ways to limit or eliminate them, possibly with the help of a friend or counselor; use of the goals above to help manage stress, anxiety, and depression.
Remember, consistency is more important than perfection when it comes to mental health goals. “Perfect” is impossible. “Pretty good” is an achievement in itself! For most people, applying a few of the suggestions above does wonders for mental health. However, if you feel you need additional help, please reach out to a support group or an experienced counselor. No one needs to suffer alone. From my years as a counselor, I can assure you that it is possible for you to feel better, happier, and less stressed. Find a counselor in your area, or feel free to reach out to me in the NYC area.