Happy New Year, everyone! As we officially kick off 2019, many of us are unofficially submitting our New Year’s Resolution(s). As we explore ways to better take care of ourselves, such as joining a gym, eating healthier, losing weight, cutting back on alcohol, this is the ideal time to proactively consider how 2019 will be your best year for mental health. Research has proven that strategically planning ahead can actually improve mood and reduce the risk for mental illness. Here are 10 simple changes you can make that will have a big impact on your mental well-being in 2019.
1. Get more sleep.
Our generation is, generally, suffering from sleep deprivation. Despite the fact that some people consider lack of sleep a badge of honor, poor sleep habits can actually lead to depressive symptoms. Dr. Ryan Todd recommends 5 simple rules to improve your sleep, which include waking up at the same time every day, removing mobile devices from your bedroom, limiting the length of naps, no caffeine or alcohol after dinner, and doing a boring activity if waking mid-sleep. “As psychiatrists, we see sleep issues all the time because when people get stressed or unwell, sleep is one of the first things to go awry,” says Dr. Todd. “There are some basic hacks that we have seen work in the past that you could use to drastically improve your sleep,” he explains.
2. Exercise more.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, there have been countless studies and articles explaining how exercise can be beneficial for our mental health. One landmark study found exercise to be as effective as an antidepressant in relieving mild to moderate depression. However, it should be noted that getting exercise can be hard for many people, especially those already suffering from the lack of motivation and energy that often come with depression. A simple solution is to make getting exercise easier. Rather than limiting yourself to joining a gym or buying a weight set, you could go for more walks or just get outside.
3. Get a hobby.
Typically, there are two types of resolutions in the New Year. One is to promote a sense of pleasure, and the other to build mastery in something. Finding a new a hobby — or going back to one that’s gone unused — is a great way to do both. Not only can a new hobby help you feel good about yourself, but as you start to improve with it, it can also boost your self-confidence.
4. Put down your smartphone.
Sometimes all we need is a digital detox. A few tricks to limit your digital and social media activity include: Establishing no-phone zones; limiting screen time; deleting addictive apps (sorry, Tinder users); using the ‘do not disturb’ feature on your phone.
5. Learn how to meditate.
Meditation, or Mindfulness, can be very helpful, says Dr. Karen MacNeill. “Mindfulness can be a great technique to take that pause and get a small dose of recovery within your busy day,” she says. Research has also suggested that meditation can reduce stress levels and improve your effectiveness in getting things done. Perhaps most notably, meditation can relieve pressure and helps you live with purpose in the moment. Most mindfulness exercises only require about 15 minutes per day, but if you don’t have quite that much time, Dr. MacNeill’s 3 Minute Breathing Space exercise is a good start. Sticking with meditation can offer long-lasting mental health benefits.
6. Write it down.
Is that mental checklist growing out of control? Feeling like you have too much to do can lead to unnecessary anxiety. A simple, easy way to avoid procrastination and get things done is getting all of these tasks out of your head and on to a paper or Word document. Physically writing the tasks down allows us to check things off and achieve a sense of accomplishment, allowing us to keep moving and become more productive. While seemingly simple, doing this will greatly reduce unneeded stress.
7. Keep a journal.
Not the same as your checklist, a journal can be used to verbalize our worries by writing them down. Ever sit up at night with anxious thoughts and feel like it’s impossible to fall back asleep because you can’t “shut your brain off”? Keeping a journal to write down these prevailing or negative thoughts – for a maximum of 15 minutes – can be a therapeutic process that allows you to return to an uninterrupted sleep and greatly reduce your overall stress.
8. Help others.
It’s been shown that helping others through random acts of kindness can be very beneficial to our mental health. Helping others can be a good way to escape our own troubles and connect with other people. The acts don’t need to be grandiose – even simply shoveling your neighbor’s sidewalk would be perfectly suitable and garner beneficial feelings of self worth and social connection.
9. Be grateful.
Studies show one of the simplest ways to feel happier is to practice gratitude by reflecting on the good things in your life. A 2012 survey conducted by the John Templeton Foundation found that most people value gratitude and see themselves as quite grateful — but, disconcertingly, they see the world around them becoming less grateful. An easy way to track this is to keep a gratitude journal or saying out loud something that you’re grateful for at the end of every day.
Carrying gratitude forward to the next day can serve as a helpful buffer to your next stressful encounter.
10. Be nicer to yourself.
Go easy on yourself. Enacting all of these steps on Jan. 2 doesn’t make you a better person than Dec. 31 that’s just passed. Utilize these steps as a process to improve yourself, in the macro, this year. They don’t need to be added at once so they’re another burden to add to your plate. Try a few, and if they work, keep moving until you find what works for you.
The goal is for you to have a happy, healthy, and mentally resilient new year.
Take care this year!