With the advent of the new year come resolutions. It’s the time of year when we look at what we can do to better ourselves. While improving physical health can substantially benefit happiness and health, prioritizing mental health is one of the best resolutions you can make. Here are just a few of many strategies that can help you improve mood and mental wellbeing and reduce risk of mental illness.
Life doesn’t allow much time for introspection but taking time out of a busy schedule to reflect on thoughts and emotions is imperative for mental health. Thoughts significantly influence both how we feel and behave. Negative, repetitive thoughts can be changed. Take time to listen to your thoughts and analyze your thinking. Learning to name emotions can also help us communicate more clearly and provide good clues for assessing the thoughts we have. As we change our thinking to be truer and more accurate, different, healthier emotions can result. The tools of cognitive behavioral therapy can powerfully combat depression and anxiety. [i] Take 30 minutes several times a week to learn more about mental health, reflect on your thoughts, and analyze your thinking using helpful worksheets.
Start building the positive habit of gratitude this year. Therapist Krystin Henley says, “the more we emphasize positive aspects of our lives, the more it helps reduce negative habits, thoughts, and feelings, which can result in depression and anxiety.” [ii] Whether journaling, writing down three things each day for which you’re grateful, or verbally expressing your gratitude, exercising gratitude helps shape your brain to think more positively. [iii]
Many of us have critical, negative self-talk. We often harshly highlight our mistakes, focus on our negatives, and judge ourselves quickly. We don’t give ourselves the same grace we readily extend to someone else. But with effort, we can shift our self-talk. Learning to give yourself grace is a worthy mental health goal: Stop being too hard on yourself and commit to kinder self-talk this year. Instead of berating yourself for saying the wrong words, begin celebrating the fact that you had the courage to speak up for yourself. Reframing your self-talk may look like asking yourself, “What would I tell a friend in this situation?” You may seldom expect someone else to perform perfectly, but that’s the standard to which you hold yourself. So, stop holding yourself to an unrealistic level. Aim to do your best but give yourself grace as you learn and grow.
Reading is an incredible way to seek knowledge. In fact, you can boost your emotional intelligence through reading. Therapist Krystin Henley recommends spending free time learning more about topics like emotional intelligence, cognitive behavioral therapy, emotion-coaching, mental health, and wellness. Here’s a handy list of resources for expanding your knowledge.
Twenty-first century Western society is all about getting things done. Efficiency and productivity are driving forces behind nearly all pursuits. But how well has your fast-paced life been working for you? Taking daily leisure time helps reduce stress and benefit mental health. [iv, v] Part of a realistic schedule is allotting free time. At Nedley Health, we are firm advocates of taking time each day to do something you enjoy as you seek to find optimal mental health. What do you like doing? Spend at least 30 minutes doing a brain-enhancing pastime (like reading, art and crafts, playing an instrument, exercise, doing a hobby, etc.)
You can prioritize your mental health this year in many ways. Whether from this list or another, pick one or two areas that you can consistently implement. Living a mentally healthy lifestyle is one that will.
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[i] Gautam, M., Tripathi, A., Deshmukh, D., & Gaur, M. (2020). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression. Indian journal of psychiatry, 62(Suppl 2), S223–S229. https://doi.org/10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_772_19
[ii] Henley, K. (2020, December 29). Phone interview.
[iii] Khorrami, M. (2020). The Positive Impact of Gratitude on Mental Health. Retrieved December 31, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/comfort-gratitude/202006/the-positive-impact-gratitude-mental-health
[iv] Qian, X. L., Yarnal, C. M., & Almeida, D. M. (2014). Does leisure time moderate or mediate the effect of daily stress on positive affect? An examination using eight-day diary data. Journal of leisure research, 46(1), 106–124. https://doi.org/10.1080/00222216.2014.11950315
[v] Goodman, W. K., Geiger, A. M., & Wolf, J. M. (2017). Leisure activities are linked to mental health benefits by providing time structure: comparing employed, unemployed and homemakers. Journal of epidemiology and community health, 71(1), 4–11. https://doi.org/10.1136/jech-2016-207260