BY DR. JENNIFER SULLIVAN
At midnight on December 31st, we ushered in a new year. In addition to the celebratory hoopla of the evening, many of us resolved to change something about ourselves for the better in the new year.
Despite the exceptionally high failure rates of New Year’s resolutions (only about 8% of those who make resolutions achieve their goals), we persist in making them. However, considering our long history of the tradition of New Year’s resolutions, which dates back 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians, it’s easier to understand our attachment to this practice of hope and renewal.
This year, I urge you to free yourself from the shackles of New Year’s resolutions, and focus on incorporating, or continuing with, these critical mental health trends instead.
Talking openly about mental health.
If there was one positive thing that came out of COVID, it was a dramatic increase in mental health awareness. Mental health issues were being talked about in families, schools, workplaces, the media, and in all levels of government. Talking openly about mental health normalizes and destigmatizes our mental health difficulties. It has long been thought that mental health issues are a sign of weakness or a defect. Thankfully, this archaic attitude is shifting and there is now widespread recognition that mental health affects us all. So, let’s keep the discussions about mental health going!
Making self-care a priority.
Another important trend to focus on in 2023 is prioritizing self-care. In the past, self-care was associated with selfishness and self-indulgence. But thanks to another cultural shift, it is widely recognized that self-care is essential to mental health. Self-care is more than bubble baths and pedicures, and includes a wide range of activities to improve and optimize our mental health.
Three of the most important self-care activities include healthy eating, physical exercise, and sleep hygiene. Although in the past these activities were prioritized to improve physical health and appearance, the current trend is to engage in these activities for the benefit of our mental health. So, ditch calorie-counting and long periods of intense exercise and focus instead on making healthy food choices and getting movement throughout the day.
Mindfulness meditation and deep breathing practices are also trending as vital self-care activities to help manage stress, anxiety, and mood.
Additionally, a wide range of mental health products and tools have been developed to assist in implementing and tracking various mental health/self-care activities. These include apps and wearable technology (e.g., Fitbit, Apple Watch, etc.) that help by reminding you to engage in deep breathing, guide you in mindfulness meditation, track your physical activity and the length and quality of your sleep, assist you in setting goals and changing habits, and help you challenge your negative thoughts.
Going for therapy, either in-person or virtually.
Since COVID, there has been a notable upswing in people attending psychotherapy. There appears to be a greater understanding that therapy isn’t only for individuals in crisis or suffering with a major mental illness. It is generally recognized now that therapy is for everyone and can help with a wide range of presenting issues.
Although we have returned to in-person care, technology will continue to be used in mental health service delivery in various ways (e.g., a hybrid model of in-person and virtual care).
So, ditch your list of New Year’s resolutions and make your mental health a priority this year by talking openly about mental health, engaging in self-care activities on a regular basis, and, if needed, seeking out the assistance of a therapist.
Changing the Conversation is a monthly column by Jennifer Sullivan, Psychologist and CEO of Sullivan + Associates Clinical Psychology, that focuses on normalizing mental health issues through education and public awareness. It appears on the Healthstyle page on the second Tuesday of each month.