How to Improve your Mental Health in the New Year

Bella Cutean, Assistant Editor

 After a tough year for most people due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, many are ready for a new year and new experiences.  As a society a new year rolling around usually means that it’s time to think of resolutions and really stick to them this time. That narrative brings pressure and expectations, and that is the last thing the collective needs after a year like 2020. It’s time to flip the script and see a new year as another 365 days to try to be better humans, do more things that satisfy that internal yearning, and try to stay afloat amongst the constant turmoil that has recently plagued the world. It is possible to do hard things, and a new year should mean a new chance for individuals to improve things they deem in need of renovation. That’s the ideal mindset, but in reality, thinking like this is difficult. After 2020 did its worst on almost everyone and managed to weaken even the strongest, it is essential to approach a new year with simplistic goals that can evolve into something bigger. One simplistic goal that the collective can all adapt to is as follows: work on bettering your mental health. This as a concept is quite complex, but once broken down there are ways to do hard things. Taking on this goal includes even the hardest things like working on your internal state, and coming out on the other side with a better mindset. 

So how can this genuinely be achieved? And why is it important? Actively bettering your mental health is not some cliche that people who enjoy preaching positivity say.The benefits of intentionally practicing to improve mental health are a response to the chronic stress reported at epidemic levels all around the world. Chronic stress has been proven to deteriorate the hippocampus (McLaughlin, 2007).  This is one of many reasons that bringing attention to mental health is essential, and incorporating practices into your everyday routine will not eradicate or erase mental illness, but it can make coping with it easier. For those who do not struggle with mental illness incorporating wellness practices can lead to improvement in various other areas of life. So what are these wellness practices? There are 5 that can act as a good start to a new journey with bettering your mental health. 

The first wellness practice is Committing to Kinder Self Talk. Self talk is the internal monologue that every individual has. That monologue tends to be much more negative and pessimistic than necessary most of the time. In everyday life, individuals make mistakes. People forget to pick up prescriptions or an important birthday or event slips their mind, and the internal monologue becomes “I always mess up. I’m so stupid”. This is an example of negative self talk and over a long period of time this can lead to increased stress, a lowered ability to see opportunities, decreased motivation, and more feelings of helplessness. When the internal monologue adapts a harsh edge that most likely means it’s time to take notice and shift it to something more positive and helpful such as “Everyone makes mistakes. I am learning and growing.”Shifting the internal voice is proven to have very positive effects on individuals such as learning to develop mental skills that allow them to solve problems, think differently, and become more efficient with dealing with hardships or challenges. 

The second wellness practice is Practicing Gratitude.  Being grateful can be a difficult thing to do, especially considering the state of the world. Yet, taking the time out of the daily routine to incorporate some form of gratitude has multiple benefits. These include decreased stress, increased resilience, happiness, and self esteem. There are many ways to practice gratitude so finding the right one that actually invokes feelings of thankfulness is essential. Common forms of practicing gratitude include writing down 3 things you are grateful for each day, writing thank you notes to loved ones, or a gratitude focused meditation. 

A third wellness practice is Learn to say No. This may seem counterproductive, but on the contrary it is quite healthy to establish boundaries and stick with them. It is okay to say yes to things that matter personally, and on things that are worth valuable time. Yet when it comes to times when saying no could be a relief in multiple ways but there is pressure to say yes, then you can use this wellness practice. By keeping in mind that saying no at reasonable times is okay and a healthy expression of personal boundaries, it can lead to a lot less anxiety surrounding the need to always be the individual who says yes. 

The fourth wellness practice is to Prioritize Joy. This means that whatever genuinely brings joy into life should be done regularly. These things can be simple such as taking time to work out, spending more time in nature, watching a favorite tv show or movie, or spending time with friends and family. Actively working to cultivate joy reminds us how fun and spontaneous life can be. This can make the dullest days feel a little more sunny, and give us a better outlook in general. 

The fifth and final wellness practice is Ask for Help if necessary. Every single wellness ritual or routine aside sometimes there needs to be help from others who know how to handle things that cannot be handled alone. This can be the difference between floundering on our own or staying afloat with the help of someone who wants to see people thrive. Seeking help from a mental health professional is never shameful or something that should be avoided. If support from a loved one or friends does not feel like enough anymore, looking into a therapist is the kindest thing you can do for yourself.  

As everyone embarks on the journey of 2021, which will most likely come with surprises of its own, hopefully all individuals can make the most of the 365 days that they are given and use it to be more gentle with themselves and everyone who they encounter.