Lifestyle / Psychiatry

New Year’s Resolution Ideas To Enhance Your Mental Health

Not sure about you, but I got tired of writing down the standard New Year’s resolutions on my list (such as losing weight, making more money, etc) several years ago.  Research has shown that people typically lose momentum to carry out their resolutions within the first 6 months, so why not make a list that enhances your life and contributes to happiness for the long run rather than relying on a number (ie, pounds lost, money earned, etc) to determine whether or not you succeed?

Achieving your resolution is a process…it has ups and downs…successes and failures.  If we learned to embrace the process, we’d likely maintain momentum (ie, “okay so I ate a lot of chocolate and pastries on Valentine’s day — I’m going for a run the next day,” rather than the negative self-talk such as “I’m such a fatty and a failure because I ate a piece of chocolate”).  I say, get over it and move on — after all, you’re human.  You either have the option of stressing and obsessing about that one piece of chocolate (thus increasing your cortisol levels leading to increased fat storage) or owning up to eating that piece of chocolate and viewing it as fuel for your workout or a well-deserved treat.  Perhaps self-love and forgiveness can also be a resolution?  Since awareness of the importance of mental health has been gaining more traction lately, let’s make 2016 a year to focus on your overall mental health and well-being.

The following are some ideas that I share with my patients on a regular basis, in addition to some resolutions that I plan to incorporate into my own list for 2016:

1. Improve your sleep patterns.  I listed this as #1 because it’s actually at the top of my own list since I stay up way too late despite having to wake up early in the morning for work.  Sleep is  correlated with your health (insomnia is related to hypertension while too much or too little sleep increases the risk of stroke, for example), levels of concentration, and mood.  So how much sleep do you need?  You can check out the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations for amount of sleep here.

2. Substitute some of your least healthy food habits with more nutritious options.  It has been shown that those with better quality diets were less likely to be depressed and people who eat higher amounts of processed food was associated with increased anxiety.  Here are a couple of substitution ideas:

  • Instead of soda: try flavored sparkling water, fruit-infused water, unsweetened iced tea.  (This is how I quit drinking soda about 4 years ago)
  • If you eat fast food on a regular basis, aim for an option that perhaps is charbroiled instead of fried (ie, grilled chicken sandwich instead of battered).
  • If you want to fulfill the craving for fried food, be sure to use oil from healthier sources (ie, coconut, olive, and grapeseed oil).
  • Instead of snacking on white or milk chocolate, switch to dark chocolate.

3. Make more of an effort to connect with others.  This can be as simple as smiling or saying “hi” to people that you walk by on the street to making more of an effort to talk to a co-worker whom you normally don’t speak to, or re-connecting with an estranged family member.  Social interactions with those you are close to, in addition to acquaintances, are linked to a greater sense of belonging and happiness.

4. Give back by volunteering.  Volunteer work increases social connectedness and has been shown to lower levels of depression, especially for people over age 65.

5. Discover the exercise/sport/gym/physical activity that you love so much it becomes part of your regular routine rather than a chore/hassle.  Rather than committing to losing weight, why not first find the physical activity you enjoy and desire to participate on a regular basis?  Then, the benefit of engaging in the activity leads to getting in better shape.  It’s really all a matter of perspective.  If you focus on a specific number of weight to lose, then you’re more focused on the end outcome (and that could entail unhealthy habits such as yo-yo dieting, starving yourself to meet that number, or overexerting yourself at the gym — basically, methods that are unsustainable and add excess stress to your body).

6. Take up a new hobby.  In effort to live a more balanced life, having a hobby can be a healthy distraction away from your everyday stressors.  I’ve been meaning to improve my golf skills ever since I first played a round during residency several years ago (okay, maybe I didn’t play all 18 holes, but still).  I’ve already bookmarked a few golf courses to check out and plan to go to the driving range in January.  Anyone care to join?

7. Spend less time on your smartphone/social media and more time engaging in real conversation (and life in general).  Americans have been found to spend an average of 4.7 hours/day on their smartphones.  This is going on my list as well because I’m definitely on my phone way more than I should be.  Although social media can be a great source of support to connect over mental health issues, it has also been linked to insomnia and increased anxiety in the teenage population.  I believe that adults are likely also impacted by social media in a similar manner, so reminding ourselves to unplug more can lead to less distraction and greater productivity to accomplish the other resolutions on your list.


Photo by Marlon Santos

26 thoughts on “New Year’s Resolution Ideas To Enhance Your Mental Health

  1. I feel the same way, some people were shocked when I told them that I don’t make New Year Resolutions anymore. Instead I try to be a better me throughout the year focusing on the things that you talked about in this post. Wonderfully worded!

  2. Great ideas. I will be working on 3 and 4 for the new year. I want to meet more people to broaden my social circle. As an introvert, I’m used to what’s comfortable but it’s time to break out of my comfort zone once again to expand and grow.

  3. Pingback: How To Use Boredom To Get Things Done |

  4. I love this! I think we all need to think about New Years resolutions in more depth. As you say, too often people say ‘to lose weight’ or ‘to get fit’. There’s always a focus on physical fitness rather than on the mental side. We never spend as much time thinking about getting our head straight! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • YES! the mental side is just as important as the physical (though i personally think the mental aspect has more weight since we need the mental drive to accomplish and maintain things in the 1st place!). have a wonderful 2016!

      • Unfortunately as you say, the mental side is not always something we consider until things turn bad. Thank you and the same to you too! Hopefully it’ll be a year of change! 🙂

  5. I love your list!

    #1-7 are do-able, hurrah! This post is fresh & inspiring compared to the other same-old, same-old New Years Resolution-themed articles!

    Thanks for sharing your personal take on how you approach each idea. I’m definitely going to re-read this list a few more times so it sinks in. :))))))))))
    And Happy New Year, dear, beautiful Dr. Vania!

    • Hi Dyane! Happy new year! Thanks so much for your comment about my post — i try my best to write stuff that can be relatable and useful 🙂 Wishing u and your fam a wonderful 2016! 🙂

  6. Pingback: 7 health habits we need more of in 2016 | watercress words

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