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