As 2020 looms on the horizon, many people see it as an opportunity to better themselves and start working on new projects and goals through New Year’s resolutions. Often, our resolutions revolve around things like getting fit, getting better grades or spending less money. Mental health often takes a back seat, despite the fact that it affects our emotional, physical and social well-being.
With the help of certified NLP Life Coach and speaker Steffi Lopez Gonzalez, who runs the Hong Kong-based Your Life Your Playground, which focuses on yoga, meditation and life coaching, we’ve assembled a list of New Year’s resolutions you can make to improve your mental health in the new year.
Take one day a week off social media
“Social media has addictive qualities,” says Lopez Gonzalez.
“It’s easy to become obsessed with the rewards of ‘likes’ or ‘retweets’ and get caught up in chasing the approval of others instead of being involved and interested in your own life and the lives of those around you.”
Not only can mindless scrolling take up a lot of your free time, but looking through your social media feed can make you feel depressed and anxious, as you tend to compare your life to others. It can be hard to remember that people are only posting their highlights and the good things happening to them, and are likely to be dealing with similar stress and insecurities as yourself.
Taking a one day a week off Instagram, TikTok and Facebook can help you focus on yourself and what you want to do, rather than on what other people are doing. Remember to turn off your notifications too!
Exercise – but throw the scale away
One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions is to exercise and get trim, but exercise has many benefits that have nothing to do with weight loss.
“Exercise has an incredible impact on your mental and emotional well-being,” says Lopez Gonzalez.
“It boosts your mood and combats depression. When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals such as endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine, which all work together to positively affect your mood and improve anxiety levels.”
She adds that regular exercise can decrease the amount of cortisol in your bloodstream, helping to reduce the symptoms of stress.
The National Health System in Britain even encourages exercise as a form of therapy, because it can raise your self-esteem and cause chemical changes in your brain that help positively change your mood.
Get a planner – and use it
Nothing is more stressful than realising you forgot to do an assignment or missed an appointment. Many of us buy a planner at the beginning of the year, use it for a couple of weeks, and then shove it in the back of a drawer sometime around mid-February.
Keeping your schedule straight makes it less likely that a deadline will sneak up on you or throw you off guard, and writing things down can make you feel less anxious.
Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal method is especially popular these days, because it acts as a combination between a planner and diary. There are many groups on Facebook and accounts on Instagram that show you the most effective, and creative, ways to organise your journal. Some people decorate their journals with doodles, colourful tape and stickers, while others keep it simple. There’s no right or wrong way to do it!
Schedule “me time” every day
“Me time is not selfish, it’s about self-care,” says Lopez Gonzalez. “Taking some ‘me time’ can help you avoid irritability and enable you to control your emotions. Not giving enough time to yourself can cause you to build up resentment that can harm both you and your relationships [with other people].
“In our society, it looks like we always need to be working and putting our energy into something, otherwise we are wasting our time and not accomplishing anything. However, ‘me time’ is crucial for our health.”
‘Me time’ can be something as simple as reading a book, or watching the sun rise with a hot cup of coffee or tea, or engaging in a hobby you love. Lopez Gonzalez recommends at least 30 minutes of ‘me time’ a day.
Start the day with a positive affirmation
“Write it down and make it your ‘mantra’,” says Lopez Gonzalez. “If you start worrying or catch yourself starting with internal negative self-talk, use the positive affirmation to anchor you and quiet your inner critic. A positive affirmation can help us be more mindful and aware of our inner state and the type of attitudes and thoughts we have.
“It is extremely useful [for practising] mindfulness and taking better care of our inner well-being, which is ultimately the filter on how we experience reality and our level of happiness and fulfilment.”