Whether your New Year resolution involves eating healthier, starting a new hobby, increasing your income, or losing a few pounds, the first and most important step in ensuring success is shoring up the foundation which is YOU. Mental health and wellness goals should be implemented all year round simply because stress is everywhere and stress kills. That may sound harsh but it is fact. According to a Columbia University study, severe stress and symptoms of depression increases risk of an early death. People in the study who had high levels of both stress and depression were 48 percent more likely to die or have a heart attack during the study period, compared with the group that had low levels of stress and depression.
Whether or not you suffer from depression, stress management strategies have become essential for the prevention of physical and mental health illness. Below are a few simple tips that you can immediately implement to help you improve your overall mental health and well-being.
1. Take a technology break. Good news and bad news. Technology has its place in our modern society and it’s not going anywhere. However, the amount of time we spend on technology is astonishing and can impact us psychologically. While technology can provide a nice escape from life stressors (e.g., Netflix binges and Instagram surfing), our attachment to technology can breed isolation. Taking time away from technology is a great way to give your brain a break and allow some creativity to flow in. Put simply, intentionally disengaging with our smartphones may lead to intentional and meaningful engagement with others.
2. Take a hike. Thanks to cognitive neuroscience, we know that physical health is a key component of mental health. The mind and body are not just connected but deeply intertwined. Exercise is not only good for physical health but mental and emotional health. Several studies found that exercise is as effective as a low dose antidepressant. Movement based practices have been shown to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression. And while you are moving, head to the great outdoors! Spending time outside in nature can help you to clear your thoughts and push that mental and emotional reset button. Try to commit to brief, but regular, exercise practices. Yoga, Zumba, or hiking are just a few activities that can calm body and your mind.
3. Don’t go at it alone. Relationships need maintenance, just like anything else. While there are a dozen technological ways to connect with friends, there’s nothing like face time. Ahem, the original face time…breathing the same air. Make a goal this year to spend quality time with friends and family. Connect with that friend that you’ve occasionally thought about but hadn’t made time to reach out in a while. No pressure to plan a structured activity. Make time to simply relax, laugh, and have some fun.
4. Pick up your Journal. Rumination, which is obsessive thinking about negative events or emotions is a symptom of anxiety and depression. The first step in improving your mental and emotional health is recognizing your thoughts and emotions. Journaling Offers a way to express your thoughts, identify your emotions, and understand the roots without obsessing over them. Begin journaling by jotting down your thoughts and feelings about something that impacted you during the day. Journaling enhances self-awareness and understanding of what is deeply meaningful to you. 15 minutes is all you need. Start and end each journaling session by jotting down what you are most thankful for. Gratitude is acknowledging the positive things about your life and a simple way to feel happier.
5. Set boundaries. “No” only has 2-letters but to some, it might as well be a four-letter word. Many of us at various points in our life have suffered from the “disease to please.” The truth is that saying yes too often leads to feelings of overwhelm, burnout, and even resentment. Remember, saying no to that friend, neighbor, or coworker means that you are saying yes to other things that you value: an afternoon relaxing with a loved one, a passion project, or just time alone re-charging.
Whatever your resolutions or goals are for the New Year, remember to be kind to yourself. Tackling a new challenge takes time and is rarely easy. There will likely be ups and downs and setbacks along the way. Be present and patient with yourself. There’s value in the process.