The New Year Mental Health Resolutions You Need To Make
The Debrief: Give your brain a break…
This is usually the point in the year at which I start wondering whether I can afford a full brain and body transplant in time for 2016. A New Year means a New Me - and I would love one of those, because the old one is basically a bin bag full of Toblerone who could only manage to answer one question on the Celebrity Mastermind Christmas Special, and that was about Made In Chelsea. I am ending 2015 in a hardening lardy chrysalis of dead cells. I’m ready to discard everything, and become so radically different by the end of next year that I may as well have taken part in a Witness Protection programme. I’ll look like a Victoria’s Secret Angel! I’ll learn Spanish! And the ukelele! And I’ll have an ordered filing cabinet for my financial affairs, instead of a dented Pickfords container affectionately known as the Box Of Doom!
If I spent the whole year as I spend Christmas Week, stationary, sulky and putting food in my mouth for every second that I’m not asleep, I would be in need of a dramatic life overhaul - otherwise my death would be imminent. But I’m fundamentally fine. Most of the year my vegetables get eaten, my trainers get worn and my bills are all on Direct Debit. Life coach Hannah Deere tells me ‘Christmas is an intense, emotional time - even if you’re having fun, lots of alcohol, socialising and being around your family wears you out and impairs your decision making ability. Usually you’d just have a break and feel better, but the seasonal tradition of making New Year’s resolutions means that you’re more likely to put yourself under pressure.’
Hannah adds ‘You’re not feeling at your best, and you think that you can fix it by making impossible promises about your body and physical health. You’d be much better prioritising your mental health, and making resolutions that will help you throughout the year, lessening your anxiety and desire for change by the time the next New Year arrives.’
So what are the mental health resolutions that will genuinely make your year better? Here are a few suggestions…
I’ll take five…
IT project manager Shana*, 29, says that she started meditating last year, and it made a big difference to her wellbeing. ‘Everyone was banging on about it, and I was sceptical - but I thought I’d have a go on a free app, and it showed me that spending a few minutes somewhere quiet, doing nothing, made everything easier to deal with. I like a short guided meditation, but if I can’t manage that I go somewhere I won’t be disturbed and spend 5-10 minutes breathing quietly and being mindful of my thoughts. Meditation has taught me that it’s completely fine to be distracted when you’re doing it, if you notice it. I used get so stressed at work, and this has given me perspective. I don’t get caught up in the moment as much, I can see beyond it.’
I’ll spend at least half an hour outside, in the daylight
Charlotte, a 24 year old marketing assistant discovered the benefits of this by accident. ‘Last year I started running at lunchtime and it sounds really dramatic but it changed my life. When I ran, I’d be in a good mood all afternoon and I had so much energy. Then my work made a deal with a local gym, and I signed up for a cheap membership. I started going after work and running on a treadmill, and after about a week I realised I didn’t feel so good any more. I started to dread exercise - I couldn’t understand what was happening. I did some reading and discovered that most health experts agree that exposure to daylight has a big impact on mood. Now I run outside and go to the gym afterwards to use the sauna - I try to walk as much as I can too, so even if I can’t manage to run, my mood doesn’t drop.’
I will be aware of the effects of alcohol
This year I gave up booze for a bit because I thought it might help me to zip up my wedding dress. It did - but there was one side effect that was way better than a bit of weight loss. I slept better, had more energy, felt calmer about all planning drama and felt significantly happier. Now that I’m trying to be a more moderate drinker, I notice that alcohol has a significant impact on my mood. If I have a couple of drinks and a decent dinner, I’ll be OK, but gallons of white wine and a midnight McDonalds means that I will spend the next day weeping. I don’t mind headaches and vomiting, but 24 hours of tearful paranoia is impossible to bear. A spokesperson for Drinkaware explains ‘Alcohol can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety and make stress harder to deal with. This is because regular, heavy drinking interferes with neurotransmitters in our brains that are needed for good mental health.’ This year, I’ll remember that alcohol might make me feel great in the short term, but if I’m not careful with it, it’s very bad for my head.
I will monitor my social media use
Teaching assistant Jade, 27 says ‘We all know that Facebook and Instagram can make us feel a bit rubbish, that people only post the good stuff and the quickest way to make yourself miserable is to look at a picture of your high school enemy on the beach. But I still do it. And I don’t want to give up social media altogether, it helps me keep up with friends and family that I don’t see often and it means that I’m aware of what the kids at school are into, and what they might be doing.’
Jade says that her social media strategy came from an unlikely place. ‘One of the Mums started chatting about it at a parents’ evening and said that she didn’t want to ban her kids from it, but she didn’t want them to be negatively affected by it, so she lets them have 10 minutes online a day after school, if they’ve done their homework, and half an hour at the weekend. The kids pointed out that she was on Facebook all the time - so she set herself the challenge too, and said she noticed that she felt much better. She could stay in the loop, but was using it mindfully instead of endlessly scrolling through feeds. I’ve started doing it too, and only go on when I’ve got something to say, instead of using it as entertainment. I feel much more confident, and calmer.’
I’ll be nicer - to myself
Last year I tried Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and although I didn’t love it, it helped me to address the fact that my negative thoughts stem from different branches of the same tree, and one negative thought sparks a whole chain reaction, often before I’ve realised what’s going on. At the root of the tree is the desire that I’m useless, untrustworthy, incapable of performing a task successfully, and generally disliked. So ‘Oh no, I’m late!’ becomes ‘You’re always late because you’re terrible and disorganised and everyone hates you!’ Making an effort to think kindly about myself has revolutionised things in terms of my mental health. If I catch myself being hypercritical, I remember that I wouldn’t dream of using those words about a friend, or even an enemy. And if I do something well, I make an effort to appreciate and praise myself, even if I’m quietly muttering ‘great job!’ for remembering to put tissues in my handbag.
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