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Right now, people all over the world are making firm resolutions to improve their bodies. Gyms are inundated with new memberships (many of which will fall idle a month or so in), and diet books are flying off the shelves.
But what about our minds? Physical health resolutions (often for the purposes of looking better) abound at New Year, but these kinds of resolutions may not be healthy in the long term. Nobody can ever fit the generalised ideal of perfection which magazines and adverts foist upon us at this time of year. And that failure to transform your outside to meet that ideal can leave you feeling pretty rubbish.
Why is why we should maybe concentrate on our insides at New Year. Rather than trying to drop dress sizes or up your earnings, why not make your mental health a priority in 2019?
MENTAL HEALTH IS A SLOW-BUILD PROCESS
Let’s be clear about what we’re suggesting here: vowing to cure yourself of any mental health issues or to totally transform your personality in just one year is setting yourself up for failure. Nobody can completely alter themselves in such a short space of time (if ever!). Making extreme resolutions like these puts a lot of stressful pressure on yourself and will ultimately lead to disappointment. In the long-run, that pressure, frustration, and disappointment can actually lead to worsening mental health.
Real, positive change comes in slow increments, and it takes a long time. You can’t commit to total change in 2019, but you can commit to starting the process.
For slow-build but lasting improvement in your mental health, here are a few achievable lifestyle resolutions you can make this year:
• Sleep regularly and well. Poor sleep has been linked with a staggering amount of mental health conditions. Some sleep problems can, of course, be made worse by mental health issues (for example, people with anxiety disorders may sometimes find themselves too stressed to sleep). However, most doctors agree that good quality sleep and a regular sleep routine can be a massive help for both mental and physical health problems. Try to ensure that you are going to sleep and waking up at times which work for your own particular body clock. Try also to leave yourself enough hours to get a decent amount of restful sleep. And, if you’re one of those people whose natural rhythms incline towards a siesta, don’t be afraid to take that all-important nap!
• Exercise. Your brain relies on nutrients and oxygen from the rest of your body in order to function properly. The healthier your cardiovascular system, the more your brain will benefit. Try to incorporate a moderate amount of exercise into your daily routine, and your mental health will thank you for it. You needn’t be hitting the gym every day - simple things like walking short distances rather than hopping in the car, or picking the stairs over the escalators will make all the difference.
• Eat healthily. Again, if your body is healthy, your brain benefits. Feed yourself good, nutritious food and nourish your mind. Cutting down on alcohol is also a very good idea if you’re suffering from mental health issues. Alcohol may feel like a cheering or ‘numbing’ influence in the short term, but in the long term it is known to make the symptoms of mental illness an awful lot worse.
• See your GP. If you are really struggling with low mood, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, stress, or anything else which may be linked to mental health problems, arrange to have a chat about it with your GP. They may be able to prescribe medicines, or to suggest lifestyle changes which could help. They may also refer you to a psychiatrist who can provide you with a diagnosis and recommend future steps towards recovery. Getting help with mental health can be a long process, but seeing your GP is a huge first step forward.
• Fix your stress levels. Stress is a huge contributor to poor mental health. If your work/life balance is causing you stress, it may be time to have a career rethink. Or, if your relationships are causing you more anxiety than fulfilment, you may want to talk to your friends and loved ones about what you’re experiencing. An accredited counsellor can help you to identify stressors, and to resolve that stress in a healthy way.
• Increase your self-awareness. Often, our ingrained patterns of thought and behaviour end up sabotaging our lives without our realising it. Developing greater self-awareness can mean learning home-truths which are unpleasant at the time – but it’s worth doing in the long run. Only by recognising your own patterns, predelictions, and personality quirks can you make informed life choices which are healthy for you, and prevent yourself from obliviously sabotaging your health, career, and/or relationships in the future.
• Foster self-compassion. Self-compassion is particularly important if you’re going down the self-awareness route mentioned above! Many of us struggle in this day and age with self-compassion. It’s particularly common at New Year to berate ourselves for not living up to certain societal ideals (like a slender figure, or a fat wallet). Work on being kind to yourself. Learn to love yourself as you are, in the present moment. If ‘love’ is too big a step, work first on forgiving yourself for those things which you find difficult to love.
• Find a good counsellor. Working with an accredited counsellor is a particularly good idea where the final two suggestions are concerned. Developing self-awareness and self-compassion can be tricky on your own. A counsellor can provide an outside, objective perspective on things which you might be too ‘close’ to deal with fully on your own.
FINDING A MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELLOR
Whether you need help for a diagnosed mental health condition, or just want to talk through some issues which are troubling you, an accredited counsellor can help. Sometimes, we all need an objective outside perspective to help us identify the things in our lives which we truly value, and the things which we need to change. Nobody is better placed to provide that perspective than a sympathetic counsellor.