Many of us have the habit of setting goals and resolutions for the new year. According to a recent poll, the most common New Year’s resolutions for 2018 are to eat healthier, get more exercise, and to save more money. While we have set out to focus on our physical health for 2018, what about our mental health?
Our mental health should be a priority as well. The state of our emotional well-being affects how we think, feel and act on a daily basis. It has a direct impact on our quality of life, influencing how we handle stress, make decisions and relate to people.
Here are 8 ways that you can invest in your mental health in 2018:
01 | Cultivate a Habit of Gratitude
Cultivating a habit of gratitude is one of the easiest, yet immensely powerful, ways of investing in your mental health. It allows you to recognize and appreciate the things and people around you, regardless of your current life circumstances.
To cultivate more gratitude in your life, here are 5 exercises to get you started.
02 | Try Meditation
The idea of meditation is gradually becoming more mainstream, with a growing body of scientific evidence supporting its practice. Meditation helps you to become more present in the moment, which counteracts our natural tendency to ruminate and overthink. It also helps us to become less reactive to the things happening around us.
Here’s the kicker – the practice of meditation actually changes your brain structure. In the long run, meditation rewires your brain for better memory, sense of self, empathy, and an increased ability to cope with stress (1).
Give meditation a try in 2018.
Here are three great meditation apps for you to get started:
Read more: See my post on Mindfulness Meditation on Lifehack
03 | Establish a Healthy Relationship with Social Media
We are spending more time than ever on social media, with the average person spending more than two hours per day on social media platforms. There has been an increasing number of studies demonstrating the negative impacts of social media on our mental health, such as increased risks of depression, anxiety (2), and suicide (3).
One reason could be due to the effect of social comparison. Social media is basically an endless feed of the best moments of others’ lives, which gives us an unrealistic impression of how life should be. This makes other people’s lives seem much preferable to our own. It also makes us feel as if our negative emotions are unacceptable.
Be aware of how social media makes you feel, and start establishing your own boundaries with it. Do certain profiles inspire you positively, or make you feel down about yourself? Do you genuinely enjoy seeing travel photos, or feel upset being reminded that you are not travelling anywhere soon?
Plan a digital detox from time to time, or simply, strive to lead a life that is more exciting than what you post on social media.
04 | Pick up a Hobby that Excites You
Having an interest or hobby that you are genuinely excited about is incredibly important. Hobbies could be anything ranging from physical activities, like running or yoga, personal activities, like reading or writing, to social activities, like dancing or voluntary work. Don’t be afraid to try out various things until you find something that you truly enjoy doing.
Having a hobby helps to add a regular dose of fun and excitement in your life. It also helps to contribute to your sense of engagement and meaning in life, which are two important aspects of psychological well-being.
05 | Make Yourself a Priority
It is easy to overlook your own needs when you are constantly stretched in multiple directions. Making yourself a priority means making time for yourself amidst the demands of everybody else.
It means learning to say ‘no’ to people or things when it compromises your personal well-being. For example, when you receive a request to help out as a parent volunteer during your busiest month at work. Simply say, ‘I am unable to do it at this time.’
It also means learning to get help when you need it. If you feel that you are falling sick, don’t be afraid or ashamed to get help from your spouse, in-laws, neighbours or even your friends to look after your children for a few hours. If you feel that you are currently juggling too much at work, don’t be afraid to speak up.
Inspiring read: Employee takes sick leave for mental health
06 | Go to Therapy
The idea of psychotherapy has always been shrouded with misconceptions and taboo.
Therapy is actually as normal and as accessible as getting a haircut, or going to the dentist. Just like sending in your car for its scheduled maintenance, therapy serves as maintenance for your mental health.
It is not just for individuals in distress or with big problems – a good number of people go to therapy just to better themselves. Their goals for therapy may be to make a good marriage great, become a better parent, or to work on making better decisions at work.
Therapy helps you better overcome life challenges or difficulties (which are so normal!). Sometimes it may just be a space for you to share about your life in general, and to learn more about yourself. If you can afford it, therapy is just another way for you to invest in your mental health.
07 | Start Tracking Your Mental Health
Keeping tabs on your emotional well-being is one of the best ways for you to learn about yourself. If you find yourself feeling down, angry or anxious from time to time without any reason, you may be able to gain some insight from tracking your moods.
What you discover may surprise you. You may start recognizing how certain things that you never paid much attention to actually affects your mood. For example, an individual shared that he realised that leaving his bag of trash at the doorway of his office actually made him feel slightly anxious. It was an unconscious reminder of something that needs to be done, even though it was not on the top of his priority list.
Tracking your well-being helps you to reflect on what was positive and what was not, and to make small changes towards a better mental health.
Here are three great resources for you to get started on mood-tracking:
Here is a list of 10+ empirically validated psychological measures of well-being that you can refer to.
08 | Educate Yourself
As the saying goes, knowledge is power.
Knowledge empowers you to make better decisions for yourself. It leads to empathy and greater understanding when you or a loved one experience mental health issues. Mental health conditions can be managed more easily when you understand what it is. For example, some conditions can be better managed through making certain changes in the environment.
Read articles and books, watch films, and don’t be afraid to speak to a professional to learn more.
To get started, here is a list of 11 fiction and non-fiction books on mental illnesses.
These strategies to improve your mental health help to increase resilience, build self-awareness, and foster more experiences of positive emotions. Working on our mental health is a continuous process that is a cornerstone for us to lead healthy, thriving lives.
What is your mental health resolutions for 2018? Commit to doing at least one thing to invest in your mental health this year.
(1) Britta K., H., James, C., Mark, V., Congleton, C., Sita M., Y., Tim, G., & Sara, W. (30 January, 2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191(1), 36-43. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006
(2) Brian A., P., Ariel, S., César G., E.-V., Erica L., B., Jaime E., S., Jason B., C., & James, A. E. (April, 2017). Use of multiple social media platforms and symptoms of depression and anxiety: A nationally-representative study among U.S. young adults. Computers in Human Behavior, 69, 1-9. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.11.013
(3) Twenge, J. M., Joiner, T. E., & Rogers, M. L. (14 November, 2017). Increases in depressive symptoms, suicide-related outcomes, and suicide rates among U.S. adolescents after 2010 and links to increased new media screen time. Clinical Psychological Science, 6(1), 3-17. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702617723376