Better Mental Health in the New Year

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) conducts regular surveys of a representative sample of American adults, and this month the poll asked people how they feel about their mental health and whether they are resolving to do something to improve it next year.

The survey findings show that mental health is on many people’s minds and taking steps to improve their mental health is also a priority for many:

“Just over one-third of respondents (37%) said they are anxious about their mental health going into the new year. Among those making resolutions focused on mental health, 53% will meditate, 37% plan to see a therapist, 35% will take a break from social media, 32% will journal, 26% will use a mental health app, and 20% plan to see a psychiatrist specifically.”

MoodSurfing strongly supports people making plans to improve their mental health, especially through meditation, and other mindful actions.  However, we have also seen over the years that New Year’s resolutions are not always the most successful vehicle for important changes to wellness habits and lifestyle.

Research has shown that making resolutions and decisions at times of transition seems to be a natural human instinct.  At the beginning of the year or month, or on one’s own birthday or other significant occasion, and even on Mondays, people seem to try to “start over”: visiting the gym, throwing out the cookie dough ice cream, and taking other similar actions.

Yet experience also shows that separate actions of this nature are very difficult to sustain in the long run, and may not even last long enough to show any effect at all.  Also, making a resolution is not going to be effective unless you also take small actions to implement the resolution.

Our recommendation for the new year is to focus on consideration of the overall purpose of your life.  Where have you come from to get to today?  What have you learned, what skills have you gained?  What experiences gave you the most enjoyment or sense of fulfillment?  Where do you see yourself going in life?  The next 10 or 20 years?  What do you need to accomplish those long-term goals?

With this kind of overview in mind, the specific next steps will fall in place as they fit into the wider context of your life.  Losing 10 pounds is not an end in itself, but if it moves you towards a place you want to be in life, it may begin to appear more doable.  Or losing weight may take a back seat to feeling stronger or more balanced in some other way.

Mental health is an important component of overall health, and one of the positives of the past two years of chaos may be a clearer and better recognition of the role mental health plays in overall well-being, both of individuals and communities.  We salute everyone who works on maintaining and strengthening their mental health and we hope this blog is a useful resource for exactly that.