Last year was a rough one. Everything seemed to go wrong. Beloved celebrities died, presidential elections went awry, an entire city was basically wiped off the map and the whole world seemed to be in a downward spiral. 2017 seems like it should to be a better year.
Every year people make resolutions, but research from the University of Scranton suggests that just eight per cent of people actually keep them. Of course, typical resolutions include things like losing weight, spending more time with friends and family and learning a new skill. This year, instead of all of those resolutions doomed to fail, a commitment to mental health and self-care could be at the top of your list. Here are some ways to keep on top of your mental health this year.
In 2017, commit to exercise for the sake of exercise. Instead of being in it to lose weight or get ‘ripped,’ decide to exercise for the mental health benefits. “The link between exercise and mood is pretty strong,” says Michael Otto, PhD, a professor of psychology at Boston University, in the journal Monitor on Psychology. “Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect.” The journal also noted that exercise like this can have a positive effect on long term depression as well. Exercise can still be beneficial to you even if your goal is not to lose weight, or if committing to a strict exercise plan is not for you. Without a concrete goal in mind, it’s easier to let yourself off the hook for missing a day. When it’s not about weight loss, you can pick up where you left off without feeling guilty, and you might find that you do feel better in the long run.
Mindfulness is not all about yoga and meditation. Mindfulness can be as simple as a quiet cup of tea and sitting for five minutes in silence before your roommates get home from class. The key here is to take a couple of minutes a day, take a few deep breaths, and focus on checking in with yourself. How are you feeling mentally and physically? What are some things you’re struggling with this week? What’s something good that happened to you? This is mindfulness, and it can really help with stress. “The practice of mindfulness is linked to wide-ranging health benefits and has gained tremendous popularity in recent years as a strategy for self-care,” reported the American Psychiatric Association. Physical benefits can include better sleep, reduced blood pressure, and improved immune system, but there are benefits for your mental health as well. The American Psychiatric association says that the practice can be used to help treat anxiety and depression as well.
If you want something a little deeper than a cup of tea, that’s when you move on to a nice, relaxed yoga class, or some guided meditation. As a bonus, the yoga also falls into the category of exercise, so you’re really covering your bases.
Learn to say “no”
If there’s one thing we all need to do less of, it’s over-committing. New Year’s resolutions in themselves are often an overcommitment. Take some time to figure out how much time you really have, and how much time you need for yourself. The Mayo Clinic suggests that saying no can benefit you greatly if you’re overloaded. “Saying no isn’t necessarily selfish,” says the clinic on their website. “When you say no to a new commitment, you’re honoring your existing obligations and ensuring that you’ll be able to devote high-quality time to them.” The next time someone asks you to get in on a project, or a study group, or something, think about whether you really have the mental energy to take it on. Lots of people can feel obligated to participate in something because they were asked, but you really don’t have to. Between school, work, friends, family, etc., you really might not have time and it’s okay to say “no”. Look after yourself and end overcommitment in 2017.
Get a hobby
Deciding to learn a new skill is not a bad New Year’s resolution, it’s just easier said than done. People want to commit themselves to learning a new language, a new sport, or a new craft and at the first sign of struggle they drop it and call it a failure. But, allowing your new activity to be fun rather than work can be a big help. Jamie L. Kurtz, PhD, said in Psychology Today that hobbies help you cope with stress. “Coming home and turning on the TV may provide a brief distraction, but it doesn’t address your damaged ego head-on,” says Kurtz. Hobbies, she says, help to remind you that you’re more than just your job or your degree. You might also be an artist, an athlete, a linguist, a foodie, etc. Instead of concrete goals like “I will learn German fluently,” go for something a little more flexible. Make smaller learning goals and give yourself lots of time to meet them. You might not be able to fit your new hobby in every week, or always at the same time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something.
Give yourself a break
Sometimes its good to let something go. There isn’t always enough time in the week to fit in all of your school projects meaning something will end up left behind. Prioritize, and figure out what you can let go of and save it for last. Making a priority list doesn’t mean you’ll get to it all though, it just means you’ll definitely get to the most important things first. The key to this is letting yourself off the hook. Dwelling on guilt over a missed assignment, canceled plans, or skipping loads of laundry can make you feel even worse. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or like every day is piled too high, you may be well on your way to burning out. In 2017, give yourself a break and don’t let the little things weigh you down. Remember, when it comes down to it, professors are people and they have been right where you are. Sometimes all it takes is an email or a trip down to their office hours and you might find you have a little extra time to fix up that paper. Prioritizing your work can allow you to give yourself a break in 2017