Mental Health Goals for the New Year
Written by: Sarah Gallo
Sarah Gallo is a NAMI Wake volunteer contributing her writing to our blog. She has a B.A. in English from North Carolina State University and works as a writer and editor in the Raleigh area.
From a global pandemic and its resulting social isolation to tough but necessary conversations about racial inequality, it’s safe to say that 2020 was not an easy year. For many, it was one marked by illness, grief, financial insecurity and harrowing loneliness. But it was also a year marked by learning and growth.
2020 forced many of us to reevaluate what matters most: human connection (even if over a screen), equality for all, and the small moments that bring us joy, whether a peaceful walk in nature or the comforting aromas of a home-cooked meal. Although 2020’s challenges are far from over, there are many lessons we can — and should — bring into the new year, one of which is prioritizing our mental and emotional health.
Here are four mental health goals that will leave you well prepared to conquer whatever challenges this year brings your way.
1. Practice Self-compassion
In 2020, those of us who were fortunate enough to do so stayed home and practiced social distancing in effort to flatten the curb of the coronavirus. However, quarantine left many of us feeling like we needed to be as productive as possible. Images of homemade loaves of bread and handmade crocheted blankets flooded social media platforms, leaving the rest of us feeling guilty for simply making it through the day.
This year, instead of self-criticism, strive to practice self-compassion , which the online therapist directory GoodTherapy defines as “the ability to turn understanding, acceptance and love inward.”
According to Kristin Neff, a self-compassion researcher and the first to define the term academically, self-compassion is comprised of three elements:
- Self-kindness: Being “warm and understanding toward ourselves” when we suffer, fail or feel inadequate instead of self-criticizing.
- Common humanity: Recognizing that “suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience” rather than an isolated, individual event.
- Mindfulness: Being “willing to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity” instead of suppressing them.
Of course, practicing self-compassion is easier said than done. Remember that being compassionate with yourself is not the same as being self-indulgent or lazy. It is an act of self-preservation that will leave you feeling less anxious and depressed in the new year.
2. Prioritize Self-care
From juggling work, childcare and even remote learning, if there was anything we learned from 2020 it was the importance of self-care. Failing to care for our mental and emotional well-being can quickly lead to burnout, leaving us unable to show up — for both ourselves and others — in the ways we need to. In 2021, resolve to prioritize self-care. Just as you would a doctor’s appointment or professional obligation, pencil self-care into your daily schedule.
There are various simple ways to practice self-care on a daily basis, such as:
- Making a cup of tea
- Writing in a journal
- Taking a five-minute stretch break
- Making a list of ten things you’re grateful for
- Taking a warm shower or bath
- Checking in with a loved one
Whether personal or professional, 2021 will undoubtedly bring its own challenges. Self-care is the fuel you need to overcome them.
3. Set Healthy Boundaries
Setting boundaries isn’t easy. Asking for the space you need can feel uncomfortable and even selfish — but it’s critical in preserving your mental and emotional health. In this Healthline article, Jean Kennedy, a licensed marriage and family therapist, reports, “Boundaries give a sense of agency over one’s physical space, body, and feelings. We all have limits, and boundaries communicate that line.”
In 2021, vow to set healthy boundaries, such as:
- Emotional Boundaries: Recognizing “how much emotional energy you are taking in,” knowing when to share and when not to, and limiting emotional sharing with those who tend to respond poorly.
- Time Boundaries: Understanding and “setting aside enough time for the many areas of your life without overcommitting.” Time boundaries are especially important in balancing social and professional commitments (i.e., not working after hours; saying no to social commitments when you’re feeling burned out).
- Physical Boundaries: Recognizing “your needs for personal space, your comfort with touch, and your physical needs,” such as needing to rest, drink water and eat healthy foods. Physical boundaries especially important in establishing healthy romantic relationships (i.e., communicating your comfort level with public displays of affection; communicating your need for “me time” after a long day).
4. Seek Help If You Need It
Practicing self-compassion, prioritizing self-care and setting healthy boundaries are critical in maintaining your mental and emotional well-being. However, it’s important to recognize when professional help is needed.
This year, if you find it increasingly difficult to simply make it through the day, or realize you’re not functioning in the way you want to and/or used to, consider seeking professional mental health treatment. From cognitive behavioral therapy to psychodynamic therapy and even mobile counseling, there’s a myriad of ways to receive help. You can also join a free support group, like one of NAMI Wake’s virtual weekly groups.
2020 was not an easy year, and 2021 will inevitably bring its own unique challenges. By prioritizing your mental and emotional health in the new year, you’ll be armed with the strength you need to prosper now and in the future.