With 2021 on the horizon, many people are starting to think about how they’d like to better themselves and their lives in the new year. The classic New Year’s resolutions we hear every January include things like working out more and eating healthier, and while these are great goals, there are plenty of other ways to improve your well-being in 2021.
Your New Year’s resolutions don’t have to be flashy — in fact, they might be totally invisible to others. This new year, commit to improving your mental health through a few small changes in the ways you think and behave.
Here are 5 ideas to get you started.
1. Commit to Kinder Self-Talk
We all have a voice in our head, constantly narrating throughout our day and reacting to what’s in front of us. This voice also shapes our self-identity and how we feel about ourselves. When was the last time you examined how that voice is speaking to you?
For many of us, our default self-talk is critical and negative. We are quick to judge ourselves, berate ourselves for our mistakes, and focus on what we perceive to be wrong with us. Instead of being our own biggest cheerleader, we end up discouraging ourselves — which in turn makes things more difficult to accomplish, and a vicious cycle is created.
Luckily, with some effort, we can gently shift our self-talk to be kinder and more compassionate. In the new year, when you notice the voice in your head being harsh, take a moment to recognize what’s happening. Next, try to reframe the thought; it can often be helpful here to think about what you would say to a close friend in the same situation.
With time, “I’m so stupid” can morph into “I’m learning and growing.” “I always mess up” can become “Everyone makes mistakes.” And “I can’t do this” can shift to “This is hard, and all I can do is my best.”
2. Practice Gratitude
No matter your individual situation, 2020 was likely more difficult for you than the average year. Even amidst loss, uncertainty, and anxiety, we can still find ways to practice gratitude for all the good in our lives.
Practicing gratitude has a host of proven benefits, including decreased stress, and increased resilience, happiness, and self-esteem. It’s also been linked to improved relationships and better physical health.
Practicing gratitude can take a variety of forms, so find one that works for you. The key here is to do something that doesn’t become a chore, but instead evokes true feelings of thankfulness. This could be something like writing down 1-3 things you’re grateful for each morning or night, writing thank you notes to the special people in your life, or doing a gratitude-focused meditation.
3. Learn to Say No
Our time and energy are our most precious resources. With that in mind, think about how you want to expend these resources in 2021. Which activities, people, and interests are your priorities?
Once you’ve figured out what you want to focus on, there will inevitably be other things that compete for your attention. This is where the skill of saying “no,” firmly and kindly, becomes key.
You have a right to say no. To invitations, to requests, to anything that you don’t have space for at the moment. Many of us have been conditioned to seek approval from others at all costs, but people-pleasing is a surefire way to burn out quickly. Instead, take a moment to think it over before saying “yes” right away to something.
It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to explain or qualify your nos if you don’t want to. People may try to guilt you for your decisions, but you can stand firm, knowing that everyone has the right to politely decline something they don’t have the time for or don’t wish to do.
4. Prioritize Joy
Once you’ve learned how to say no when that’s the right choice for you, you will be in a better position to prioritize joy with the time and energy you get back. Sometimes we get so caught up in the repetition of our daily routines, or are hyper-focused on our obligations, that we forget to engage in activities that bring us true joy.
Prioritizing joy looks different for everyone, and it could be as simple as listening to a song you love in the car or making yourself a cup of tea before you go to bed. It might look like spending time in nature, reading a great book, or calling an old friend. Maybe it means picking up a new hobby — like art or music — or watching your favorite comfort movie or TV show.
Actively working to cultivate joy reminds us just how fun and special life can be, not just on the weekends or when we’re on vacation, but everyday. Joy can arise spontaneously and surprise us, and this is a delight, but we can also be intentional in trying to infuse more joy into each day.
5. Ask for Help
Finally, recognize that in 2021 you don’t have to do it all alone. We are social creatures; we are meant to be connected to each other and work interdependently. Instead of shouldering everything yourself, think about who might be able to help.
Many of us often feel timid or embarrassed when asking someone if they can drive us to the airport, call us tonight to talk through a big decision, or any other number of requests for help. Just as people have the right to say no if they can’t or don’t wish to help at the moment (as was mentioned earlier), you have every right to ask. You and your needs are not a burden, and there are likely many people in your life who would love to help you when given the chance.
And if you’re struggling with your mental health and support from loved ones isn’t enough, seeking out professional help is one of the kindest things you can do for yourself. Consider reaching out to a licensed Talkspace therapist to see if therapy is right for you — a convenient and inexpensive resolution that can help you start feeling better today.
As we move into 2021 and work on improving ourselves and our mental health, remember that we are all in works in progress, and we always will be. Our wellness isn’t a box we check or goal we reach; instead, it’s a practice we commit to, mess up, and start again. With some intention, reflection, and help from those who love us, we can face 2021 with all our messiness and imperfections — and know that we are already more than enough.