10 Strategies for Better Mental Health in the New Year

A woman holds pink lilies over a sinkThough far from exhaustive, when it comes to improving well-being, the following 10 ideas—backed by years of scientific research—certainly can’t hurt. We’ve ranked them in keeping with the “countdown” spirit of New Year’s tradition, but the order could easily be reversed or randomized.

Why not give them a try?

10. Be Kinder to Yourself

Often, especially for those who have struggled with depression, we are our own worst critics. Become more aware of your self-talk. Pay attention to the comments you make to yourself throughout the day, and ask yourself: Would I say this to my best friend or someone I care about? If the answer is no, you owe it to yourself to refrain from saying it to yourself. Self-compassion takes practice, but you have it in you.

9. Count Your Blessings

Having an attitude of gratitude has become the platitude of the day. Nonetheless, like many platitudes, there is a whole lot of truth to this one. Multiple studies have shown the correlation between gratitude and greater well-being. By consciously focusing on positive aspects of your life and appreciating the good, through a concept that psychologists refer to as neuroplasticity, we have the power to change our brains by changing our attitudes. This is great news for those of us who seek greater joy in life. Why not take advantage of this wonderful quality our brains possess and be grateful for neuroplasticity?

8. Forgive Old Grievances

Is there someone you haven’t forgiven? Have you caused another person distress, intentionally or not? Even though you may think old grievances are in the past, they could be holding you back in the present, affecting current relationships. In addition to gratitude, an attitude of forgiveness has been shown to correlate with greater overall well-being and even physical health. Take a hard look at your relationships, and if there appears to be something getting in the way, take a look in the rearview mirror. You may discover that closure from the past could be just the tweak you need to improve your present relationships.

7. Strengthen Your Support System

Identify the positive influences in your life. They may be family members, friends, colleagues, mentors, or a trusted therapist. Having a strong, solid support system is key to sound mental health. This is not measured in numbers, though. Unlike when we were in high school and popularity was the name of the game, in real life, when it comes to support, quality counts over quantity. Don’t have a support network? Why not make that a goal this year? Join a support group; find a meetup group online; take a class in something that interests you; or call an old friend you’ve lost touch with. Have difficulty connecting with others? See No. 6 below.

6. Find a Great Therapist

Not everyone “needs” to be in therapy; however, everyone wants to feel a sense of belonging and joy in life, and most of us strive for good mental health. If you don’t already have a therapist and feel you could benefit from support, seek one out this year. There are countless therapists available throughout the country, even more if you live in or near a metropolitan city. Do your homework. Ask friends or colleagues for referrals. Search online to get a sense of someone’s style and personality rather than choosing a random name from a list. Then meet in person. You’ll know pretty quickly if the fit feels right or not.

5. Identify Triggers

Whether you experience clinical depression, anxiety, or another issue, or you are simply seeking greater happiness, it’s important to identify the triggers that bring on unpleasant emotions. Take a look at the five W’s: who, what, when, where, and with some exploration, why. Whether it’s a difficult family member, a job you don’t enjoy, or seasonal depression, it’s important to understand and prepare for the negative emotions these may trigger. Even if you can’t change the circumstances, you can learn how to cope better.

4. Find the Joy

In their book How We Choose to Be Happy, based on over 30 years of research, authors Greg Hicks and Rick Foster suggest making a “dream list,” or what I like to refer to as a “happy list.” Find a quiet place where you will not be distracted and, with a pen and paper, think about and write down all the things (people, places, ideas, etc.) that make you feel good. They can be as simple as the scent of fresh lilies filling your apartment, taking a walk through your favorite park, or having coffee with a good friend. As simplistic as it may sound, it is important to identify as many of these “happy triggers” as possible when you are in a good space. In times of distress, this list may become your most powerful weapon against negative emotions.

Turn off the phone. And the computer, the iPad, and all the other devices that prevent you from being fully present in the moment.

3. Unplug!

Turn off the phone. And the computer, the iPad, and all the other devices that prevent you from being fully present in the moment. Is Facebook bringing you down? As Theodore Roosevelt said, comparison is the thief of joy. If you are not in a good place emotionally or unhappy with your circumstances, scrolling through everyone else’s highly skewed online reflections of their seemingly perfect lives may only serve to make you feel worse about yours. Here’s an idea: deactivate your Facebook page (you could always reactivate it later). A technology detox, even for a day, can do wonders.

2. Give Unto Others

We all know the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Why not take this a step further and give unto others without any expectation of return? Whether it’s volunteering for a cause you care about or doing one deed a day that makes you feel good about yourself while bringing joy to another human being, doing for others can lift your spirits tremendously. During the holiday season especially, it’s not uncommon to hear stories about strangers giving to strangers—a customer at a coffee shop paying for the breakfast of the person next in line, for example. If you believe in karma, paying it forward may serve you—and even if you don’t, you will benefit from the positive feelings brought on by serving others. And others around you will benefit, and others around them, and so on.

1. Begin a Meditation Practice

If you do not already have a practice, you may want to think about starting one. Though Eastern cultures have embraced meditation for centuries, westerners are finally catching on. Meditation and mindfulness have been shown to be effective tools in fighting anxiety, depression, as well as a multitude of other issues, and have been the key to greater joy and well-being for many. Think you don’t have the time or the discipline? Find a group of like-minded peers. This way, you will be accountable to one another. Even if it’s only 10 minutes a day, it’s something. You don’t even need to have a formal practice. Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, at any time. Have a long commute to work? Perfect opportunity to meditate—nobody even has to know you’re doing it. There are many online resources for beginners and seasoned meditators alike.

Wishing you a year of greater mental health and happiness!

References:

  1. Foster, R. & Hicks, G. (2004). How We Choose to Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People – Their Secrets, Their Stories. New York, NY: Perigee Books.
  2. Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2010). Gratitude and Well Being: The Benefits of Appreciation.Psychiatry (Edgmont)7(11), 18–22.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Allison Abrams, LCSW-R, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • annie

    annie

    January 6th, 2016 at 8:22 AM

    I have a hard time with the whole new year resolution thing because I do think that it makes you think about only the things in life that you may wish to change, and does not allow you to focus on the things for which you are grateful. I mean, don’t get me wrong I have done my fair share of vowing to change in the new year time and time again, but this year I have decided that I would probably be much happier if I would simply be joyful in the things that I do have. I think that with this kind of gratitude then good things will just naturally come your way.

  • Jim

    Jim

    January 6th, 2016 at 11:20 AM

    Leave the past in the past and look to the future for something even better

  • Joseph C

    Joseph C

    January 6th, 2016 at 2:41 PM

    It is definitely one of my goals in this upcoming year to unplug from all of the hustle and bustle a bit.
    I feel like the more time that I give to my online life then the less I have to give to my friends and family.
    I know that there are always going to be things that have to be finished outside of the office, but it should not always have to be at the expense of missing out on time with the people that I love and care about the most.

  • rosa

    rosa

    January 7th, 2016 at 10:56 AM

    all very lovely suggestions

  • Constance

    Constance

    January 8th, 2016 at 9:48 AM

    When I began to free up a little more of my time to do things that I actually enjoy doing, this has made a huge change in my life. I know that not everyone has to opportunity to do that all of the time like I have been fortunate enough to find, but if you can find even just a few minutes a day or a couple hours a week doing the things that you like to do, and not just the things that you feel like you have to do, I think that you will find and discover a lot more peace in your own life.

  • Jennifer L . W.

    Jennifer L . W.

    January 8th, 2016 at 5:44 PM

    I found this article to be one of the best I have ever read for facing the new year with the right set of psychological tools to ring in the new year with. The article is simple,easy to understand with common sense tools to use throughout the whole year. I do not believe that therapy is necessary for everyone. However that decision is a personal decision to be made by each person on their own in their time. Thank you for sharing the article.

  • Austin

    Austin

    January 9th, 2016 at 9:41 AM

    I love it that I have a big strong supportive family and that no matter what happens in my life I always know that I have someone that I can call on and count on.

    But if you are not like me and do not have the family support system, friends can do the same exact thing and serve the same role. You want to keep yourself immersed in people who care as much about you as you do about them and who are always willing to go out on a limb for you… just like you would be willing to do for them.

  • Sharon Dyall, MA

    Sharon Dyall, MA

    January 9th, 2016 at 6:05 PM

    Timely reminder.

  • JPY

    JPY

    January 11th, 2016 at 2:44 PM

    It is so important to know and understand what your triggers are. There are certain things that are always going to be bad in our eyes, and so if you know that this is something that you will be facing and that it causes you to react in a certain way, then if you can come up with coping strategies then they may not have to have such a negative impact on your life. Knowing and understanding what those triggers are could be the first step toward achieving true happiness in your life.

  • Emmie

    Emmie

    January 12th, 2016 at 10:18 AM

    THE past few years have been really rough on me so I am hoping beyond all hope that this is gonna be my year!

  • Cognifocus Cognition

    Cognifocus Cognition

    January 13th, 2016 at 5:43 PM

    I blog frequently and I truly appreciate your information. Your article has really peaked my interest.
    I’m going to bookmark your blog and keep checking
    for new details about once per week. I opted in for your Feed as well.

  • Rich D

    Rich D

    January 14th, 2016 at 5:12 PM

    I am recovering from a exhausting codependent relationship with my addict alcoholic daughter. I have started Alanon and therapy and cannot believe the progress I’ve made in just 3 months. This is going to be a positive year of growth for me and I hope for all of you as well. Peace.

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