Making positive changes shouldn’t be reserved for the new year. Why wait? Discover 10 ways you can put your mental health first starting today
When you think of resolutions, what first comes to mind? For most of us, ‘New Year, New You!’ is one of the first things we think of. But should it really be this way? According to YouGov, one in five (22%) of us make new year resolutions, yet an overwhelming 80% of us fail to achieve our resolutions around health and wellbeing.
Making positive changes shouldn’t be reserved for a set time of year. When we stick to this mentality, we risk setting ourselves up for failure. Change doesn’t have to happen at some magical, future date. Waiting until tomorrow, next week, next month or next year isn’t helping us to be accountable in the present. Just because we decided to make a change back in January and we have found ourselves struggling or having stalled by February or March, it doesn’t mean we have to wait a whole year to improve ourselves and put our wellbeing first.
Making small, positive changes can help us to feel more confident, content, and able to face the big, unexpected roadblocks that pop up in our lives. Challenging ourselves to make changes today – not tomorrow or for the new year – can help us stop focusing on short-term, quick fixes and start making long-term lifestyle choices that can positively impact our mental, physical, and emotional health.
Instead of waiting for a big push or putting change off until tomorrow, it’s time to start putting your mental health first by making small, impactful resolutions that can change your outlook (and how you look after yourself) for the better.
10 positive changes to boost your mental health
1. Take time
Taking time out to assess where you are is an important first step. How is your mental health, your overall sense of wellbeing, stress and anxiety levels? Recognising and acknowledging how you are feeling and your overall state of mind (be it positive, negative, or somewhere inbetween) is the first step towards figuring out what you need, and how you can start making those needs a priority.
2. Ditch the 'should' mindset
We've all got a list of things we feel we 'should' be doing. Whether that's sticking to a healthier diet, spending less time online or making more time to meet up with old friends. It's important to remember that actually, it doesn't matter what everyone else is doing or what you think you 'should' be doing.
Feelings of anxiety and guilt around making the choices that work best for you is normal, but also unnecessary. Ask yourself why you feel like you 'should' be doing something; are you feeling external pressure from loved ones or from what you're reading or seeing? Identifying what's causing this sense of pressure and guilt isn't alwys easy, but it can be a positive step towards recognising and challenging them.
3. Tailor your resolutions to YOU
We all experience things differently. Tailouring your mental health resolutions to your mental health helps ensure that you are making changes with your own wellbeing at the forefront.
Once you've taken the time to assess your mental health and wellbeing, make targeted goals and identify small things you could change. These could have a significant impact on your overall emotional, physical, and mental health. You don't have to do these all at once, but having a list of the small things you can tweak when the time is right can make a difference. Take the pressure off, put yourself first, and make choices that future-you will be thankful for.
4. You are what you eat
We’re not talking about making big diet resolutions based on the scales (ick) – though if you do want to make a change like this, focusing instead on making healthier choices for a happier lifestyle is the way to go (though if you’re thinking about making changes, focusing on making healthier choices for a happier lifestyle is key).
What we eat can have a huge impact on both our physical and mental health. More and more research is showing the impact that food can have on our overall mental wellbeing, as well as on specific mental illnesses including depression and anxiety. Ensuring that you eat a balanced, nutrient-rich diet can increase your energy levels, help you think more clearly, as well as boosting your mood.
If you’re unsure of where to start, ensuring you eat regular meals containing whole grains, fruit, vegetables, legumes, and lower-fat dairy items can help you to feel less irritable, avoid triggering anxiety, and help you to feel better able to focus.
Making sure you have enough iron by increasing your intake of beans, pulses, fortified cereals, red meat, fish or poultry can help you to feel less tired and lethargic, as can increasing your B1, B3 and B12 intake.
Other lesser-known vitamins and minerals such as folate and selenium can help decrease your risk of feeling depressed. Working with a nutritionist can help you to tailor the right foods and gain the support you need to make the best impact for your individual situation. Find an experienced nutritionist near you.
5. Reconsider your relationship with your phone (and social media)
How we use (and often rely) on technology can often have a surprising effect on our relationships.
Over half of us spend time online when we’d rather be sleeping (54.7%), with 80% of us spending up to 9 hours a week on our phones. Over half (50.4%) of us wish we could decrease how much time we’re spending online, but haven’t been successful when trying. We share six quick tips to help you reprioritise your phone use, take control of your scrolling, and help you to start reinvesting your time more wisely. If you’re unsure if a digital detox is right for you, life coach and writer Kat shares her experience of taking five days away from social media.
6. Give yourself a ‘happy hormone’ boost
Exercising more can help to release endorphins, improving your mood and wellbeing. But making big changes like saying you’ll go to the gym every day, or signing up for multiple classes a week can be disheartening and overwhelming, as the pressure can become too much, too fast.
Making small, positive changes can be a more sustainable way of introducing more exercise into your routine. Doing so with a buddy can make you even more likely to stick to your new, healthier routine.
Why not try using half of your lunch break to go on a walk with a colleague, or setting a couple of mornings or evenings a week to attend a yoga class, go on a run, or go swimming with a friend? Exercise can help us to feel better both physically and mentally. While it isn’t the solution to all of our struggles with mental illness and low mood, for many of us it can have a significant impact.
7. Assess your drinking
Alcohol may be an everyday part of our society and culture, however, it can have a much wider-reaching impact on our mental health than many of us realise.
Excessive drinking (and why we do it) can become a negative cycle, with many drinking more to try and mask other areas they are struggling with. This can, in turn, exacerbate these struggles and lead to even more drinking. Many of us drink to change our mood as a form of ‘self-medication’ which just masks our problems, rather than addressing them.
Alcohol can lower our inhibitions, disrupt us from being able to rest (leading to reduced energy levels) and can create an overwhelming sense of anxiety, depression, and shame. If you’re worried that you may be self-medicating with alcohol, discover more about the signs of binge-drinking (and how you can get help).
If you are worried that your drinking may be bordering on addiction or alcohol dependence, working with an expert could be the key to disrupting negative patterns that may have formed and helping you to break away from these cycles of self-medication. Discover more about how you can recognise if your drinking may be a problem, and how working with a qualified addiction counsellor or therapist can help.
8. Make sleep a priority
Lack of sleep can heighten feelings of anxiety and irritability, while your lower energy levels and general feelings of lethargy can get your day off to a slower start. Feelings of exhaustion can also lower your overall mood and sense of wellbeing, as well as lessening your ability to feel that you are able to cope with challenges ahead.
Making small changes, such as putting down your phone for an hour before bed, or switching out ‘just one more’ episode on Netflix for time reading, meditating, or practising mindful breathing can all help. Switching out your tea for decaf, and establishing a relaxing bedtime routine can help you to feel more able to relax, switch off your brain, and get the much-needed rest for your day ahead.
9. Practise self-care
'Self-care isn’t selfish' sounds like a cliche at this point, but it’s still true. It can be easy to mistake self-care for pampering that, let’s be honest, we don’t always have the time or money for. But long hot bubble baths, massages, and ‘retail therapy’ don’t have to be synonymous with self-care. Self-care is really about putting your needs and what you enjoy first and actively making time to prioritise what you need.
Self-care can be anything, from practising mindfulness and meditation, to listening to your favourite podcast whilst tackling that big, boring or scary thing (like a growing stack of washing or overflowing laundry basket waiting to be folded) that is taking up more mental bandwidth than you realise.
Creating time to look after yourself and to meet your needs can help you to feel more prepared in other areas of your life, helping you to feel less overwhelmed.
10. Track your mood
This could be with an app or a journal; tracking your mood and keeping a record of how you’re feeling can help you to identify events that may be causing you more anxiety, stress, and worry than you may have realised. It can also help to reveal activities that may unwittingly be helping you to unwind or give your mood a much-needed boost.
If you’re unsure of where to start, Moodistory (available for iOS and Android) is a great low-effort way to tracking your mood and keeping a simple journal through the use of colours, icons, and space to keep any notes you may have on how you’re feeling. Using simple colours and swiping, you can get a clear, visual picture of how your mood has changed over time, helping you to find positive and negative influences and habits.
Writing down your thoughts and feelings can also be a positive way of letting go of expectations, creating a way that you can look back on happy memories during tough times, and learn to savour small moments of peace, calm and tranquillity. As Life Coach Christine explains, journaling can help you to track the changes you are making to better boost your wellbeing:
“As you start implementing your goals, keep notes of what you do and what you are getting out of it. This helps you fine-tune your approach, as well as appreciate how far you have come.
“If journaling with words is not your thing, get creative. I have seen people colour in squares, note things down in colour of increasing saturation, etc. Whatever works for you.”
No matter what changes you decide to make (or not make), recognising that you could better look after your mental health and wellbeing is an amazing step towards improving how you're feeling – as well as how you are coping with the challenges that may rise. Whether you're ready to start making changes today, or you're still waiting for 'that big moment' that can act as a catalyst, know that by having your health and wellbeing in mind, you're already opening yourself up to the potential to change.