As the Christmas period winds down, many of our friends, colleagues and family members will be preparing for the coming months by making pledges to change in various ways. It’s a tradition that many of us can feel pressure to take part in ourselves when the New Year comes around.
There are trends in the kinds of goals that we tend to set ourselves at this time. Taking up a gym membership or sticking to a healthier diet are classic examples; they can make many of us feel great after the indulgence of the Christmas period! In fact, a recent YouGov poll found that nearly half of 2017’s resolution-makers had pledged to lose weight, and 41% to do more exercise and improve their fitness.
It’s true that taking steps to improve our physical health can improve our mental and physical wellbeing in huge ways, although many of us find it difficult to find the time – and the motivation – to do so (myself included!)
But when deciding to take up a challenge like exercising more, in our efforts to become ‘better people’, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking about our imperfections more often.
Sometimes, wanting to lose weight or do more exercise can come from dissatisfaction with the way we look, compared to conventional beauty standards as taught in our society. Others of us may feel pressure to be more productive at school or work that can become amplified around this time, especially as fresh tests and deadlines begin to loom.
Whatever goals we set, it can be dangerous to set them too high, or to unreasonable standards – and still more, to feel as if you’ve failed if you can’t reach them.
Our society at large still places a lot of emphasis on the importance of physical health over mental health. But it can be helpful at this time to instead think about what changes we can make, or habits we can try to stick to, to stay mentally well in the year ahead: a kinder, more mindful type of resolution.
The Christmas period can put strain on your mental health in many ways, and so the New Year can be treated as an opportunity to reward yourself for your achievements over the holiday season, the past year or in advance for the next year.
Making time to relax through self-care is one way of doing this. Whether it involves meditation, doing something creative or even just going for a walk, putting time for self-care into your daily routine can have a huge positive impact on your mental health – especially at times when mental health problems arise.
Implementing activities like this in work and study schedules can build resilience, which enables you to cope better with during intense periods of stress. Setting aside time for regular breaks in your schedule, for example, is an important way of avoiding burning out.
However, it’s also important to talk to people you trust and let them know if you’re struggling.
Different people find different kinds of activities helpful for self-care, and physical exercise can be one of these. If you choose to take up running, swimming or going to the gym, it can be helpful to start out by making smaller goals to reach, rather than big ones to work towards over the whole year.
You can find more advice from Mind on different ways to practice self-care here.
Remembering to pace yourself and to work within your limits can often be forgotten when we set ourselves challenges, but it can help us to succeed in all aspects of our day-to-day-lives – and to feel better while doing so.