By Dr. Chinwe Williams
As the New Year approaches, many people begin to ponder about potential New Year’s resolutions. Whether it be getting into better shape, or advancing your career, the first step in making personal and professional enhancements is shoring up the foundation… which is YOU. As you develop your New Year resolutions, it is important to prioritize mental health and wellness goals.
Chinwe Williams is an associate professor at Argosy University, Atlanta. She also has private practice where she helps many of her patients deal with stress and anxiety. Wellness strategies have become essential for the prevention of physical and mental health illnesses. Below are a few simple self-care tips that Dr. Williams says you can immediately implement to help you optimize your overall mental and emotional well-being.
- Limit the use of technology. Technology holds an important place in our modern society. However, the amount of time we spend on technology is astonishing and can impact us socially and psychologically. While technology can provide a nice escape from life stressors (e.g., Netflix binges and Instagram surfing), our attachment to technology can also breed isolation. A study looking at human behavior noted a negative relationship with increased social media use and happiness in relationships. Additionally, taking a break from technology is a great way to give your brain some much needed down time allowing creativity to flow in. Intentional disengagement with your smart phone may lead to intentional and meaningful engagement with others.
- Take a hike. Thanks to cognitive neuroscience, we know that physical health is a key component of mental health. The mind and body is not just connected but deeply intertwined. Our bodies immediately respond to the way we think, feel, and behave. Movement based practices have been shown to boost endorphins, and alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. Physical activity can also help clear your head of thoughts making room for sharper focus. Whether your New Year resolution involves starting a new hobby, losing a few pounds or enhancing your overall health, try to commit to brief, but regular, exercise practices. Yoga, Zumba, or hiking are just a few activities that can calm your mind and your body.
- Nurture important relationships. Relationships need maintenance, just like anything else. The importance of spending quality time with close friends and family cannot be overestimated. While there are a dozen technological ways to connect with friends, there’s nothing like real face time, specifically sharing the same space and breathing the same air as another human being. Small gestures build strong connections. Plan to spend time with loved ones on a routine basis just to unwind, laugh, and have some old fashion fun. You know that person that keeps popping up in your mind this week? Give him/her a call. It may not be such a random thought.
- Begin Journaling. The first step in improving your mental and emotional health is recognizing your thoughts and emotions, and understanding the root of them. Expressing yourself through writing can help to ease mental discomfort by releasing negative, destructive emotions. Begin the practice of journaling by jotting down your thoughts and feelings about events that occurred during the day. Journaling is very therapeutic-it enhances your self-awareness and understanding of what is deeply meaningful to you. Be sure to start or end each journaling session by including what you are most grateful for. Gratitude is acknowledging the positive aspects of your life and expressing thanks for them.
- Don’t be afraid to say “No”. Although “No” only has 2-letters, it might as well be a four-letter word for some. At one point or another, we’ve all suffered from the “disease to please.” Saying yes when you want to say no often leads to feeling overwhelmed and sometimes resentful. It can also do a disservice to yourself and the person making the request. It is important to note that by saying no to that coworker or neighbor means that you are saying yes to other things that you truly value, an afternoon with a loved one, or just time alone re-charging.
- Be compassionate with yourself. Whatever your resolutions are for the New Year, remember to be kind to yourself. Tackling a new challenge is not always easy. The road to progress is pebbled with ups and downs and frequent setbacks. Setting extremely high or unrealistic expectations for yourself increases the likelihood that you may not meet them, which can reinforce feelings of shame or self-doubt. Don’t beat yourself up! The key to optimizing efforts toward any goal is to remain persistent, recognize your accomplishments-no matter how small, and to be patient with yourself.
As the holidays draw to an end and the New Year quickly approaches, which mental health and wellness strategy will you begin?