Tag

resolutions

Browsing

The mentally draining clutches of COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021 meant that discussions surrounding mental health became universally more pervasive and de-stigmatised. However, as society begins to enter a more COVID-normal life in 2022, it is important that we continue to prioritise their mental health the same way we have had to for the past two years – and this is how.

For many, a new year means new resolutions, new goals, and a seemingly fresh start. Essentially, to use the age-old phrase, many approach January with a mentality of “new year, new me”. This isn’t an inherently damaging ideal. However, these new goals are often centred around the same aspects of life: starting the gym, eating clean or starting a diet, cutting out alcohol, managing finances or losing weight. Evidently, a survey demonstrated that 78% of Australians have set financial goals as their new year’s resolution, 30% have pledged to change eating habits and exercise more, and a further 28% have made resolutions to lose weight.

Conversely, only 8% of Australians made resolutions that prioritised their mental health, like meditation and practicing mindfulness – a significantly lower percentile than that relating to physical and financial goals.

Although 2020 and 2021 brought an emotional whirlwind of lockdowns, confusing vaccine rollouts and a seemingly never ending pandemic cloud floating over our heads, discussions surrounding mental health are more public than ever, with public health officers, professional athletes, celebrities and children collectively trying to break the stigma surrounding mental health – reiterating that it is okay to struggle. After all, 1 in 5 Australians will experience a mental health disorder in any given year.

Despite the renewed sense of optimism of 2022, with the promise of no more lengthy lockdowns and drawn-out restrictions – the pandemic is still upon us, and it is likely that many individuals still feel the weight of that on their mental health, despite being back to their “COVID-normal” busy schedules. Here are three ways – or belated resolutions – that will help you keep your mental health as a priority this year.

Lead with compassion rather than criticism

Compassion and self-compassion are some of the greatest ways to be kind to yourself, and in doing so, putting your mental health first. Broadly, being self-compassionate involves acknowledging negative emotions, mistakes and faults with kindness, rather than with criticism and judgement. Essentially, it can be separated into three components: self-kindness, common humanity – in the acknowledgement that suffering and failure are a universal experience – and mindfulness.

Research has shown that individuals who practice self-compassion have a direct correlation with lower levels of mental health symptoms, whereas lower levels of self-compassion resulted in higher levels of psychopathy. Moreover, it has been evidenced by a myriad of studies that self-compassion can have a wide scope of positive results as an extension of improved mental health: increased motivation, happiness, improved body image, enhances self-worth and fosters resilience.

One strategy to increase your self-compassion this year, is implementing self-love affirmations into your daily routines. Whether you have one affirmation that you tell yourself each morning, or a different one for different days, having a few phrases or mantras to counter negative thoughts is a good way to introduce the idea self-compassion into your life and in doing so, make your mental health a priority.

Narrow your focus and “just be”

When there are so many different factors that influence health and wellbeing, it is less overwhelming to focus on just a couple of those. Lisa Henderson, professional counsellor and mental health service provider, spoke to Forbes Health about her focus on “meaning making” to prioritise her mental health. She notes that it is easy to get consumed and overwhelmed by busy work, and in doing so lacking productivity, impact, and progress.

She notes that when she takes a step back, breathes deeply and prioritises the work that lead to the most impact and productivity – despite how busy it might make her, she feels fulfilled.

The New York Times reflected on this concept in May 2021, referring to this meaningful and impactful living as “flourishing”. After “languishing” was used to define the universal sense stagnation people were feeling during the pandemic, the term “flourishing” began to emerge as the opposite – a contentment and fulfilment with life that everyone hopes to achieve.

As part of one’s journey to flourishing, finding a sense of meaning and purpose among life’s busy tasks is a key strategy. In line with Henderson’s perspective, reframing the way you think about your busy schedule can improve the level of satisfaction and meaning associated with completing work. Some ways to do this include deepening workplace relationships and reminding yourself about what your job does to help others.

By changing the way you think about your tasks, you can alter the way they make you feel and in turn, help elevate your mental health – without trying to find a spare hour in your busy schedule to practice mindfulness, meditation or exercise.

Know that you’re not alone

Many individuals who are struggling with mental health, are known to suppress these emotions and attempt to carry on with their lives as normal – despite their potentially reduced capacity to operate effectively. Professionals note that this can often lead to other ways of coping that are unhealthier – like alcohol or drug abuse, emotional eating or shopping.

As mentioned above, 1 in 5 Australians are said to experience a mental health disorder in any given year. This statistic demonstrates that even though you may feel like it – you are not the only one suffering from poor mental health and talking openly about it is not something to be ashamed of.

One way to reinforce this in your lives is to speak openly about your struggles to loved ones – so that it is not something you feel as though you must hide. By letting your family and friends know that you are having a hard time, it relieves some of the pressure to be performing at your best and gives you time to seek help. As mental health issues become more de-stigmatised, many workplaces are also vouching for the normalisation and acceptance of “mental health days”, so as to relieve the shame attached to taking time for oneself and prioritising mental health.

If one good thing can be taken from our collective suffering in 2020 and 2021, it is the open discussions and focus on individual’s mental health – and a greater understanding of the amount of people who struggle with mental disorders. Whether our lives continue to be consumed by lockdowns and a pandemic or not, the need to protect our mental health will never be diminished, and by implementing some of these strategies and outlooks outlined here – regardless of if you think you need it – your mental health will thank you.

As always, if you feel as though you need to reach out for help, there are a number of services at your disposal:

Lifeline
24 hour telephone counselling service. Phone: 13 11 14 or Text: 0477 13 11 14 6pm – midnight AEST
www.lifeline.org.au/(link is external)

Kids Help Line
Confidential and anonymous, telephone and online counselling service specifically for young people aged between 5 and 25. Phone: 1800 55 18 00
www.kidshelp.com.au/(link is external)

Beyond Blue Support Service – Support. Advice. Action
Information and referral to relevant services for depression and anxiety related matters. Phone: 1300 22 46 36
www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/get-immediate-support(link is external)

Butterfly Foundation
Butterfly provides support for Australians who suffer from eating disorders and negative body image issues and their carers. Phone: 1800 33 4673
thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/(link is external)

 

Declaring your goals for a healthier year ahead can be exciting and empowering. You may have accelerated into 2020 with enthusiasm for the high expectations of what you will accomplish in the months ahead. Why then, is the reality of maintaining a new habit, so much easier said than done?

What exactly is a habit?

 

A ‘habit’ is defined as a behaviour we do automatically, requiring either very little or no thinking at all.

For example, loading the dishwasher every night after dinner is automatic. Brushing our teeth before bed?  Automatic. Purchasing that perfectly brewed cup of coffee each morning? Automatic. We have completed these behaviours repeatedly; therefore our brain requires very little effort to put these into action. It is expected. It is routine.

If habits require little effort, why is it so difficult to establish new ones?

The key to maintaining a new habit is having the opportunity for repetition.

Using the coffee example, every morning for as long as you can remember, you’ve been stopping at your favourite café on the way to work to buy that lovely cup of joy to help get you through your day. Perhaps in the beginning, before this ritual became established, you may have found it a bit of a challenge to go out a little earlier each morning to ensure you had enough time to grab your caffeine fix before work. And yet, following months of repeating this behaviour five days a week, it soon became second nature and now easily fits into your daily routine.

 

 

The science tells us that when we repeat a new behaviour, the nerves in our brain and nervous system are stimulated; this strengthens our neural pathways, which means over time, this behaviour becomes automatic.

We need to have an opportunity to repeat our new healthy habit, and this needs to fit easily into our day.

So, what exactly can I do to make sure I stick to my new healthy habit?

There are three steps we can take to help that new habit become more automatic:

 

1) You need to identify a behaviour that you want to become a habit. Make the behaviour clear and measurable. For example, you identify that you want to practice Yoga more often. You decide you want to practice one hour of Yoga, three times a week. Write this behaviour in your journal, or on a calendar.

2) You need a cue, something that will prompt you to complete this behaviour. This cue could be environmental, situational, physical, visual or auditory. For example, you may identify that the best time for you to practice Yoga would be your days off, after the school drop off. So the situational cue here would be returning home after dropping your children at school. Perhaps, you could even wear your workout clothes for the school run so that you are ready to go.

3) You need an opportunity to repeat this behaviour. How many times can you realistically fit Yoga into your week? You may identify the best time would be on your days off, when the house is quiet. This gives you the opportunity to repeat this behaviour three times a week.

Visual tools are great to help keep you on track. Check off your sessions on the calendar as you go, check in at the end of each week to see how you went. Do you need to amend the schedule to make it fit easier into your life? Make it work for you!

What barriers do I need to watch out for?

Disruption to your usual routine can be a potential obstacle. We are human; we get ill; appointments will crop up unexpectedly; our days off from work may change. Our lives are changeable and so we have to create contingencies. If you have a really busy week coming up and scheduling in three one-hour yoga sessions is too much, could you reduce the duration of your practice to just 30 minutes? Could you change your days? Remember, some things occasionally may take priority over your Yoga practice. Do not beat yourself up if you have to cancel a session; practice compassion and kindness to yourself. Move on with your day, reflect and get back on track the following week.

Be aware of your inner critic. Some of us live with an inner mean voice that will try and sabotage our progress. It can be easy to listen to that inner voice that tells you to give up, and tells you that you will never be able to reach your goal, but it is important you are able to close off that inner voice. Offer yourself the positive encouragement you would offer a friend.

You may also want to watch out for when the ‘honeymoon phase’ ends. When we make resolutions, we are often taken by the ‘high’ of their anticipated success. Vivid images of what we believe our lives will look like when we achieve our goals can often distract us from the journey itself. When we initially start implementing these habits, we feel excited by how easy it all seems, only this can soon change to feelings of ambivalence; the initial drive to change can slow down. It is important to acknowledge the end result is not the goal here; what is important is that you are making small changes to enhance your health.

Every step, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. So please be kind to yourself and express gratitude at all times.

The take-away

Be realistic; plan feasible opportunities for you to practice this behaviour.

Keep it simple; do not try and introduce lots of new behaviours at one time. Take it one at a time and add in other challenges at a comfortable pace as you progress.

Have patience; developing and maintaining a new habit takes time. For some, it takes 21 days, for others, it can be 90 days, or even longer. Have patience and enjoy the journey.