As the new year approaches the pressure to make changes increases and while the intentions behind this pressure are positive, the result is often feelings of judgement and stress. Simply put, new year’s resolutions can be bad for mental health. We all make plans for the coming year with the hope that this time things will be different, that the mistakes you made last year can be avoided. Whether your aim is to lose some weight, start the year sober with Dry January, sign-up to accreditation courses and start a new career or simply save a little money, if you set yourself unrealistic resolutions you are setting yourself up to fail, which can often leave you feeling worse than if you had never tried at all. On average 80% of resolutions have failed by February. One of the reasons people struggle so much with keeping these promises to themselves is because of the pressure they feel to change. The belief that what they are doing and who they are is wrong and needs changing can be quite a paralysing one. Everything is then pinned on the need to change and as soon as things don’t go to plan the feeling of failure is so overwhelming that the resolution is cast aside and the individual is left consumed by guilt and failure. So how can you make resolutions and stick to them?
One of the most common resolutions is to lose weight and dramatically change eating habits. More often than not all hopes of being several sizes smaller by the summer are dashed within just a few weeks. The common mentality is to lose motivation once a plateau is seen on the scales and it can be difficult to get back on the chosen diet after motivation is lost. But focused dieting can quickly turn into yo-yo dieting and even an eating disorder, so any diet should be approached with caution. Ignore all the weight loss groups pushing membership in your face and all the pressure to change your eating habits and body. That panicked feeling of needing to change will only make things worse. To create a new habit you need to repeat an action 21 times. It doesn’t matter if you have a bad day and eat too much processed food. It happens to everyone. Look at the month as a whole and instead of taking an all or nothing approach, count the days of progress versus the days where old habits have crept back in. If you spend more days eating healthily than eating badly, that is progress, and after 21 days the new habits should feel natural. Focussing on giving your body the nutrition it needs and being mindful of when you are hungry and what you are eating will yield greater results in the long term than any fad diet. If you or someone you know is struggling with their diet and may have an eating disorder, Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, may be able to help.
Burned out by exercise
It is difficult to tell whether all the discounts and offers at the local gyms in January are due to all the resolutions being made, or if it’s the other way around, but either way, come January everyone seems to put their running shoes on and push themselves to their limits. For some this added pressure is just what they need to get off the couch and burn off those holiday calories, but for others it can lead to feelings of failure and even injuries. Embarking on a new fitness regime can be invigorating to begin with, but all too quickly it leads to feelings of resentment and burn-out. Small changes made over time can be far more effective and less exhausting, but the real change comes from finding an exercise that you love and that fits into your weekly routine. RED January, run in support of the mental health charity, Mind, encourages people to be active every day in January for just 15 minutes. Running, walking, dancing, swimming or yoga – as long as it gets you active anything counts. The aim is to observe the difference it has on your mental health by the end of the month, without pushing yourself too far or setting unrealistic goals. Anyone can sign up and take part here.
No matter what your resolution might be, there are three simple guidelines to help you make your resolutions work for you and achieve them without sacrificing your wellbeing.
- Mindfulness – Paying attention to how you feel throughout the day can have a surprising effect on what you are trying to achieve. In relation to eating, it can highlight when you are hungry and when you are eating because of emotional stress or other reasons. Take a few minutes each day to just breathe and be still, bringing your awareness to the present moment. This reduces stress and enables you to deal with whatever the day brings.
- Support network – be open and honest with your loved ones about what you are trying to achieve. They will let you know if you are being a little unrealistic about your goals, but they will also hold you accountable. You shouldn’t feel judged or pressured by your support network, but if they know about your resolutions you are less likely to give up.
- Self-care – No matter what you are trying to achieve, make self-care a priority. If you are trying to lose weight, for example, self-care means eating with a focus on nutrition and not starving yourself. If your goal is fitness, self-care means not pushing yourself to the point of injury. It also means getting enough sleep and making time for yourself so you can relax and recharge each day.