7 Ways to Start the Year Off Right

7 Ways to Start the Year Off Right

Welcome to 2019!

Around this time, many people like to set a New Year’s Resolution, but sadly, most will drop their resolution efforts within weeks or months. A key tip to making lasting changes is to choose a goal that is SMART: Specific (think who, what, when, where, how), Measureable (how will you know when you have achieved it?), Relevant (make sure it matters to you), Attainable (make sure it is do-able), and Timely (set a reasonable timeline with deadlines). Try to choose ONE goal to work on that meets the SMART criteria.

With so many options to choose from, how can one decide what to try to change to improve one’s quality of life? Starting with the basics of taking good care of your physical and mental health can be an excellent place to begin; if your physical and mental health are in good shape, the sky is the limit on what you can achieve from there. Here are some ideas that research and therapists alike agree can enhance your physical and mental health.

1. Exercise.
Find some form of exercise to engage in regularly. What is the best kind of exercise people often ask? Answer: it’s whatever you are motivated to do regularly! Think of something that you enjoy doing and you would look forward to doing several times per week. Walking, biking, swimming, or even dancing could be a good choice for you. The goal is to find something that gets your heart rate elevated for at least 20 minutes at a time, and to do it more days than not during the week. Do not intimidate yourself by saying that if you don’t have an hour to work out then you shouldn’t do it. Research shows that 20 minutes per exercise session can be enough to help your body and mind be at their best. One of the ways that exercise benefits us is that it produces endorphins, which our brains produce during certain activities; they help us feel calmer and happier. Who doesn’t need more endorphins?

2. Pleasurable Activities.
Doing pleasurable activities also produces endorphins and helps us feel more of a sense of balance and satisfaction with life. With our busy lives, we often just do the things we “have to” do and never get around to doing things we’d “like to do.” We often don’t feel like we deserve to do the fun stuff unless all of the other things on our “have to” lists are done, which can sometimes be never. It is very important to schedule fun things into our days and weeks. A key word is schedule…don’t wait until you feel like it…schedule it ahead of time and stick to it. Consider choosing something that you used to like to do, but haven’t done in awhile. Sometimes it helps to choose something that only you can control (i.e., you don’t have to rely on anyone else in order to do it), that is free or low cost, and that you can do regularly. Or you can mix it up and schedule varied activities to keep it fresh! Some examples include reading an interesting book, engaging in artistic projects, watching quality shows or movies, or playing with your pet.

3. Improve Your Sleep Habits.
Getting enough sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your well-being. Everyone differs in the amount of sleep they need to feel rested, but most experts recommend the rule of 7 + or – 2 (meaning anywhere from 5 to 9 hours, depending on your age and activity level). Try not to engage in or allow upsetting thoughts or conversation in the later hours of the evening, limit exposure to bright lights in the last hour or two before bed (yes, that includes phones!), and try to form a bedtime routine that includes relaxation or winding down. If upsetting thoughts come to your mind when you are trying to sleep, briefly jot them down on a pad of paper on your night table, and tell yourself that you will deal with them the next day (whether it’s just to stew or take action that needs to be taken).

4. Connect with Supportive Others.
Try to schedule time with people with whom you have a mutually caring and supportive relationship. Being able to express your thoughts and feelings to a trusted other can be very helpful. It can also help to listen to others’ life situations; it can get your mind focused on something else, and it can feel really good to be that special support person to someone else. Just remember not to internalize the other person’s stress, and remember that you are helping them just by listening and being supportive!

5. Relax Mind and Body.
Find and practice regular methods to relax your body and mind. Taking even a few minutes out to calm your mind and body can do a world of good. Deep relaxation can produce endorphins that help lift your mood and/or calm you down, in addition to releasing muscle tension that can contribute to headaches, increased physical pain, stomach problems, and more. For you, it might be taking a nice warm bath, or listening to relaxing music. Or you can learn to quickly extinguish symptoms such as shortness of breath, shakiness, dizziness, and feeling lightheaded by using particular relaxation exercises such as diaphragm breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery.

6. Check In On Mood.
Be aware of your mood patterns. Do you feel particularly depressed, anxious, or angry more of the day than not? Is this pattern persisting over time? You might keep track on your calendar by using a simple mood-rating scale. Choose a mood category (e.g., depression, anxiety, anger) and rate your average mood for the day on a scale of 0-10, where 0 is none and 10 is the worst you ever felt on that category. If you are uncertain, you could also ask people that know you well about their perception of your mood. Sometimes people aren’t as aware of the mood symptom, but notice that they frequently have no-low energy, changes in appetite (too much or too little), no motivation, or difficulty sleeping. These can also be signs of a mood problem.

7. Know When to Seek Help.
If you notice that you are not feeling emotionally or physically well more of the time than not, this can indicate a larger problem. If you are feeling poorly most of the time, and/or this is interfering with your normal activities, there is a problem that needs to be addressed. There are many solutions that can help you. Sometimes simply adding self-care strategies (as in this list) to your daily/weekly routine can help pull you out of a rut. If that doesn’t help, then perhaps trying some self-help resources such as books or pod-casts. However, if these ideas don’t appeal to you, you aren’t able to push yourself to do them, or they do not help, then it is time to seek professional help. You can start by talking to your medical doctor and asking for medical tests that could rule out any physical health problem. From there, you can talk to your doctor about options, including in-person or online psychotherapy. There are many different forms of psychotherapy, but research has shown that one called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most effective for treating the vast majority of mental health conditions. CBT helps people learn about themselves and how to improve their mood and functioning. It deals with helping you examine the way that you think about yourself, your life, and the world, evaluating the accuracy such thoughts, and finding alternative, (realistic, productive) thoughts that will help you move forward and feel better. CBT also helps people put in to practice a variety of new behaviors that promote health and happiness. Many people have found that they prefer to receive therapy via internet and communicating with a therapist via writing messages in real-time. If you think that may be helpful for you, you might consider finding out more information about IESO Digital Therapy Services. IESO can help you get back on track and living the life that you desire!

If you’re not at risk to yourself or others, an excellent therapy option is with Ieso Digital Health for online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. To determine eligibility, you can easily reach out by going to: https://register.iesohealth.com/.

Written by Lauralyn Miles - Therapist, Ieso Digital Health

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