The start of a new year brings the feeling of a blank slate and endless possibilities. As 2021 comes to a close, many of us are reflecting on the challenges and triumphs faced throughout the last twelve months. During the last week of the year, you’re likely giving lots of thought to your plans, goals and resolutions for 2022. While the most common resolutions tend to be in the realms of fitness, finances and career advancement, might we suggest turning your attention to your mental health?
If the last two years are anything to go by, it’s more important than ever to prioritize self-care, healthy boundaries and emotional wellbeing. Here are a few simple ways that you can improve your mental health in 2022 and beyond.
Develop an Attitude of Gratitude
You may have heard this one several times before, but it still bears repeating. Expressing gratitude is one of the simplest and most effective ways that you can instantly lift your mood and feel a sense of contentment. When you’re in a state of gratitude, you’re less likely to dwell on negative emotions such as resentment or regret. Over the long term, gratitude has been linked to decreased stress levels and improved psychological health.
How can you practice gratitude in your daily life? It can be as simple as writing a list of three things you’re grateful for each morning soon after you wake up. This can be done in the notes app on your phone or in a dedicated gratitude journal or notebook. Throughout the day, look out for small things to be grateful for and make a mental note of them when they happen. If you found a parking spot in a crowded lot, take a few seconds to appreciate your luck before you exit your car. Gratitude also helps to enhance our relationships. Be sure to let your loved ones know how thankful you are for their support and presence in your life.
Begin a Mindfulness Meditation Practice
Meditation has been a huge wellness trend for the last few years. This ancient practice goes back to at least 1500 BCE, but is still incredibly beneficial for our fast-paced modern lives. As meditation continues to grow in popularity, it’s also become incredibly accessible. These days, there’s no shortage of apps, videos and online courses to support you on your meditation journey.
Mindfulness meditation is a special type of meditation that trains you to slow down and detach from racing or negative thoughts. With regular practice, mindfulness has been shown to decrease stress, foster a more positive mindset and even improve your quality of sleep. To practice this kind of meditation, get comfortable in a quiet space where you’re not likely to be disturbed. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Notice how the breath interacts with the body – the rise and fall of the belly, and the feeling of air entering and leaving your nostrils. If it helps, you can keep focused by counting your breaths. It’s normal to get distracted; just bring your attention back to your breathing. Try doing this for fifteen minutes each day to experience the full benefits of this practice.
Sounds intimidating? Even five minutes of quiet time each day can have surprising benefits. You can also try practicing mindfulness all throughout the day as you engage with the world around you. Instead of absentmindedly scrolling on your phone while you eat lunch, try taking the time to eat mindfully. Slow down, pay attention and really enjoy the taste, smell and texture of your food. When taking a walk, make the effort to be truly aware of your surroundings, including the little things like the breeze on your face and the crunching sound of leaves under your feet. Living in the present moment means you’re spending less time ruminating on the past or worrying about the future.
Don’t Neglect Your Physical Health
Even though this is a list of mental health resolutions, your physical health has such a huge role to play. The three key areas to prioritize are sleep, nutrition and movement. By improving these aspects of your physical health, you’ll also notice improvements in your overall emotional wellbeing.
In 2022, make the effort to develop a consistent bedtime routine to foster healthier sleep hygiene. Go to bed at around the same time each night and ensure your bedroom is quiet, dark and set to a comfortable temperature. Commit to reducing nighttime device usage in favour of more calming activities such as reading, journaling or gentle stretching. Lack of sleep or poor sleep hygiene has been linked to worsening symptoms of depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. By getting proper sleep, you’re laying a solid foundation for improving your mental health.
Exercise is another well-researched contributor to good mental health. Moving your body not only releases feel-good hormones like endorphins, but can also fill you with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Consider new and enjoyable ways that you can move your body in 2022. If you’re tired of the old gym routine, why not switch things up by trying out a new sport or taking up a dance class? The key is to find an activity that you genuinely enjoy, so that daily exercise feels like a natural part of your day.
What about nutrition and your mental health? Just like all your other organs, your brain is affected by the food you eat. Diets high in refined sugar and processed foods have been known to cause a worsening of symptoms for many mental illnesses, including depression. On the other hand, healthy foods like salmon, avocados and whole grains are known to support brain function and can even help reduce dementia in older adults.
Monitor Your Social Media Usage
We’ve written about the connection between social media and mental health in a previous blog post. While we may not yet have information on the long-term effects of constant social media use, we do have quite a bit of research on the shorter-term impacts. Many recent studies have explored the psychological impact of increased exposure to social media platforms and how this can contribute to depression, anxiety, self-harm and disordered eating.
Although platforms like Instagram and TikTok can provide hours of entertainment and allow us to keep in touch with friends and family, they can also encourage a few unhealthy habits. Comparing yourself to the highlight reels of your favorite influencers can lead to low self-esteem and FOMO, while endless scrolling makes it easy to fall into the procrastination trap. As 2022 approaches, do a digital detox by unfollowing accounts that make you feel unhappy or inadequate. Adjust your settings to eliminate anxiety-inducing notifications and disconnect from the 24-hour news cycle. Consider replacing social media scrolling time with other apps such as
Set and Enforce Boundaries
Boundaries are a necessary component for maintaining fulfilling relationships and safeguarding your mental health. Simply put, a boundary is a limit or a rule that defines how other people are able to access and interact with you. It’s up to you to determine your boundaries and they may differ from relationship to relationship. For example, you may be uncomfortable with friends showing up unannounced to your home, while your romantic partner has a spare key to let themselves in as they wish. You deserve to feel comfortable and respected within all your relationships. Consider all your connections (work, familial, platonic, romantic, etc.) and determine whether any adjustments need to be made in terms of boundaries.
In addition to these healthy habits, working with a therapist is one of the biggest and most impactful steps you can take towards improving your mental health. Therapy can also equip you with the tools needed to improve your self-esteem, foster healthier relationships and achieve your career goals. At Flourish Psychology, our clinicians are trained in number of treatment modalities to address your specific concerns. Contact us today to get in touch with our intake coordinator or to schedule your first session.