Setting goals for the new year is a time-honored tradition, but this year it’s time to focus on creating positive mental health goals to reduce anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.
A lot of common goals or resolutions focus on things like finances, weight, health, relationships, or family. But if you really want to set self-improvement goals that will change your life, why not consider setting new mental health goals for yourself this New Year’s?
A lot of the problems that people face in life stem, at least in part, from mental health challenges. Improving your mental health can improve other aspects of your life as well – your physical health, your finances, your relationships, and more. Take a look at some examples of achievable mental health goals that can help you in the new year.
Improve Your Sleep Habits
Sometimes, you’ll hear people brag about needing less sleep than the average person. But sleeping less really shouldn’t be your goal. Sleep is vitally important for your overall health, and sleep problems can be closely tied to mental health problems. Not getting enough sleep can contribute to depression, for example. People who have anxiety may have difficulty sleeping as well.
While there are many things that can cause you to experience less-than-perfect sleep, there are steps that you can take to improve your sleep no matter what’s causing your sleep disturbances. Setting regular times for going to sleep and waking up and sticking to those times is one of the most important things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep. Don’t try to catch up on lost sleep by sleeping in or going to bed very early – oversleeping doesn’t help any more than getting too little sleep. What you need is a consistent amount of sleep between consistent hours.
It can also help to make sure that you have a clean and comfortable space to sleep, that there are no lights on in your bedroom during sleeping times – including lights from your cell phone or computer – and that you turn the temperature down to a few degrees cooler than you keep it during the day.
Take Up a New Hobby
There are a couple of reasons why taking up a new hobby can be a goal that improves your mental health. For one thing, learning to do something new, and doing it well, can give you a sense of mastery, which is good for your self-esteem. For another thing, engaging in a hobby that you enjoy gives you a new source of pleasure that you can turn to when you’re feeling blue.
Almost anything that you like doing can be a hobby. Take up gardening. Teach yourself to cook gourmet dishes. Learn to play an instrument or learn how to dance. Hobbies don’t have to be expensive, either. If you don’t have a lot of money, there are still plenty of things that you can do. You could learn a new language – there are free apps that you can download to your phone to help you learn.
- You could take up meditation.
- You could learn to make origami art – pretty much all that you need to get started is a good supply of paper.
- You could also start collecting things, like coins, stamps, bottle caps, or other interesting items. Collections can become expensive, but you can usually get started for not very much money, and decide later if you’re interested in spending more on the hobby.
Start a Journal
One of your mental health goals could include getting a journal. Journaling can be a big help for people who suffer from certain kinds of mental health problems because it gives you a way to get your thoughts out of your brain, which can allow you to process them or let them go entirely. For example, if you’re prone to anxiety, spending 10 or 15 minutes writing down your worries may be enough to relieve them a little. That way, you don’t spend hours tossing and turning while you ruminate about everything that might go wrong the next day.
Journaling can look different for different people, so it’s important to choose a method that’s comfortable for you. You can choose a journal that looks and feels good in your hands and use different colored pens if you like, or you can type your thoughts into a Word document or use a journaling app. Some people might prefer talking into a tape recorder or voice recording app, while others might want to use a video camera to record a video diary. Whatever method works best for you, journaling can be a great way to get your thoughts and feelings out.
Find More Ways to Help Others
Social scientists have found that one of the strongest indicators of happiness is something called prosociality, which is defined as behavior that is intended to have benefits for other people or society as a whole. Helping others is also a good way to form connections with others and strengthen existing relationships. And finding ways to do good for other people is a surefire way to get your mind off of your own problems, at least temporarily.
Volunteering in your community – for example, serving food in a soup kitchen or visiting lonely residents in a nursing home – is one way to help others, but it’s not the only way. Helping others can be as simple as volunteering to help a friend move or babysit a relative’s children so that they can have a date night. Helping your neighbor carry in their groceries or bringing food to a coworker who’s struggling can also be a good way to reach out and help other people. You don’t need to go to extremes, just look for opportunities to help others in your everyday life. It’s good for your own happiness and mental health, and it may be good for someone else’s as well.
A Final Thought
One more thing to keep in mind is that when you’re struggling with mental health problems, it’s OK to reach out for help, whether that means calling a friend to vent or scheduling an appointment with a therapist. Don’t try to handle everything on your own. You are important and your mental health is important, and you shouldn’t hesitate to seek help when you need it.
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.