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Checklist for a Mentally Healthy New Year

Britney Phifer, Utilization Management Clinical Manager — January 3, 2019 — 5 min read
Happy New Year! This time of year, we’re inspired to make New Year’s resolutions, which often involve our physical health. We’d encourage you to also include mental health goals into your resolution mix. After all, many things we do to promote our physical health also support our mental and emotional health.

Think about it – eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, exercising – each of these activities fuels both our brains AND our bodies and help our overall well-being.

Here are eight “mentally healthy habits” to consider this year:

1. Eat well, don’t diet. Eating well contributes to overall health and well-being, but diets often make us feel restricted, and can lead to overeating. Instead, follow the 80/20 rule. Aim to eat healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, fish and lean meats 80 percent of the time while allowing yourself desserts or comfort foods – the splurges you enjoy – the remaining 20 percent of the time.

An easy mental trick to eating healthy is to make sure most of your shopping cart is filled with healthy foods. Fill the majority of the cart with those items and save a small section for treats. 

2. Pick an exercise you actually like. Do you enjoy walking for 30 minutes on your lunch break? Or doing yoga with your best friend. Playing soccer with your children? Whatever you do to be active, make sure it’s something you look forward to. That’s the best way to stick with exercise over time.

Exercise releases endorphins, otherwise known as “feel-good” hormones. This helps clear our minds and create positive energy. That’s why activity is good for our mental well-being as well as keeping our heart, lungs, and other muscles and organs in shape. Additionally, exercise helps you sleep better, which can help you manage stress. There’s an added bonus to exercising with a pal, since it’s a way to engage in rich social activity, another important part of mental wellness.
3. Ask yourself – where do I get my energy? Do you get a boost by interacting with others for extended periods of time or do you recharge sitting by the fire reading a book? Do you prefer long and spirited chats with a group or would you rather talk quietly with one or two people about something deeply meaningful to each of you? Whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, knowing what brings you joy is key to engaging in activities that fuel your energy levels and help you avoid feeling stressed and tired. 

4. Record your goals. Studies show that if your goals are written down, whether it’s on a piece of paper or on your phone or laptop, and measure them along the way, you’ll be more likely to achieve them. It also helps to choose SMART goals, ones that are:
  • Specific: “I’ll get outside every day for 10 minutes during daylight”
  • Measurable: “I’ll increase the number of steps I take each day by 250 steps”
  • Achievable: “I’ll create two encouraging notes to myself today”
  • Realistic: “I’ll add one vegetable a day for a week”
  • Time bound: “I will walk or run a 5K in March”
Setting and keeping track of your goals using the SMART system will help keep them top of mind and provide you with tangible information to check your progress and reflect on later. It will also help you set targets that are realistic and avoid becoming frustrated and giving up.

And finally, it’s a good idea to check in with your goals regularly. Honoring your progress will help boost your mood and keep you on track with your self-care efforts.

5. Relax. Meditate. Relieving stress and creating calmness in your life is another way to support your mental well-being. There are plenty of techniques you can try. It’s simply a matter of finding one that works for you. Start with a Google search. Or try this one, called box breathing: Breathe in for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, wait four seconds, and then repeat. Do this until you feel the stress fading. Another good technique to relax: the trusty rocking chair.

6. Practice gratitude. Sometimes, life doesn’t seem to be going our way. We can get caught up in the stressful moments and focus on the things we don’t have. To combat these feelings, end each day by listing out all of the things you’re grateful for. You may find your gratitude list by helping others however you are able. This could include volunteering with a local charity, helping a neighbor move in next door or just simply letting someone skip you in line at the grocery store. By listing out the things you are grateful for, you may quickly change your mindset. 

7. Spin up the positive self-talk. Treating yourself the way you’d treat a good friend, with encouraging conversations, positive feedback, and forgiveness, is harder than it sounds. But it turns out it’s really important for mental wellness.

Being mindful of the way you speak to yourself and reducing negative self-talk takes time and practice. You can start by leaving notes for yourself, simple reminders and praises to come across throughout the day. Or, try setting a reminder in your phone, if that’s more your style. Look to those tools to help turn a negative thought into a positive one.

8. Reach out for help when you need it. This is perhaps the most important item on this list. If you’re feeling depressed or overly anxious, and it’s starting to interfere with your day-to-day routine, get help from a qualified expert to avoid reaching a crisis state. Remember, Cardinal Innovations Healthcare is here to help anytime at our 24/7 Crisis Line at 1-800-939-5911 or online. Forming habits that keep your mental and physical health a priority is a good first step to starting the New Year on the right foot.

Help others see the importance of looking at physical and mental health in harmony with one another, and not as separate efforts, by sharing this checklist with a loved one or friend.
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