Putting Your Mental Health First in 2018

At a time of year where everywhere you look there are “New Year, new you,” posts and articles, New Years’ resolutions can be both a source of excitement and a source of anxiety. Whether you love or hate New Years’ resolutions, there can be something very powerful about setting intentions about areas of life that really matter to us. And few areas of life are more important than protecting and nurturing our own mental health. Here are four tips, tricks, and hacks, based on the latest scientific findings about what supports lasting change in ways that support vibrant mental health, resilience, and thriving over the long haul.

  • To soothe your mind, get into your body and use your breath. We all know that moving our bodies is good for our physical as well as our mental health, but science shows that activities that coordinate movements of the body with the breath, such as Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, reduce the fight-flight response in the brain, and create a sense of relaxation, calm, and well-being.
  • Evaluate your social media habits, and make time to unplug. Recent research indicates that the more time people spend on social media, the more anxious and depressed they tend to feel. What does help people to feel better, according to the science, is having meaningful interactions with others online. If you are not finding satisfaction in your time online, and are having a difficult time disconnecting on your own, there are apps that you can use to block yourself from social media and other distracting websites.
  • Go somewhere green. There is extensive scientific evidence to show that spending time in the forest and other green spaces is a huge mental health booster. A study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that, “Being outdoors was associated with greater vitality, a relation that was mediated by the presence of natural elements.” It’s not necessary to do a strenuous hike; simply sitting quietly or wandering mindfully in a green space, also known as “Forest bathing,” can have a calming and soothing effect.
  • Choose your goals wisely. Scientific examination of behavior change finds that the best approach to goal-setting is to choose a happy medium between goals that are too easy to attain and ones that feel impossibly intimidating. Further, those who allowed for occasional “slips” without feeling ashamed or discouraged were able to more consistently stick to their goals than those who held rigid standards of perfection.

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