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7 Resolutions to Boost Your Mental Health

Struggling with stress? Just want to be happier? Here are strategies to help improve your well-being

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The past few years of living through a pandemic have been challenging, with more Americans than ever reporting stress, anxiety and depression. That's probably why many Americans say they plan to make their mental health a priority in 2023.

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A recent poll from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) conducted in December 2022 found that almost a third of adults (29 percent) were planning to adopt New Year’s resolutions related to their mental health. That’s up three percentage points from last year.

Making mental health resolutions

A recent poll from the American Psychiatric Association found that 29 percent of Americans plan to focus on their mental health in 2023. Among the resolutions:

  • 65 percent said they’d exercise more
  • 45 percent said they’d meditate
  • 38 percent would see a therapist
  • 37 percent would focus on spirituality
  • 32 percent would take a break from social media
  • 28 percent would journal
  • 23 percent would use a mental health app
  • 21 percent would see a psychiatrist
  • 6 percent would try something else

While the new year is a natural time to think about your priorities and set goals, anytime is a good time to make changes that can improve your mental health, experts say.

In fact, it’s probably best not to set sweeping “resolutions” that could be tough to achieve, says Amy Morin, a Florida-based psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. Smaller goals are more likely to stick, she says.

“You are better off thinking of habits you want to switch,” Morin says. “What are some small changes you can incorporate into your life?”

Here are some research-based strategies to boost your mental health that are easy to incorporate into your routine, no matter the time of year.

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1. Move every day

Even when talking about mental health, you can’t get away from exercise. Regular physical activity is strongly linked to better mental health, says APA President Rebecca W. Brendel, M.D., a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School.

“We know that when we begin aerobic exercise, our hearts pump faster, our lungs breathe a little heavier and our body produces chemicals known as endorphins, which can reduce anxiety, elevate our mood and even help us focus more,” Brendel says.

Research shows even a moderate amount of physical activity can ward off anxiety and depression, boost brain healthimprove sleep and lead to an overall improved quality of life.

Exercise doesn’t have to mean a grueling workout at the gym. Gardening, dancing and hiking all count. So, sign up for a yoga class, invite a friend to join you for a walk or do a few squats or pushups while you’re watching TV. 

2. Make gratitude a daily practice

Practicing gratitude regularly is a simple and easy way to change your mindset for the better, Morin says. And it takes only a few minutes a day.

Research shows people who consciously count their blessings are happier, more resilient and more confident. They have stronger relationships and even live longer, Morin adds.

3. Schedule time for fun each week

Many people fill their lives with obligations and engage in the activities they enjoy only when they have leftover time. Instead, Morin recommends scheduling time to have fun each week.

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What that looks like depends on what brings you joy, she says. You could text a friend to see a movie or play a round of golf later in the week, or plan to take your grandchildren out to ice cream.

If you have a hobby that you love — whether it’s painting, quilting or hiking — set aside some time once a week to make sure you have the time to enjoy it. No matter the activity, it’s important to schedule it in advance, because some of the mental benefit comes from the anticipation, Morin says.

“If you put it on your calendar, that does something to your brain,” Morin says. “A lot of research shows that having something to look forward to boosts your mood.”

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4. Cultivate strong relationships

Humans need a sense of community and belonging, Morin says, and studies show that strong relationships are the most consistent predictor of happiness. Having positive friendships also reduces your risk of anxiety and depression.

Even if you’re an introvert, try to schedule at least one social activity a week, Morin suggests. If you’re feeling lonely and isolated, brainstorm ways to make new social connections, whether it’s joining a church group or volunteering at the library.

“It’s very easy to get stuck in a rut of just watching TV and talking to the same family members,” she says. “We know loneliness is linked to depression. Talking to new people can help you build new connections, and it also stimulates the mind.”

5. Challenge unhelpful thoughts

If your brain churns out a lot of negative thoughts, that can affect how you feel and impact your overall well-being, says Rachel Goldman, a clinical psychologist and clinical assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York City.

With practice, however, you can change your thought patterns, Goldman says.

Start by paying attention to your thoughts. If you notice one that’s not helpful, like “I don’t get to see my grandchildren enough” or “I might have cancer,” pause and acknowledge it but “remind yourself that thoughts are not facts,” Goldman says.

Also remember that thoughts, like emotions, are temporary. Try to let it pass.

If it still seems stuck in your head, either do something about it (plan a visit with the grandkids) or tweak it to make it more positive or neutral (“I don’t know if I have cancer”), Goldman suggests.

“Tweaking one thought can literally change the tone of your day and you can feel completely different,” Goldman says.

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6. Set aside time for mindful meditation

Although ancient cultures have known the benefits of meditation for centuries, science is just catching up. In addition to helping you feel calmer and more focused, research indicates that meditation can alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, pain and fear.

Meditation simply means focusing your mind on achieving a mental state of calm concentration. It starts with being mindful, APA’s Brendel says, and there are many ways to do it. You can try a classic body scan, where you tune into different parts of your body, or focused breathing, where you slow your breath way down. Another option is to listen to a guided meditation on an app like Calm or Headspace.

Some people set aside time every morning for meditation; others set an alarm on their phones to pause for mindful moments throughout the day.

“It doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” Brendel says. “Even a minute of deep breathing can be helpful and relaxing and reduce anxiety.” 

7. Make a therapy appointment

You don’t need to have big problems to see a therapist, Morin says. And making that first appointment doesn’t necessarily mean a long-term commitment.

Instead, think of your mental health the same way you think about your physical health, Morin suggests. “It’s OK to go get a checkup,” she says.

A therapist can offer reassurance, an objective nonjudgmental opinion and advice on how to manage challenges. “They may suggest a few tweaks to your daily routine that might make a huge difference,” Morin says.

Start your search for a therapist by asking friends for referrals and your health insurer for a list of in-network providers.

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