The holiday season is often called the most wonderful season of all, but that’s not how many people experience it anymore. Between managing family and personal expectations, financial strains, feelings of loneliness and isolation, nostalgia, and social pressures, it’s no wonder that this time of year can impact your mental health. Although the “holiday blues” between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day are temporary for many people, it can negatively impact the start of your new year.
Our busy lifestyles and surroundings often mean that we place our self-care at the bottom of a long list of priorities. When you are catering to other people’s needs, it can be hard to recognize that you have physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs as well. Perhaps that shortsightedness is never so evident as it is during the holidays. But as you begin a new year, you can change your approach and treat yourself with the love and care you deserve. Here are some essential self-care tips you should treat yourself to in the New Year to get you out of your holiday funk and establishing healthy habits for your mind, body, and soul.
Taking just six minutes a day to read can reduce your stress and anxiety levels by 68%, a higher rate than listening to music, playing video games, or having a cup of hot tea. There is no relaxation quite like losing yourself in a book as the process essentially places you in an altered state of consciousness.
The genre choice doesn’t matter; any book will do that allows you to step away from the worries in your life. Additionally, reading a book before bedtime can help you fall asleep, an added plus if you have sleep issues. Hit your local library for some old school traditional books, or if you prefer, download some free ebooks online to your tablet. Pick up a good book today and engage your creative mind while letting your body relax.
Although this tip can be hard for anyone who isn’t a “morning person,” starting your day off with an established routine works wonders for decreasing your stress levels. Most of our lives are a jumbled rush of getting from one place to another in as little time as possible, but that hectic daily race leads to stress, anxiety, and insomnia. A morning routine can reduce the negative drains on your mind and body by setting healthy expectations for your physical and mental self.
Give yourself ample time to wake up to avoid rushing around or running late, which only adds to your stress levels. Spend time thinking about the day ahead over a cup of coffee. A bonus to establishing a morning routine is this habit can transfer to other areas of your life, such as creating routines for chores, exercising, and paying bills, thereby eliminating other stressors.
A critically important element of self-care is learning to set boundaries. It is also the most difficult change to make in your life, especially if you tend to overschedule or you are a codependent people-pleaser. Repeatedly saying yes to the requests of other people can leave you feeling powerless, unhappy, resentful, and exhausted. If someone asks you to do something, and deep down you want to say no or haven’t taken the time to consider the effects the request will have on your life, you are not setting healthy boundaries.
Choosing your needs over someone else’s can be hard to do, especially if you haven’t previously prioritized your self-care. Have some quick responses ready to go when the next request comes in; for example, “I’ll need to get back to you,” or “I wish I could help, but my schedule is full that day.” Don’t feel compelled to schedule your life around someone else’s desires, even if they react negatively to your decision. That will only lead to increased stress, decreased willpower, and a life lived inauthentically.
While you are establishing new routines, add kindness to your list. Being kind to others and making it a habit will help you feel better about yourself and the world. Don’t try to overdo it or commit yourself to grand acts that are beyond your means; that will only add more stress to your already overloaded plate. Instead, focus on small gestures that you can maintain regularly, such as volunteering at a local soup kitchen or animal shelter, helping a neighbouring family in need, or buying a cup of coffee for the person behind you in the drive-thru.
By engaging in acts of kindness, you are making your body healthier. These actions stimulate the production of serotonin, the feel-good chemical, and create emotional warmth which releases the oxytocin hormone and reduces blood pressure and stress. Start your year off with kindness, and your body and mind will thank you for it.
Journaling is an exceptional self-care tool that lets you focus on you, even if it’s only for ten minutes a day. Writing about your thoughts and feelings can provide a simple means to address your fears and improve your life. Addressing stressful events in your life, as well as emotions like disappointment and anger, through the written word releases the intensity of those moments, alleviates stress, and lets you solve problems more effectively.
You can take journaling a step further and make it an exercise in gratitude. Set aside a specific time every day for a week to write down three things that went well for you. Give each entry a title, write down what happened with as much detail as possible, and explore how you felt both when the event happened and later on. This process allows you to see the positives in your life that you might normally overlook.
You might not like to hear it, but it’s true: exercise does make you feel good. It is an antidepressant for the mind and body, and it is connected with a significant drop in stress hormones. Many people think an exercise plan involves something that might not be appealing to them, such as weight training or running. That kind of pressure can add to your stress levels and make you give up exercising before you even start.
Exercise can take many forms and doesn’t have to involve high-intensity performances. Walk before you run, literally and figuratively. Move at your own pace, and reconnect with your physical and mental self. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that “real” exercise is the only worthwhile exercise. It’s not how many calories you burn, but how you feel afterwards that is important. Try a yoga or tai chi class, take a brisk walk in the park, or give something new a try, like joining an exercise group at your local community centre.
Self-care means placing a priority on your mental health and wellbeing. Everyone struggles in their lives, and there are new challenges for you to face with the advent of each new year. Often, we bury our troubles to care for others, and those issues become internalized, leading to emotional stress and chronic physical pain. Therapy is an excellent way to verbalize your problems, identify them, and work with a certified counsellor to solve them. If you have an anxiety disorder or experience panic attacks, consider therapy as an effective way to assess your mental health and begin to heal.
If you have a specific goal in mind this year, perhaps losing ten pounds, making a career change, or reorganizing your company, then a life coach can hold you accountable for your progress. Talking with someone about your hopes and fears can help you craft a purpose for your new year.
Social media is a part of our daily lives, and while it may be impossible to completely sever yourself from it, intentionally taking a brief break from it can reduce your anxiety and stress. Exposure to online stimuli can lead to hyperstimulation as well as a reduced ability to distinguish reality from perception. Your real self can quickly be swallowed up by your online avatar. When you don’t get enough “likes” or feel you fail to compare to other people’s online lives, you can become depressed and anxious. Your perception of your internet self can also damage your relationships in reality.
Start small by taking an hour away from social media every day. Take that hour and spend it reconnecting with who you are and what you value. Spend more time outside by going for a walk around the neighbourhood, which helps to reduce the brain’s focus on negativity and improve mental health.
Use this new year to make yourself a priority, because you are worth it. Establish healthy habits and embrace self-awareness, and start this new season by bettering your mindset and health. Find the time and make the space for your wellbeing, and this year will be one where you grow, thrive, and enjoy your life.