The new year is a perfect time for reflecting, setting goals and thinking intentionally about how you want your life to look. It’s a popular time of year for setting countless New Year’s resolutions, from physical health goals to professional aspirations. And for many of us, mental health resolutions are top of mind as we envision our year ahead. Want to prioritize your mental health this year? Straight from our KVC experts, here are some mental health tips and steps you can take to improve your wellbeing in the year ahead.
Take Small Steps
If you’ve ever set a resolution on January 1, only to lose traction before Valentine’s Day, you’re not alone: as many of 80% of us report giving up on resolutions. The solution? Take small steps.
“Resolutions can be lofty,” shares KVC West Virginia Vice President of Clinical Services Erin Keltner. Sometimes, people tend to set overly-ambitious goals and find themselves overwhelmed. “I talk to people a lot about making small changes,” Erin says. Instead of losing sight of an intimidating goal, seek to be 1% better every day. You don’t have to turn your world upside down to have a significant impact on your mental health goals. For example, plan just a few minutes of meditation or journaling each day. Then, when you’ve mastered that, add another attainable tactic.
Find Your Focus
Where should you start when it comes to mental health goal setting? Meditation, mindfulness, relationship-building, boundaries, counseling or therapy, work-life balance . . . we’ve hardly scratched the surface! Because you can take countless directions to strengthen your mental health, finding your focus is critical.
KVC Nebraska Director of Clinical and Prevention Services Larissa Dowe recommends reviewing Gallup’s Five Essential Elements of Wellbeing as a great place to start. As you consider your social, financial, career, physical and community wellness, it can help you determine what resolutions may benefit you the most. All five elements have an influence on our mental health, and narrowing down to a single area of focus can create a positive ripple effect. “If you focus on one area at a time and start to integrate that into your life, it can be really helpful and lead into other areas of your life,” Larissa explains.
De-Stigmatize Mental Health
While great strides have been made in recent years, an unfortunate stigma still surrounds mental health. People often diminish their mental health needs because of fear of being treated differently, or what family, friends or colleagues will think. Sadly, more than half of people with mental illness don’t get the support they need. So to prioritize mental health this year, start talking about it. If each of us would practice this mental health tip, the change could be profound.
“Mental health stigma disallows us to speak of mental health openly and then receive adequate, appropriate and timely treatment,” says KVC Health Systems Chief Clinical Officer Chad Anderson. Make it a point to talk openly about mental health with those in your circles, because every engagement helps to create a safer environment for these critical conversations.
How often do you reach out and authentically connect — beyond the surface level — with the people in your life? Whether that’s family, friends, neighbors, colleagues or other relationships, this practice may be more important than you think. Connection can be as simple as asking “How are you doing?” to someone you care about. But there’s a compounding benefit to checking in, explains Anderson: “It’s equally important for them to say it back: ‘Well, how are you doing?’”
If you are struggling with your own mental health, sharing with trusted loved ones and friends can make a big difference.
“I spend time talking about mental health struggles, saying ‘I’m kind of anxious today.’ When we have those conversations, people won’t feel like they’re alone in their struggles,” Erin relates.
Build Healthy Habits into Your Routine
Healthy habits — like exercise, eating nutritious meals or getting more sleep — can greatly impact your mental health. But sometimes, the demands of everyday life get in the way of our progress.
Larissa proposes a new perspective: think of ways to integrate these new habits into your everyday life. For example, exercising can help you improve your mental health while spending time with your family. “Wearing a step counter and playing with my kids is a way I get exercise in,” she says. “Playing tag, or going for a walk or bike ride, engages my kids and gives me exercise. Those things are a lot easier than going to the gym or doing a workout video for me.” Integrating new habits into your daily life will allow you to prioritize your mental health in sustainable, realistic ways.
Don’t Wait for a Crisis
One crucial mental health tip from KVC Kansas Director of Outpatient Services Matt Arnet is simple but profound: Don’t wait to make changes or get support. “If you feel really overwhelmed, it’s going to be harder for you to start a new habit, or to implement strategies from therapy,” he says. “There’s a real benefit to noticing patterns and seeking support right away.”
Consider your day-to-day mental health. Have your sleep habits changed over the past few months? How are your anxiety levels? Are you spending quality time with other people as you normally would or have you become more isolated?
As the classic saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Even if you’re not experiencing a mental health crisis, you’re still worthy of achieving your mental health goals. If you review your daily life and discover a decline in what’s normal or healthy for you, taking steps toward positive change can be beneficial.
Begin Your Therapy Journey
We can do many things on our own to improve our mental health. But the professional help of a therapist, counselor or psychiatrist can often be necessary.
Have you or someone you love identified the need for support? Make this the year you get the help you need. Finding help often starts with calling your insurance provider to learn more about your coverage. If your insurance doesn’t include mental health benefits, or if you’re uninsured, don’t let that stop you, as some therapists offer sliding scales and charge fees based on your family’s income.
Then, go to psychologytoday.com and search for a therapist who will fit your needs. Generally, therapists need to be licensed in the state where you live to work with you. You can also filter therapists according to your needs from those specializing in anxiety, depression, LGBTQIA+ and more. Taking steps to start this therapy journey can have a tremendous impact on your next year, and on the rest of your life.
Connect with Intention
At KVC, we talk a lot about the importance of connection, often in terms of children in foster care and their families — and for good reason, because connection is integral to sound mental health.
“We know connection is essential for brain development and social skills,” Matt explains. “That’s why it’s important to think about our support system and make a plan to engage with that supportive community.”
Making this intentional connection might involve scheduling time to get together in-person, catching up over text, or scheduling regular Zoom calls. This meaningful connection strengthens your sense of community and can help combat the cumulative effect of stress and anxiety that exists in the world today.
What will your mental health resolutions be? Whatever intention you set, it’s a great step forward as you remember to prioritize your mental health in the upcoming year. As you do so, KVC will be right by your side to uplift and support you. You can find more mental health tips and learn more about our mental health services here.