The start of a new year can be an ideal time to take stock of your goals and priorities, identify areas where you want to improve, and plot a course for a productive 12 months.
Unfortunately, it can easily transform into a time for establishing unrealistic expectations, making unhealthy decisions, and setting yourself up for a year of failure and frustration.
Yes, we’re talking about New Year’s resolutions – those earnest promises we make to ourselves at the beginning of January, then usually forget all about by the middle of February.
As we suggested at the top of this post, making the right kinds of resolutions can, indeed, help you make meaningful changes that will yield long-term benefits. But there are limits to what fervent hopes and meticulous planning can accomplish.
For example, trying to use a New Year’s resolution to “fix” a mental health challenge can be counterproductive and downright dangerous.
How Resolutions Can Harm Your Mental Health
From a mental health perspective, one of the many risks associated with New Year’s resolutions is that they can negatively impact your confidence and self-esteem.
Too often, people set unreachable goals, such as going to the gym every day or losing an exorbitant amount of weight. Then, when they inevitably come up short, they internalize this setback, viewing it as evidence that they are inherently flawed.
This sense of personal dissatisfaction can bleed into other areas of their life, such as their job and their relationships. If this leads to problems at work or conflicts with loved ones, their mental health may suffer even more, creating a downward spiral of inner despair and external turmoil.
It’s not difficult to see how this pattern could contribute to the development of a depressive disorder or another mental health concern. If a person in this situation then attempts to self-medicate their psychological pain with alcohol or another drug, this can magnify their distress and complicate their efforts to get proper care.
Why Most Resolutions Won’t Fix Your Mental Health
The scenario that we described in the previous section is an example of how a resolution that doesn’t directly involve mental health can still be harmful to a person’s psychological well-being.
But what happens if you intentionally make your mental health the focus of a New Year’s resolution? Instead of pledging to drop some excess weight or put in some extra work at the gym, what if you resolve to finally get over your struggles with anxiety, depression, PTSD, or another mental health concern?
The answers to these questions depend on what, specifically, you include in your resolution. For example:
- If you simply resolve to be less anxious or more positive, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. A resolution like this focuses on symptoms while ignoring their underlying cause (the disorder itself). Also, declaring that you are going to minimize your anxiety or maximize your positivity can actually have the opposite effect. The pressure you feel to be “perfect” can soon become overwhelming which can cause your symptoms to worsen. In other words, you can’t overcome a mental illness through willpower alone.
- If you resolve to handle stress better or manage your emotions more effectively, you’re not setting an attainable goal, you’re simply making a wish. If your stress-management or emotion-control problems are related to a mental health concern, you’re unlikely to resolve them just by focusing or trying harder. Even if they are standalone problem areas that you want to improve, you can’t expect to be successful merely by saying, “I’ll do better this year.” You need a plan, and you need some help.
- If your resolution involves healthy lifestyle changes like meditating, practicing mindfulness, keeping a journal, or doing a better job of staying in touch with people you care about, you might experience some positive mental health benefits. These actions can help you manage stress, cope with pressure, process difficult experiences, and identify smaller problems before they transform into major concerns. But no amount of self-care can empower you to overcome a mental health disorder.
Though none of the examples listed above are likely to have a lasting positive impact on your mental health, we sprinkled in a few clues that can help you actually make a meaningful mental health-related New Year’s resolution. If you didn’t decipher them, don’t worry – all will be explained in the next section.
The One Resolution That Can Make a Real Difference
Yes, there actually is a New Year’s resolution that can have a lasting positive effect on your mental illness. And yes, we did hint at this resolution in our three “failure scenarios” in the previous section:
- In our first example, we noted that you can’t merely address your symptoms – you need to focus on the disorder itself.
- In the second example, we mentioned two vital factors for improving your mental health – getting help and having a plan.
- In the third example, we talked about taking specific actions that are directly related to certain challenges or concerns.
What would a New Year’s resolution that included all of these elements (focusing on the disorder, taking specific steps, getting help, and following a plan) look like? It might look a lot like this:
“This year, I resolve to get the professional treatment I need, so that I can finally start living the healthier and more hopeful life I deserve.”
Find Mental Health Help in Southern California
If your life has been disrupted by anxiety, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or another complex mental illness, Crownview Psychiatric Institute may have the services you need. Our treatment center in Oceanside, California, is a safe and welcoming place where you can receive personalized care and comprehensive support from a team of highly skilled professionals.
To learn more about how we can help you or someone that you care about, please visit our Contact Us page or call us today.