Many celebrate New Year’s Eve by creating resolutions for the upcoming year. These goals could be related to career ambitions, fitness, health, finances or countless other areas of life. After a difficult year marked by fear, stress, uncertainty, it makes sense for many to make improving their mental health a resolution in 2021.

According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 51.5 million American adults reported a mental health disorder before the pandemic. This is an increase from about 47.6 million in 2018, which is a sign that mental health disorders were already becoming more prevalent in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on Americans, leading to increases in anxiety, depression and other mental health symptoms.

If one of your planned resolutions is to achieve better mental health, there are steps you can take now to ensure the improvements start immediately.

1. Schedule a Therapy Appointment

Some of the best ways to treat anxiety or depression are to talk about feelings, uncover the cause of these feelings and learn coping mechanisms for the future. All three of these remedies can be accomplished in a session with a licensed therapist.

Talking about past events that have impacted you can be the first step toward healing. Evidence shows clear benefits to discussing your feelings, even if the natural inclination is to hold them in. Matthew D. Lieberman, UCLA associate professor of psychology, conducted a study that uncovered how verbalizing emotions could diminish their severity.

“When you put feelings into words, you’re activating this prefrontal region and seeing a reduced response in the amygdala,” Lieberman said. “In the same way you hit the brake when you’re driving when you see a yellow light, when you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses.”

Look into local mental health treatment options and consider scheduling the first session as early as possible. Counseling can benefit anyone, regardless of what internal struggles they have.

Teletherapy is also growing to reach more people during the pandemic. Online counseling has numerous benefits beyond the safety of home, including flexible scheduling, convenience and security. The Recovery Village Telehealth app is one resource that can connect you to a licensed therapist and takes insurance.

2. Participate in a New Passion

Changing up your routine and adding a new activity can often be the jolt of positive energy that you need. Hobbies reduce stress by helping you take a mental and physical break from obligations at work or home. These can include:

  • Physical activity: Consider starting a fitness regimen or taking up running or yoga. Exercise in any form works as a way to release stress and pent-up energy.
  • Learning opportunities: Playing an instrument, learning a new craft, traveling or taking an online course can bring a sense of purpose and challenge. Passion projects challenge you and develop eustress, a type of good stress that benefits your mental health.
  • Therapeutic activities: Art, music, horseback riding and yoga have all been used as recreational therapies for people recovering from substance use and mental health disorders. Participating in these recreations has been proven to help improve self-esteem, focus and feelings of control.

Consider what your favorite hobbies are (or ones you’ve always wanted to try) and either participate in them more often or make them your priorities for the new year.

3. Eat Food That Loves You Back

The food you eat can impact your physical health, and it plays a big role in your mental health as well. Have you ever had a bad day and turned to something deep-fried or sugary for comfort? Eating nutrient-deficient foods don’t support your overall body and brain health in the same way that eating healthy, nutrient-rich food does. In addition, processed foods often lead to lower energy, which can increase a person’s anxiety and depression symptoms.

These unhealthy foods also miss key vitamins and nutrients that can naturally make people feel better. Vitamins B and D affect a person’s mood. A deficiency of either can lead to extreme mood swings and depression. Foods such as spinach, kale, fruit and fish like salmon and tuna provide these healthy vitamins and regulate serotonin, which interacts with the brain and manages a person’s mood.

The next time you go to the grocery store, buy healthy food and begin to overhaul what’s inside your refrigerator and kitchen cabinets.

4. Go to Sleep Earlier

Another way to improve your mental health is to get more sleep. Many people with jobs, children or pets must be up early most mornings, but when people go to sleep too late and still get up early, their body receives too little rest. In 2014, 35.2% of American adults reported that they commonly slept less than the recommended amount.

Many people also struggle to get an adequate amount of sleep due to overwhelming amounts of stress and anxiety. It goes both ways: a lack of sleep can also negatively impact mental health. According to a report from Harvard University, sleep disruption can affect neurotransmitter levels and stress hormones, which impairs how the brain regulates a person’s emotions.

To get more sleep, make sure to wind down early enough to get at least eight hours of sleep each night. Even if you sit in bed and read a book or magazine, you’re likely to fall asleep more quickly and feel well-rested in the morning.

5. Spend Time with Friends

Your relationships have a profound effect on your mental health. Numerous studies show that the more meaningful your friendships and bonds with other people are, the happier your life will be. In fact, a Harvard Study of Adult Development revealed that wealth and fame are not the keys to a long, happy life. Instead, it is the quality of close relationships that predict true happiness.

To support your mental health this year, keep your bonds with others going strong. Call up a family member on your way home from work. Reconnect with a mentor or someone who inspires you. Chat with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. To grow your mental health in 2021, invest in your relationships.

6. Have a Good Laugh

Laughter truly is the best medicine for both your body and mind. Laughter comes with a whole host of health benefits, including strengthening the heart and stimulating brain activity. The act of laughing boosts your happiness levels by releasing serotonin in your brain and lowering stress hormones. Laughing also releases endorphins, which is another process that gives you a healthy dose of happiness.

Find a comedy program you like on a streaming service, make a playlist of your favorite hilarious YouTube videos or reminisce about good times with an old friend.

7. Make Time for Self-Care

Taking care of your own physical and mental well-being is not a new idea, but it can be transformative once you incorporate it into your everyday life. Self-care isn’t always easy, especially if you’re constantly busy. If you think you’re too busy to take a few deep breaths or drink some water, that’s a good sign you could benefit from self-care.

While they may seem small, simple self-care strategies like stepping outside when you feel overwhelmed or packing snacks before a hectic day are conscious efforts to improve your overall well-being. Self-care strategies during the pandemic can be quick activities or long-term endeavors. They are all worthwhile.

Find little ways to give your body and mind a boost throughout the day, such as:

  • Getting a breath of fresh air walking outside
  • Drinking a glass of water
  • Meditating
  • Writing letters
  • Marking off something on your to-do list
  • Taking a shower or bath
  • Turning off your newsfeed
  • Listening to music that makes you happy

8. Practice Gratitude

This is one of the easiest but most effective ways to support your mental health. You can practice gratitude anywhere, anytime and in any situation. It’s as simple as saying a silent “thank you” for moments that made you smile or remembering a time when someone made you feel appreciated. It can even be the realization that you have things in your life right now to feel grateful for.

Gratitude is what you make it: It can be a thought, a thank you note or a journal filled with moments and memories that you want to remember. No matter how you practice gratitude, this simple habit can make you a mentally healthier version of yourself.

For many, 2021 is an opportunity for a fresh start after a challenging and uncertain year. If 2020 has impacted your mental health or substance use, help is available. Contact The Recovery Village today to discuss how our licensed teletherapists can support you on your journey to a healthier, happier you.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.