Mental Health Goals for the New Year You Haven’t Tried Yet

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2020 was a chaotic year. A worldwide pandemic, social unrest, economic hardship, natural disasters and everything in between seemed to pack a mere 12 months. The idea of a new year, a clean slate, is a welcome chance to restart for many of us.

With the new year, you may be creating new year’s resolutions. Maybe you’ve already made a plan and stuck with it. Ultimately, the ability to self-regulate, cope with the stress of life and make meaningful achievement were surely brought to the forefront of your mind in the mayhem of the past 365 days. As you enter this new year, take lessons learned over the past year and use them as fuel to establish your own mental health goals for 2021. In order to get started, here are some quick tips for creating goals.

SMART-minded goals

Look to create “SMART” goals. This is an acronym commonly used by mental health professionals when identifying goals for clients. Use this acronym as a guideline in outlining and identifying your goals.

Specific: Making a goal more concrete will make it more practical. Instead of “I want to get in shape,” make sure you definitely outline your goal: “I want to be able to run a mile.”

Measurable: Although it is difficult to measure mental health, try to quantify when and where you can. If you’re hoping to decrease social anxiety, you might set a goal to be able to talk to a stranger for 10 minutes.

Achievable: Setting unrealistic goals may damage your confidence. Don’t say “I want to get rid of my depression this year.” Say “I want to manage my depression by developing these three coping skills…”

Relevant: Do your goals address what you’re working on directly or indirectly? Here is a little shortcut to help increase goal relevancy: a goal is the overarching thing you want to accomplish; objectives are subgoals, or steps you take to get there.

Timely: Adding a time frame to your goals can be the push you need to get things done (think words like “daily,” “weekly,” “monthly,” etc.). A goal to drink more water will aid you less than “I want to drink 8 glasses of water daily.”

Examples of mental health goals

Now that you have some tips in your back pocket for writing the most effective goals for the coming year, here are some SMART mental health goal examples for guidance or inspiration.

By the end of 2021 I will… 

  • Attend weekly therapy
  • Find 3 things I can do at home that help to soothe my anxiety
  • Find 2 coping strategies I can implement away from home to soothe anxiety
  • Spend 5 minutes every morning doing deep breathing exercises
  • Learn about self-affirmation and memorize 3 statements I can repeat when anxious
  • Create a list of people who help me to manage my anxiety
  • Journal daily about triggers to anxiety and how to combat them
  • Find a safe environment to practice public speaking monthly
  • Journal daily about my emotional state
  • Identify 5 triggers to depression and a couple ways to avoid or manage each
  • Develop a daily mindfulness routine
  • Read current research regarding depression treatment on a monthly basis
  • Identify 3 people who can offer support for my depression and contact them weekly
  • Engage in a daily mood-enhancing activity (such as cooking or exercising)
  • Identify 20 positive things about my life weekly in a journal
  • Identify my 3-5 most common emotions and a couple frequent triggers for each
  • Identify 3 physiological signs of anger so I can notice it before I act on it

There are numerous studies that show the impact of external factors on mental health, including finances, community, nutrition, sleep and spirituality. Ordering your life to work on your mental health will likely include changing at least one external factor. Consider incorporating one of the following into your mental health New Year’s resolutions.

By the end of 2021 I will… 

  • Attend a weekly religious service
  • Take a budgeting course
  • Call a friend once a week
  • Make one self-care purchase a month (like a nice meal or a massage)
  • Clean the apartment every week
  • Learn how to cook a new healthy recipe every other week
  • Go to the gym 3 times a week
  • Read 10 books this year
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule, getting 8 hours a night
  • Create something that you are proud of every month (a drawing, a poem)
  • Visit a park once a month
  • Donate to a meaningful charity every month
  • Make two new friends this year
  • Meditate for 5 minutes every day
  • Use a standing desk for work
  • Visit family once a week
  • Make a budget for eating out
  • Volunteer once a month
  • Implement a calming nightly routine
  • Journal once a week

Creating goals may take some trial and error. It is ok to adapt a goal if you find it to be too easy or too unreasonable to accomplish. The important thing is getting started by setting mental health goals. Encountering setbacks and struggling to accomplish a goal is a good thing – consider it a sign that the goal is meaningful in your life and accurately addresses an area of difficulty.

As always, enlist the help of your mental health professional at The Light Program for help in identifying and managing mental health challenges. Call us at (610) 644-6464 or familiarize yourself with our services online, to take predictive steps toward a truly happy new year.