It’s fair to say the last year has been tough on all of us.
There have been pressures from all directions; many businesses have had to adapt to remote working, while essential employees have experienced the stress of being exposed to the public every day throughout a pandemic.
The Impact Of The Pandemic On Wellbeing
It was inevitable that there would be some effect on the nation’s mental health as a result of COVID-19, and lo and behold, recent statistics from Mind (2020) indicate that the pandemic has indeed had a significant impact.
Over half of adults and two thirds of young people have reported a deterioration in their mental health during lockdown. And the statistics for people with pre-existing mental health conditions are even more shocking: nearly three-quarters of people with an eating disorder, OCD, or PTSD reported poorer mental health during the pandemic (73%, 72%, and 72% respectively).
There are a number of factors which may be contributing to excess anxiety and depression during the pandemic, but the most commonly reported in the study were:
• Not being able to see family or friends (79%)
• Not being able to go outside (74%)
• Worrying about family and friends catching COVID-19 (74%)
These issues may also be compounded by a surge in drink and drug-taking behaviours, as over one third of the population reported using alcohol or illicit drugs to cope with their declining mental health during the lockdowns.
The Good News
Coronavirus has highlighted many existing inequalities and difficulties across society. But it has also highlighted the central components to practicing good mental wellbeing: maintaining stable relationships with family and friends, going outdoors and enjoying nature, keeping a regular routine, staying mentally occupied, and of course, good diet and exercise.
The Key Is Not To Overwhelm Yourself
Any kind of habit, whether good or bad, is self-sustaining.
For example, if you begin to go out for runs every day, it becomes easier over time to stick to the routine. Running also releases endorphins, which makes you want to exercise again.
But on the other hand, if you have a bad habit (like for example, overeating), the same endorphins that would have motivated you to run, will now be acquired from eating food instead. This means that to get your ‘happy fix’, you will raid the cupboard instead of working out.
There will be a similar effect when you are trying to achieve a goal.
If you reach the goal, then you get a sense of achievement which makes you feel good, and this in turn motivates you to set and reach more targets. However, if you don’t achieve the goal, then you can become unmotivated and feel bad about yourself, which often leads to thoughts such as, ‘why bother?’.
The more goals you have to work towards, the less likely you are to achieve them. But the fewer, more targeted, and more achievable the goals are, the more chance of success you have.
Making Your Resolutions
So instead of coming up with a list of ten different resolutions that you probably aren’t going to stick to or even remember, try to come up with just three.
Try to pick three different aspects of your life to improve in small ways. Make them achievable goals that you know you can manage, and that will make a significant positive impact on your life when complete.
For example, my own resolutions this year are:
1. Health – Go running for at least fifteen minutes, twice a week.
2. Work – Complete one new qualification or learn a new skill
– Take at least 2 hours a week for a self-care activity: for example a bath, personal maintenance, or a hobby. And don’t spend this time watching television or engaging in anything stressful.
The easier your goals are to achieve, the more confident you will be to make other positive changes to your life.
Maintaining Your Resolutions
It’s easy to make a resolution, but the hard part is sticking to it! Sometimes, we all get so caught up in our day-to-day lives that we almost ‘forget’ we have decided to do things differently.
So an easy way to embed these new habits into your mindset is to make them a part of your routine.
Want to go vegan this year? You could make Sunday the designated ‘food prep’ day to save time for the rest of the week. If you want to start running, find a time that suits you – or perhaps it would be more convenient for you to take your running clothes into work, then run home at the end of the day.
Another way to really ‘drive home’ the point, is to leave yourself reminders.
Make notes in your phone or calendar, or put sticky notes around the house to remind you of your resolution. For example, if your New Year’s Resolution is to lose weight, you could stick notes on the cupboard which say, ‘Eat an apple!’.
Try to keep your suggestions positive – that way you won’t come to resent them.
A great way to keep up your resolutions is to set a review date halfway through the year. That way, you break things up so the resolution feels more achievable, and you have something to work towards. This will also trick you into feeling more accountable to yourself!
On ‘Review Day’, you should have a chance to evaluate what has worked well and what has not worked so well thus far, so you can tweak your strategy as necessary.
Perhaps you are aiming towards running a half marathon and have been working out twice weekly, but you don’t feel fit enough to make the marathon date yet. You might therefore decide to up your number of training days to get in good enough shape in time for the run.
Set a date for your review, work towards it, and evaluate things as required.
Making The Finish Line
The final ‘slip up’ point is making it from the Review Day to the end date. Following the review, it’s tempting to lie to yourself by saying, ‘oh well, I’ve achieved my goal now and I can relax!’.
So when you feel your motivation is starting to wane, instead of giving up, start daydreaming instead. Think of all the ways you can reward yourself when the year is over and your goals have been completed.
You might treat yourself to a new outfit, a spa trip, a day to practice a hobby, or just a fry up at home. But choose something that will make you happy, and keep that end point in sight.
Whatever your goals are this year, keep them simple and keep your eyes on the prize!