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It’s thought that around 80% of people have set a New Year’s resolution at some stage in their life.
So, chances are, there’s been at least one January when you’ve probably vowed to lose weight, get fit, stop smoking or cut down on drinking.
Improving physical health is usually the focus when it comes to creating these annual goals. But what about our mental health?
According to research from 2015’s Healthy Ireland Report, 9% of the Irish population suffer from a probable mental health problem.
And as January can be a triggering time for those suffering from depression, anxiety and related issues, we’re providing some guidance on making your mental health a priority for 2017.
1. Dedicate time to socialising
Socialising and maintaining relationships with friends and family is extremely important when it comes to mental health. Those with good social connections tend to be happier as they have a support network of people to talk to or simply act as a distraction when things get tough.
Although you might feel a little swamped with work at this time of year, especially after a long Christmas break, it’s vital that you strive to achieve some balance in your life and make time for others. Even if it’s just a quick coffee with a friend once a week, a good chat will do you good.
Fact: 47% of Irish people participate in a social group or club.
2. Get more sleep
Sleep is as important to our health as diet and exercise. Not only does it give your body time to physically repair itself at the end of the day, but it’s good for your brain too. When you’re well rested, you feel less stressed during the day and more able to cope with everything that’s thrown your way.
If you don’t quite get the recommended 8 hours per night, try in 2017 to set a bedtime for yourself or try to keep away from screens for at least one hour before you sleep so you can switch off easily.
3. Do something every day that makes you feel good
We all have 24 hours in a day and for most of us, we end up falling into a routine of getting up, going to work, watching TV in the evening and going to bed without achieving anything positive or of meaning during the day.
For your wellbeing it’s incredibly important to dedicate time to things that make you feel great. Start by making a list of ten things you love to do and try to incorporate them into your weekly schedule. It doesn’t need to be something monumental; even if it’s cooking a nice meal, reading a magazine or walking the dog, you should always make time for you.
4. Stop punishing yourself
In 2017, make it your mission to be nicer to yourself. Many of us are guilty of negative self-talk and focusing on the things we perceive to be our flaws and bad qualities which is incredibly detrimental to our self-esteem.
To overcome this, we have to realise that all human beings have positive and negative traits. No one is perfect. If you’ve had a bad or unproductive day, don’t punish yourself or make yourself feel guilty – just accept that life is full of ebbs and flows and no matter how bad today has been, tomorrow has the potential to be better.
5. Find a hobby that excites you and gives you purpose
Having a personal hobby or interest stimulates positive feelings in your brain and by providing pleasure, can improve your overall outlook on life. Having a hobby often boosts creativity, self-confidence and motivation and can help you expand your social circles.
6. Be kind to others
Practicing compassion and kindness and helping others can provide you with a greater purpose in your life. Whether you’re volunteering for charity in your spare time or just giving up your seat on the bus for a pregnant lady, every act of altruism promotes positive psychological changes in the brain connected to happiness.
7. Spend more time outdoors and try to be more active
Every medical professional in the world will encourage exercise when it comes to improving mental health. But, if you’ve ever suffered from a mental illness such as anxiety or depression, you’ll know that getting up and going for a run is much easier said than done.
If exercising regularly seems like an impossibility or even just too much of a chore, take small steps by trying to spend some time outdoors every day.
Fact: Did you know, Irish people spend on average 5.3 hours sitting every single day?
Over the past few years, meditation has become common practice for many Irish people. It has a number of benefits, especially with regards to mental health. Practicing mindfulness and meditation can stimulate grey matter in your brain; a part of the central nervous system associated with processing information. Research has found that meditation is like exercise for your brain and can help improve your memory, empathy, sense of self and provides stress relief.
There are plenty of local meditation classes you can attend but if that seems like too much of a commitment, there are many meditation apps and audiobooks you can use to practice on your own.
9. Track your mood and focus on the positives
Buy a diary or planner or just open up a word document and record your mood or feelings each day. This can be extremely helpful when it comes to figuring out what triggers depressive or anxious feelings.
It also gives you a chance to evaluate your feelings, take stock and see that there are good days, among the bad. Often when we’re feeling down, we can get blinded by negative emotions. Having record of your mood will act as evidence that there are sometimes highs among the lows and you can start to focus on those.
10. Say yes more
When you’re feeling down, it’s easy to get trapped inside your comfort zone and avoid things that seem too scary or overwhelming. However, from doing this you can end up in a cycle where nothing changes and nothing improves.
To take steps towards a more fun and fulfilling life, make 2017 the year that you say yes to more opportunities. Even if you’re scared, take chances and do the things you know will benefit you in the long run. Saying ‘yes’ to just a few simple things, can lead to new positive experiences you never would have dreamed of.
11. But also learn to say no
At the same time, however, it is also important to know when to say no. Us Irish are known around the world for being friendly and amiable. But this can also be our downfall; when you say yes to things you know you don’t have time or energy for, just to please others, you can burn out and become stressed.
As hard as it may seem to say no or reject someone, try to put yourself and your own needs first. No one will hold it against you.
12. Stop comparing yourself to others
Comparison really is the thief of joy. And unfortunately with happy relationships, job promotions and exotic holidays being plastered all over social media, it’s too easy to look at all your online acquaintances and see your life failing to live up to the excitement of everyone else’s.
For this reason, it’s important to remember that social media is a highlight reel. No one puts their bad days online and therefore, comparing your day-to-day life to someone else’s best bits is unreasonable and yields no benefits.
In 2017, try to spend less time on social media or be more productive when you are on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Instead of browsing through pictures, thinking ‘I wish that was me’, be conscious that the images and statuses are not reflective of that person’s entire reality.
13. Cut out toxic relationships
Whilst friendships and socialising are vitally important to your mental health, you should be wary of spending time with people who make you feel bad. Life is too short to waste your time with people who do not make you feel happy or appreciated.
If you meet a friend for dinner and come home feeling physically drained, you should evaluate your relationship and its benefit to your life. Your time is precious and you don’t owe it to anyone else. Just like it’s okay to end a romantic relationship when it doesn’t feel good, it’s okay to do the same with friendships. There are 7 billion other people on the planet and you can be sure there are a handful of those who would appreciate your friendship.
14. Ask for help when you need it
We all know that there’s no shame in asking for help, but muscling up the courage to talk to someone about your problems can be a terrifying prospect – especially if you’ve been suffering in silence for a while.
Although it will be frightening at first, it is worth asking for support when you need it. You deserve to feel happy and live a good life and if you have friends or family, they will want to help.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to those around you, talk to a professional. That’s what they are there for. Whether it’s your GP, a psychiatrist or an organisation like the Samaritans, these people are experienced and are equipped to help you with whatever problem you have, no matter how big or small it seems.
Irish Life is one of Ireland’s leading financial services companies with over 1 million customers. For over 75 years, we’ve been helping people in Ireland look after their life insurance, pension and investment needs.