Every year, we look at Jan. 1 as a symbol of a fresh start and a chance to have our “best year yet.” This mindset feels more urgent than ever this year.
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Small habits can help you better manage your mental health in 2021 and make it feel like you're leaving some of 2020's negativity in the past.
Unfortunately, the events of 2020 aren’t going to vanish after midnight on New Year’s Eve. The coronavirus pandemic, in particular, will seep into 2021 ― at least for part of it.
This doesn’t mean you can’t look at the new year as a clean slate, though. In fact, experts say it’s important to look at the new year as a new start and shake off as many of those 2020 vibes as you can. Here are some suggestions on how to accomplish exactly that:
Head in with the lessons 2020 taught you
Instead of focusing on trying to erase 2020, look at it as a year of lessons learned.
“We can walk into 2021 and carry over new habits that 2020 taught us,” said Adolph Brown, a Virginia Beach-based clinical psychologist and performance coach.
For example, the pandemic has certainly taught us the value of finding habits that boost our mental health.
“To successfully manage all of the unsettling events of 2020, self-care has never been more crucial,” Brown said. So bring activities you enjoyed in 2020 into the new year, whether that’s journaling, bread baking, limiting the news or talking to a therapist (or all of the above).
Continue to cultivate those habits, and perhaps double down on your commitment to them as a way to make it feel like you’re improving on a skill set.
Examine what isn’t working in your life right now
Stephanie Kersta, a registered psychotherapist and co-founder of Hoame mediation studio in Toronto, suggested spending some time in the first few days of 2021 reflecting on what didn’t serve you in the past year. Kersta said this is a powerful activity, as it encourages us to look at behaviors and aspects of our lives that aren’t beneficial.
“Were there particular relationships, thought patterns or habits that you feel ready to let go of? Write them down and burn the paper as a symbolic gesture to leave those in the past,” she said.
Set a positive affirmation to live by
“New year’s intentions may be challenging to come up with when the future’s so blurry. This is why I highly recommend you work with a positive affirmation,” said Kama Hagar, a meditation coach and reiki master in Santa Monica, California.
Research has shown that affirmations can be positive for self-image and motivation. Hagar said to ask yourself: “What kind of mindset would carry me through 2021 no matter what happens?” Use the answer to figure out what phrase works for you.
Hagar said you can even start with one word ― like “strong,” “confident,” “positive,” “giving,” “calm” ― and make it into an “I am” statement to create an affirmation. (For example, “I am strong.”)
“Make this positive affirmation your password, phone passcode, a sticky note on your mirror, a doodle on your notebook ― anything that keeps you connected and keeps you going,” she said.
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Following a simple exercise targeted toward examining your stress will help you better tackle challenges that arise in the new year.
Create a ‘stress plan’
Part of handling a new year includes learning to manage the stress that will inevitably come with it. Linda Mueller, a certified life coach in Chicago, said to try creating a “stress plan” for 2021.
“Over the course of a week, note each time you come across something that you find annoying,” she said. “If it’s really easy to resolve, just take care of it. For example, if you find yourself wasting time looking for your keys every morning, put a bowl by the door and train yourself to place the keys there every time you return home. Problem solved.”
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“For more complicated annoyances, make a list and note ideas to resolve them as the week progresses,” she continued. “Awareness around these issues will reduce your stress as you become empowered to try to resolve the issues. At the end of the week, create an action plan with a timeline to address the remaining issues.”
Set a challenge for yourself
Denise Myers, the national director of behavioral health services for Marathon Health, a worksite health care provider, said setting a goal that brings you joy will help ease some of the mental health effects of 2020.
“So much of 2020 and the pandemic has been out of our control,” she explained. “Finding that goal that you can control, that cannot be derailed by a pandemic, gives you a positive thing to focus on and will help the new year feel like a fresh start.”
This year is the perfect time to learn that instrument, shave a minute off your time to run a mile, pick up a paintbrush, start your side hustle or whatever challenge it is that moves you.
Get back to your pre-pandemic routine as much as you can
“2020 really ravished the daily routine,” said Margaret Seide, a board-certified psychiatrist in New York City. Whether it was going to the gym after work, weekly happy hours or that cup of coffee on your way into the office, many of these staples are now gone.
But Seide explained that routines keep us on track and give us a sense of order and stability. The start of 2021 is an opportunity to revisit those neglected routines. Make a pact to get back to your morning coffee, nighttime skin regimen, fitness goals, journaling, a daily afternoon walk or meditating.
“Take back some control in 2021,” Seide said. “Jan. 1 is an excellent time to make a fresh start with a scheduled activity that can uplift your health, sanity and is a daily commitment to yourself.”
Revamp and redecorate your workspace
Try a little Marie Kondo-ing to “spark joy” within your environment. Danielle Laura, a counselor and mindfulness expert in Tampa, Florida, suggested putting a new spin on the area you work from most by decluttering, reorganizing and even redecorating.
“This is going to help bring in new energy to the space and make it feel lighter and brighter, like a fresh start,” she said. “You don’t have to go crazy here. Simply moving the furniture around and getting rid of old things you don’t need anymore is a great start.” (And donate any unwanted items so you’re helping someone else in the process.)
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Goals that help you feel good, rather than ones that focus on material items or appearances, can help you feel healthier.
Commit to a resolution that makes you feel good
Forget fad diets, counting steps or quick wellness fixes. For 2021, Kersta suggested focusing on a practice that makes you feel better ― like committing to getting at least seven hours of sleep every night, meditating for 10 minutes a day or going for a daily walk to get fresh air. These are going to make you feel far more healthy in the long run.
“This was a really hard year for many, so going forward focus on nourishment, healing, and restoration rather than a ‘new you’ through countless resolutions,” she said.
Do an assessment of how you mentally approach hardships
Manya Wakefield, a recovery coach and founder of Narcissistic Abuse Rehab, suggested examining the beliefs that shape your attitudes and behaviors. This is important because navigating the post-COVID-19 world is going to take a lot of psychological agility, she said.
“Get a piece of paper and fold it in half to create two columns,” she explained. “In one column, write down how you view challenges, obstacles, criticism, success and action. Review your answers and examine where your current thinking limits your ability to realize your full potential.”
“Next, use the second column to write down the new productive perspectives that will drive you toward your goals and ensure that the best is yet to come in 2021,” she added.
Get back to your social life (safely, of course)
We started the pandemic with Zoom book clubs and happy hours ― but as the year went on, many of us lost our steam. Virtual catch-ups with friends were eventually replaced with extra TV time instead.
Sabrina Romanoff, a clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said a social support system is incredibly important to keeping you in a positive mood. Until in-person meetups are safe again, Romanoff said to use technology to get as close to face-to-face interaction as you can. Even being around others can help.
“If you don’t have someone to make plans with, go running in a park or walking down a street where you see other people. This will have a positive effect on your mood and well-being,” she said.
Commit to carving out a few minutes a day for yourself
“We are in a pandemic and we still will be in a pandemic in 2021, but this does not mean that you cannot have your best year yet,” said Deedee Cummings, a licensed professional clinical counselor in Louisville, Kentucky.
You can do this by making time for yourself, whether that’s making an appointment with a therapist or blocking off your calendar for 15 minutes. Or, “when you hit the front door at home, take 15 minutes to circle the block and clear your head. Do this again after the kids start school, or on your lunch break,” Cummings said.
She also added that it’s important to limit distractions and use this quiet time to reflect. “You have a purpose in life,” Cummings said. “Commit to making 2021 the year you find out exactly what that purpose is.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost