The transition into a new year often comes with an intensified mental load around various expectations and reflections. These may include changes in routine and lifestyle, pressures to set and achieve new goals, reminders of past traumas or losses, health-related anxiety, and general uncertainty about what lies ahead. This period can therefore be especially challenging for those already dealing with mental ill-health, so here are some strategies to help you manage and adapt to the new year more effectively.
Acknowledge and Accept Your Feelings
First and foremost, it's essential to acknowledge and accept your feelings. The new year can evoke a range of emotions, from happiness to sadness, loneliness, stress, and anxiety. Recognise that it's okay to feel any or all of these emotions and that you're not alone in experiencing them. It's important to not suppress your feelings, but rather to acknowledge and accept them. You don’t need to try and change them, just ride with them until they pass.
We call this ‘emotion surfing’ and here is a guide to help you through:
Set Realistic Expectations
The social portrayal of the transition to a new year can create unrealistic standards. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy or disappointment when you think your efforts don't match up. Set realistic expectations for yourself. It's okay if you need to slow down your pace and keep activities low key for the sake of your mental health.
Create a Balanced Schedule
The start to a new year can be hectic, with multiple commitments. Creating a balanced schedule can help manage this. Prioritise events and tasks, and don't be afraid to say no to things that aren’t essential or might burden you. Allocate time for rest and activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Take things one day at a time, and even one hour or one minute at a time if you are feeling especially overwhelmed.
Self-care is key during this time. Engage in activities that nourish your body and mind. These can include exercise, meditation, reading, watching a movie, or simply taking a quiet walk. It's also important to maintain a healthy diet and get enough sleep, as these can significantly impact your mental wellbeing.
Remember, you don't have to go through anything difficult alone. Reach out to friends, family, or mental health professionals for support. Sharing your feelings and thoughts can be incredibly therapeutic, even if you simply let someone know you aren’t doing so well.
Additionally, there are many online forums and support groups for people dealing with mental ill-health:
Limit Social Media Exposure
Social media can often exacerbate feelings of inadequacy and anxiety, especially when it seems like everyone else is managing ‘perfectly fine’. Be mindful that a lot of what you read about and see on social media is embellished, and not representative of how people are really functioning out there. So it's okay to take a break from social media or limit your exposure to it. Focus on your real-life experiences and connections.
Mindfulness and Reflection
Practising mindfulness can help you stay grounded and cope with stress. Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can be beneficial. The new year is also a good time for reflection on the positives. Reflect on the past year's achievements and happy moments, and set realistic goals for the coming year.
Here are a couple of helpful links to mindfulness techniques that can help you calm down whenever you feel your emotions starting to escalate:
Volunteering and Giving Back
Sometimes, helping others can be a way to help ourselves. Volunteering or finding ways to give back to the community can provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment, and can offer you a helpful distraction from your own thoughts and worries.
Check out a range of volunteering options at Seek Volunteer here: https://www.volunteer.com.au/
Finally, embrace changes that come with the new year. Change is a natural part of life, and while it can be daunting, it also brings new opportunities and experiences. Think about a time in your past when you had to face change and it turned out alright. So aim to approach the new year with an open mind and a willingness to adapt because you can, and you will!
Dr. Carissa Coulston-Parkinson is a Clinical Psychologist with specialist knowledge in the areas of depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia, intellectual disability, personality disorders, traumatic brain injury and neurological conditions.