When you’re going through a particularly rocky period that’s leaving you feeling anxious, depressed or otherwise unlike yourself, you may start to explore options available to you. However, finally deciding to seek treatment — whether therapy, life coaching or another method — can take a lot of courage.
After all, for many, mental health still carries an unnecessary stigma, and it can be challenging to be vulnerable. Not to mention, many face geographical and financial barriers, which create even larger hurdles to overcome, says Dr. Wendy Oliver-Pyatt, MD, FAED, CEDS, the co-founder, CEO, and chief clinical officer for Within Health.
“If you have been delaying getting mental health treatment, you aren’t alone. About 45% of people in the United States with clinical-level mental health challenges don’t seek professional care,” she continues. “However, no matter your reason, it’s never too late to address your mental health concerns.”
Here, a guide to pushing yourself to start 2022 with a renewed outlook and purpose to be your happiest, healthiest self yet:
Change your habits with baby steps
Prioritizing your mental health doesn’t need to be a dramatic overnight transformation. Rather, small baby steps can turn into more significant changes over time. That’s why it’s crucial to explore your current habits and look for easy ways to improve them, says Dr. Vanessa Kennedy, Ph.D., the director of psychology at Driftwood Recovery. A few key areas to think about include:
- Exercise habits: “There is solid research that suggests that aerobic exercise 4-5 times a week is beneficial for depression,” Dr. Kennedy says.
- Meditation and mindfulness habits: “When you’re going through a stressful time, there are a multitude of mindfulness and meditation apps that help with anxiety if you’re willing to put them in your schedule and make them a consistent practice,” she notes.
- Journaling habits: “Keeping a journal can help you organize your thoughts and practice gratitude more concretely and tangibly,” she adds.
- Eating habits: You know how the saying goes — you are what you eat — and if you’re consistently consuming high-fat and empty-carb foods, you will experience rises and drops in your blood sugar. A balanced diet of vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats will boost your brain health.
Take a break from binge-watching and social media
Over the next week, track how much time you spend binge-watching Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO, or another streaming service. Then, if you dare, check your phone’s data collection to see how much time you spend scrolling through social media apps like Instagram or TikTok. The vast amount of hours you spend being ‘entertained’ may surprise you… and give you a nudge to shift your habits. While a few episodes or some idle time will help you relax and release stress, it can also have the opposite impact if you overdo it, says Andrea Dindinger, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
“After three episodes, the benefits dramatically decrease and can actually be harmful to your health,” she warns. “Binge-watching leads to inactivity, sleeping issues, social isolation, poor diet, and addiction problems. Binge-watching shows is a way to numb out, but when you are doing too much numbing, you lose motivation to live your life more fully and to take care of yourself.”
Also, she says social media is a major contributor to feelings of depression, anxiety, and inadequacy. “See if you notice any difference in your mood if you take a break from social media; after two weeks off of social media, you will feel a greater sense of happiness and satisfaction in your life,” she says. “It’s hard on your mental health to always check how many likes your post has or has not received. Let go of the comparing mindset and let yourself live fully in your life.”
Recognize the power of vulnerability
Admitting your shortcomings, your internal issues and your craziest thoughts isn’t easy. It requires something most of us resist: vulnerability. But while it may take some time and encouragement, Dr. Oliver-Pyatt says one of the most beneficial shifts you can make for yourself is to reframe vulnerability from a weakness to a strength. “Recognize that all people have struggles and pain, that all people are complex and imperfect, and that we are more than a composite of our perceived weaknesses,” she continues. “There is incredible power in being able to recognize your vulnerabilities and gain insight into who you are and how you move through the world.”
Invest in people who invest in you
It seems like a straightforward piece of advice: choose people who empower you and make you feel great. And avoid those who bring drama or toxicity to your life. However, in practice, it’s not always easy to let go of damaging relationships. Try to consider the New Year as an opportunity to pinpoint your healthy support system, and let them know you need them now, more than ever, recommends psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. This group should include your family, friends, a significant other, and anyone else who is able to provide comfort, perspective, and emotional strength.
Explore all treatment options
Over the past several years, virtual therapy has skyrocketed in popularity. This is a big win for those struggling with mental health since it takes away the stress of scheduling a commute to a therapist’s office or finding someone nearby. As Oliver-Pyatt says, there are plenty of online therapy apps to choose from, although you’ll want to make sure they accept your insurance before committing to one. “Many insurance companies, including Medicare and Medicaid, have expanded their coverage to include virtual treatment. Additionally, in the wake of COVID-19, many therapists are now offering video sessions, making it easier to find a regular appointment time that may work for you,” she adds.
Find a role model
When you’re having a rough time imagining a better version of yourself in the future, it can be helpful to reflect on who you consider as a role model in your life. This person could be family or famous, but the point is to find someone who has characteristics you wish to emulate, says Dr. Bethany Cook, a licensed clinical psychologist. If you can, consider a celebrity or influential person who has written about their battles, providing you a blueprint of sorts for inspiration. “The cool thing about books is that they can make us feel connected to amazing people who aren’t currently with us yet we still benefit from their vision and wisdom,” she continues. “Learning about someone else’s journey helps offer perspective, validation, ideas and coping strategies for managing some of the most difficult aspects of life.”