Impact of New Year’s resolutions on mental health Setting New Year’s resolutions can beneficial to our mental well-being if we set healthy, reasonable, achievable goals.

Chido MadzvamutseMental Wellness

As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community. 

Setting New Year’s resolutions is a common practice at this time of year and can be beneficial to our mental well-being if we set healthy, reasonable, achievable goals that motivate us to live better lives. 

However, when we fail to achieve our new year’s resolutions this can negatively affect our mental well-being. 

It is critical that we reflect on the nature of the resolutions we are setting for ourselves this year to safeguard our mental health. 

What is the impact of New Year’s resolutions on mental health?

Studies have shown that those who intentionally set New Year’s resolutions for specific goals are more likely to achieve those goals than those who are less intentional about their year’s plans (Oscarsson M et al, 2020). 

Setting goals positively impacts our mental health through:

1. Helping us focus our attention and energy on specific, measurable outcomes for a set time period. 

2. Generating internal motivation for the changes we want to see in our lives. 

3. Boosting our mood as we make small steps towards each of our set goals through dopamine (reward hormone) release that occurs when we achieve our goal. 

4. Improving our sense of self efficacy and self-confidence which can propel us to achieve additional goals. 

Studies however, also show that 45 percent of people give up on their new year’s resolutions by February of the same year. 

This can have a devastating effect on mental well-being very early on in the year. 

Challenges that ineffective goal setting may cause include:

1. Stress and pressure to achieve unhealthy goals which can result in anxiety

2. An overwhelming sense of failure, decreased self-confidence when we fail to achieve unrealistic goals especially when we set the same goal and fail, year after year.

3. Decreased motivation and drive for life and for other goals we would set during the year as we lose confidence and doubt ourselves. 

4. Losing hope in our future plans if we repeatedly seem to fail in the goals we set for ourselves. 

Setting healthy goals and resolutions

Psychologists Dr Edwin Locke and Dr Gary Latham through their extensive study of goal setting and motivation suggest several principles that can help us set goals that have a greater chance of success. These include:

1. Clarity: it is critical for us to be clear and specific about the goal we want to achieve. It is also important to use positive language to frame our resolutions in positive language to help motivate us. It is better to set a goal to make better food choices and to exercise more than to say I want to lose weight. It is also important to avoid all language that does not allow acknowledgement of small steps towards a set goal. 

2. Set challenging goals to stretch yourself and allow for growth. 

However, these must be structured in a way to be achievable within a set time-frame. 

3. Commit to your goals: To maintain our commitment to our goals we will need to be vulnerable and open up to a few trusted people who can help keep us accountable to our goals for this year. 

4. Seek feedback and accept constructive criticism: For us to achieve our goals we will need the help of others. Getting constructive feedback from others will help us modify our approach and our plans when necessary increasing our chances of success.

Can mental health problems affect my ability to set and achieve my new year’s resolutions?

Common mental health problems such as unhealthy stress, anxiety, depression, psychological effects of trauma as well as alcohol and substance abuse can affect our ability to think clearly and set specific goals as well as to manage our emotions to focus on achieving our goals. 

Challenges with our mental health will affect how we relate with others and how we can work productively and effectively to achieve our goals. Mental health problems can affect our mood, energy levels and motivation which can all influence our ability to set and achieve our goals.

Setting mental health goals for 2023

As we start a new year it is another opportunity to reflect on how we can improve our mental well-being. 

Critical areas to consider include:

1. Becoming more emotionally aware. Becoming more vulnerable to express our emotions to trusted individuals and to be emotionally authentic and real about our challenges so we know when to ask for help when we need it 

2. To strive to have life giving, positive self-talk to protect our mental well-being. 

3. To be mentally flexible and develop a problem-solving approach to life; to face life’s challenges. 

4. To take more responsibility about our thoughts, emotions and behaviour to mature emotionally. 

5. To build healthy relationships that will strengthen our support network. 

6. To maintain work-life balance and make sufficient time to rest so that we can work effectively. 

7. To live intentionally and with a sense of purpose and meaning. 

8. To maintain hope and a positive perspective to life as no goal can be achieved without hope to achieve it 

If you think you or someone that you know may be experiencing a mental health problem that may be affecting your ability to set and achieve your goals for the year, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.

l Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) article written by Dr Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse.

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