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Keep mental health in mind in the new year

by Deidre Ashley

January 22, 2017 | from Sound Mind | The Jackson Hole News and Guide

The start of a new year means new beginnings in many of areas of life. This year in particular may include time for reflection on the past — good experiences as well as mistakes made. Many of us do that during this time of year through setting goals or resolutions. While working on your resolutions for this year, consider keeping your emotional health in mind.

Here are some suggestions for getting 2017 off to a great start:

• Take care of yourself. Practice self-care by getting adequate sleep, eating well, drinking water, exercising and paying attention to your overall health. Work on balance in your life. Don’t forget to participate in the activities you enjoy. Work and other responsibilities are important, but make sure you also fit in positive activities that feed your soul.

• Practice mindfulness each day. Focus on being aware in the moment by avoiding going into autopilot mode. Even just a few moments each day can make a huge difference. Observe what is going on around you. Be aware of thoughts, emotions and body sensations. Try to just notice as an observer, without judgment or reaction.

• Identify and challenge negative thought patterns. Remember that a thought is just a thought until we give it power and turn it into a fact in our minds. How many times during the day do you have negative thoughts about yourself or make judgements about others? Challenge these thoughts with facts. Avoid jumping to conclusions and making assumptions. We all have a tendency to do this and then act on the inference. Check the situation before jumping into action.

• Connect with others. Being human means having a need for meaningful relationships and connections with others. Engage in activities, taking care not to overextend yourself. Step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Make spending quality time with individuals you care about a priority. Practice kindness to others by volunteering and doing something for someone else. Make it a goal to make someone smile each day. Connecting while helping someone who is struggling can build empathy, build gratitude and provide new and meaningful experiences.

• Practice gratitude. Appreciate the positive things in life every day. Some days it may be difficult to see anything positive, but try to make it a habit to notice. The more you are able to do this, the more you will notice the good things and not just the bad.

• Unplug from technology by restricting your use of gadgets. We are so linked in with information and technology that we sometimes miss connecting socially with those around us. Being focused on social media or the internet can not only make it difficult for you to be present but also cause disruptions in sleep and stress decompression.

• Consider letting go of grudges and practicing forgiveness. Many people hold on to resentment because they feel that if a behavior is forgiven it is seen as acceptable. Forgiving a person doesn’t mean you are saying he or she is not responsible for the hurtful behavior. It doesn’t minimize or justify the harmful behavior. It is possible to forgive a person without excusing the act. Forgiveness does allow you to let go of the toxic feelings and help you move on.

• Make amends for mistakes. A sincere apology can smooth over a strain in a relationship and make the offender feel better. Feelings of guilt or shame after making a mistake can lead to stress. Stress or anxiety can decrease emotional health, prolonging suffering and damaging relationships.

• Practice tolerance. Sometimes we can get so caught up in being right that we forget to listen to others’ points of view. Listen to understand and not just to respond or argue.

Whatever goals you may have for 2017, remember to be kind to yourself and others. Give yourself and those around you room for making mistakes. We are, after all, only human, so having unrealistic expectations for perfection can set us up for failure. Taking care of your emotional health can be the best thing to do for yourself and others in the New Year.

Deidre Ashley is executive director of the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center. She is a licensed clinical social worker and has a master’s degree in social work.