Want to be happier in 2020? Make mental health a priority

Click to play video: 'How to beat Blue Monday'
How to beat Blue Monday
ABOVE: Happiness researcher Gillian Mandich explains how you can combat the signs of seasonal affective disorder this Blue Monday – Jan 20, 2020

Three weeks ago, you may have written down a list of new year’s resolutions with goals like “save $20 a week” or “meditate for 20 minutes each day.”

It’s also highly likely that you’ve already abandoned your resolutions — according to one 2017 survey, 80 per cent of people drop their resolutions by February.

That’s why, this year, we’re hoping to take the focus away from making resolutions and, instead, put it towards resetting the most important parts of our lives.

READ MORE: Forget making resolutions — here’s how to reset the new year

When it comes to your mental health, happiness expert Gillian Mandich says it’s all about starting the new year at a slow, gentle pace.

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“When we get busy at the holidays, things get so hectic that we’re just rushing from one thing to the next and we aren’t able to put as much intention into what we’re doing,” Mandich told Global News.

“When we talk about resetting, it means stopping for a moment to take stock, take inventory of where you are, how you’re feeling, if you’re feeling the way you want to feel or if you’d like it to change.”

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Once you do that, you can look forward to the future and determine what you want your life to look like at the end of the year.

“You can determine what type of life you want to create and work towards that, as opposed to being reactive and just taking things as they come,” said Mandich.

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“Being proactive [means] deliberately choosing where you want to go and how you want to feel this year as much as possible.”

Here, Mandich and other mental health professionals offer some tips and tricks for resetting your approach in 2020.

Take the good with the bad

All your emotions and feelings are important — even the bad ones.

“If you’re feeling sad, angry, frustrated, anxious … all of those feelings are totally OK and part of the human experience,” said Mandich.

The next time you inevitably have a bad day, focus not on closing yourself off from the world but investigating what made you feel that way.

READ MORE: Postpartum euphoria is more than just feeling happy — experts say it can be a ‘lethal condition’

“Get clear on where those feelings are coming from and then you can go from there,” she said.

“The first step is really that awareness piece: what is in your life or your environment, and who are you surrounding yourself with? [Who and what] are contributing to the feelings that you’re having?”
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Once you know the answers to these questions, you can make decisions about who and what you want to keep in your life for the new year.

Write things down

You can use anything from an app to a journal to a document on your computer. The important part is that you’re documenting your plans for the future.

“When we talk about resetting our mental health, part of it is planning for how you want to feel,” said Mandich.

“Research shows that when we write things down, we’re more likely to follow through with it.”

READ MORE: How to talk to your kids about the death of a loved one

Another way you hold yourself accountable is to share your plans with a trusted friend or family member.

“That can really help to make your goals more realistic,” she said.

“Write it down, plug things into your calendar and then … every week or every month, check back in. Create a habit where you start to regularly check in with your feelings and course-correct throughout the year.”

Keep this simple mood-booster in your back pocket

Caring for your mental health doesn’t mean trying to be happy all the time, but boosting your mood can make the difference between a bad day and a good day.

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Christine Korol, a registered psychologist at the Vancouver Anxiety Centre, recommends something called “behavioural activation,” which is when you “track what you are doing and how it makes you feel.”

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In addition to tracking your actions, try to add “ACE activities” to your day-to-day life:

  1. Achievement: An example of this would be doing the dishes or finishing your taxes.
  2. Closeness: You could call a friend or go get a coffee with someone you love.
  3. Enjoyment: This could be as simple as listening to your favourite music. “Enjoyment is really important for busy people who cut out all fun to stay on top of their to-do list,” said Korol.

Korol believes this is one of the “most effective treatments” for depression and low mood.

Consider seeing a therapist

“Mental health is the accumulation of your thoughts, feelings and actions,” said Rana Khan, a registered psychotherapist at Couple Therapy Toronto. “Now let’s break that apart, and you can see where you stand.”

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Once you do that, you’ll be able to determine more clearly whether 2020 is the year you should see a therapist.

  1. Thoughts. Are you having too many thoughts? Are you have too few thoughts? Are your thoughts really dark and negative? Do you think that whatever you think never happens? If so, you might need to talk to someone about those concerns.
  2. Feelings. Do you find that your feelings match the situation that you’re in? Are you able to be happy when others around you are happy? Are you able to be sad when others around you are sad? Do you get angry when the situation doesn’t call for anger? If you find that feelings don’t match the setting, you might need to talk to someone about those concerns.
  3. Actions. Do you know why you do the things you do? Do you have reasons for acting the way you act? If you don’t know why you do the things you do and struggle with that, you might need to talk to someone about those concerns.

READ MORE: Vast majority of workers with mental health issues keep it secret from their boss: study

If you’re uncomfortable seeking professional help, there are some tools — Khan recommends exercise or journalling — you can try on your own.

“See if they help you cross the finish line. If you aren’t able to, that is completely OK,” he said.

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“There are people who can help you cross that finish line, and that’s when you can seek that extra support.”

This year, we’re hoping to take the focus away from making resolutions and put it towards resetting some of the most important parts of our lifestyle: everything from our finances to parenting and more. Each day this week, we will tackle a new topic with the help of the Global News’ ‘The Morning Show.’ Read them all here

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