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Old beliefs, new resolutions: How New Year’s resolutions affect mental health

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Setting the tone for the new year looks different for everyone; however, a tradition that many practice is setting a New Year’s resolution. Dating back 4,000 years, ancient Babylonians have been said to be the first to practice the tradition, according to the History Channel.

While the tradition was upheld for quite some time, many people are starting to stray away from the practice; others are becoming more mindful of how they set their new year goals.

“Typically, we want to set New Year’s resolutions because it has been the norm as the new year is approaching. It’s part of our culture, now, is to talk about New Year’s resolutions. It’s also very common to do reflections on the year that has passed and think about things that could be different,” said Dr. Danielle Henderson, clinical psychologist at IU Health.

Although setting goals is important, Henderson reminds people to not be so hard on themselves. “It’s hard to say if they [New Year’s resolutions] are good or bad. We just have to be careful about how we’re going about setting our New Year’s resolutions or our intentions,” said Henderson.

A very important factor is the why behind setting these goals.

“We want to really think about the why. Again, it’s probably part of culture to set these resolutions and intentions, but really thinking on a personal level, why are we doing this? Is it because we feel societal pressure or is it because I truly do want to work to make some things different in my life?” asked Henderson.

Dr. Anita Everett, director of the Center for Mental Health Services stated, “Too often, we set goals for ourselves, and when we don’t meet them, we can have feelings of failure that can ultimately lower our self-esteem, which can trigger stress and anxiety and take a toll on our mental health.”

Henderson advises all to think about how they set goals.

“We want things to be realistic, we want to be positive and add on positive behaviors to help reach our goals. Instead of saying, ‘I’m not going to eat sweets anymore,’ how about we say, ‘I’m going to add three to four vegetables to my diet daily,’” said Henderson.

She also feels the way we talk to ourselves is important in setting these goals. “I think how we’re talking to ourselves could be very helpful. We start out the year with great intentions and things come up. We get sick, we have stress, we get busy with school and work, and so thinking about what am I going to do if I miss a day?”

Henderson concluded that “change doesn’t happen overnight. There are many steps to making changes in our life, so be kind and patient with yourself. Give yourself grace and acknowledge what state of change you are in to figure out what you need to do to get to that change where you are taking action.”

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