The start of a New Year is when many resolve to take better care of themselves. If you have a goal to “be healthier” you should focus on improving your mental wellbeing as well as your physical health.
We talked to Dr. Angelo Alago from CU Medicine Family Medicine Depot Hill about how to set attainable goals and resolutions and take care of your mental health.
Techniques to set Attainable Goals or Resolutions
“Some studies suggest that New Year’s resolutions in general aren’t that good of an idea. Then there are some, one that just came out last year that indicates given the ‘right kinds of goals’ they can be successful,” explained Dr. Alago.
He said goals can be categorized into approach goals and avoidance goals, “Approach goals are things that you want to move towards, increase, things that you want to do more of. Avoidance goals are things you want to stop or do less of.”
Approach goals are more likely to be successful than avoidance goals so set yourself up to succeed by finding something you want to do more of, not less of. Then divide those approach goals into smaller goals and smaller objectives, things that lead to the big change or bigger goal.
Sometimes it can help to create artificial opportunities to succeed, “For example, when making a ‘to do list’ make the last thing you write but first that you check off, ‘finish writing this to do list,’ start with a success,” Dr. Alago explained.
He added that it can also help to connect a desired behavior or goal to something you’re already doing, “If you have a goal to increase physical activity, it’s a really common one, consider every morning, or every night, or both, after you brush your teeth, do a few pushups. You are connecting it with something you know is already going to happen.”
If you connect goals with something you are already doing it will increase the chance that you’ll actually do it.
Behavioral Health or Mental Health Resolutions
It’s best to look at mental health and physical health as one thing, not separate things. For example, increasing exercise is as much a mental health goal as it is a physical health goal.
“By doing things like eating better, being more active, you’re going to be helping your mental health justas much as you’re helping your waistline,” said Dr. Alago.
If you are just looking at the emotional aspects of your life and want to set a goal related to that, Dr. Alago said to value “openness.”
“The idea of being open to new experiences, the idea of being open to your own internal experiences, whether that’s thinking about something that you’ve been avoiding thinking or whether that’s allowing yourself to feel sad when it makes sense to feel sad. Allowing yourself to feel angry when something makes you angry, rather than trying to fit into these molds of ‘I should feel this way’, that is a great thing that all of us can do more of,” he added.
Mental Health Concerns are Common
The first thing to realize when making a goal to improve your mental health is you’re not alone.
20-percent of adults in the US, so around one in five, deal with some sort of mental health concern at a level that meets criteria as a diagnosable mental health disorder.
Those numbers don’t include those experiencing general elevated stress, typical anxiety, and decreased mood. You are not alone and don’t be afraid to make an appointment to talk to someone.
Experiencing good and bad days is a normal part of life but you should seek help when these emotions interfere with your everyday life, affect sleeping patterns, or your relationships with others.
Dr. Alago provides mental health service through the CU Medicine integrative practice model at CU Medicine Family Medicine Depot Hill. Click/tap here to learn more.
If you or someone you know is in need of urgent mental health support, call Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text “talk” to 38255. You can also chat online through the Colorado Crisis Services website.