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A Guide for Making New Year's Resolutions When You Live With a Mental Illness


It’s hard to know what to plan for in a new year when you have a mental illness. I can say that some years have been relatively uneventful while others have taken me on a ride that I had not even vaguely expected. I’m one who loves to make resolutions and challenge myself to reach for goals in a new year, but when I’m pretty sure the year will whip me back and forth like a roller coaster, it’s awfully hard to know what I can accomplish.

This time I’m entering the new year in the midst of a major depressive episode. I know a lot needs to change, but the challenge is knowing what I have control over versus what is outside of my realm. I am going to push myself to do some things differently, but it feels like the hurdles I have to overcome are more so than the average person, so to speak. I’m not just overcoming habits, I’m overcoming an illness that has been affecting me for years.

When it comes to making resolutions for yourself this new years, it can be helpful to think of the following points:

1. Break big changes into smaller steps. I know that when I’m depressed I often think that everything is insurmountable. The smaller and more manageable a task is, the more likely I think I can tackle it. If I think of being healthier as just drinking a glass of water a few times a day to start, it seems like maybe I can do it. So it’s a start.

2. Know your most difficult issues and work around those. If you know that eating healthy is the hardest thing for you, focus on taking walks first. If you know that exercising is hard for you because of your anxiety, focus on meditation first. Starting with something that you feel more comfortable tackling can give you some success, building the confidence to tackle the harder things later.

3. Make your mental health a priority when you’re making resolutions. Ensure that you take care of your mental health as seriously as your physical health. Taking medications regularly, seeing a therapist and keeping doctor’s appointments can all be wonderful resolutions for those who struggle in these areas and want to make a positive change in the new year.

4. Take barriers into consideration. One of the things I tend to do alongside my new year’s resolution list is to list the barriers I feel will get in the way of my success and how I will tackle those barriers. This will help you be prepared for what you know will come your way as you move forward. An example is my barrier to taking walks is my fear of going outside. My coping mechanism for handling that is to have my iPod charged and headphones ready so I can have distraction while I walk.

5. Take supports into consideration. This is something that people often forget. Who will help you as you take on these challenges? None of us can succeed in making big changes without at least a little help. Know your supports and if you don’t have any, do your best to see if you can build some through support groups or meet-ups in person or online. Then, once you have them, be sure to use them.

6. Be kind above all else. No resolution was ever achieved with perfection. I struggle with giving up the second I hit any type of adversity… because I think that since I blew it once, it’s all over. Don’t let one bump in the road mean the end of it.  Get up, brush yourself off and keep moving. If you have a mental illness, you’re used to that anyway! So apply it to this as well.

Heading into a new year can be an opportunity, particularly for those of us who struggle with mental health issues. How do we make this year a little better than last year (or a lot better)? Taking it in stride and showing ourselves kindness can make all the difference. Happy New Year!

Getty image via Cn0ra