December 27, 2023

Whether you feel reborn—or even just a little bit reset—at the start of a new year, consider making your mental health a priority in 2024. Why? “Because that’s the gateway to everything else,” says Guy Winch, a clinical psychologist, author of Emotional First Aid, and co-host of the Dear Therapists podcast. “It’s the linchpin that allows you to succeed or to fail.”

With that in mind, we asked Winch and other experts to share the New Year’s resolutions they wish people would make in the name of mental health.

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1. Rethink your social-media use

Spend some time reflecting on whether you’d like to continue with the same online habits in 2024, says Nedra Glover Tawwab, a therapist and author of Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself. (If it’s hard to stop scrolling long enough to have an earnest conversation with yourself, take it as a sign that you need a change.) “Do you want to set some boundaries for yourself? Are there people you need to unfollow?” asks Tawwab. For example, you might limit yourself to 15 minutes on social media per day—or delete the most time-sucking apps from your phone during the work week. You could also challenge yourself not to check social media when you’re feeling glum, which is like throwing fuel on an already simmering fire. “The top of the year is a great time to consider how you want to do the rest of the year,” Tawwab says.

2. Reconnect with a long lost friend

That old adage—”Make new friends, but keep the old”—is one to live by, especially considering that loneliness affects physical and mental health, while strong social bonds are a salve. In 2024, Winch suggests resolving to reach out to “one person you lost touch with who used to be dear to you.” If you’re not sure how to open the conversation, he recommends sending a text message like this: “I was thinking about you. It’s been so long. How are you?” End the note with a smiley face, he adds. “That’s important because when you say, ‘It’s been so long,’ it can sound accusatory.” A smiley face, Winch says, can ensure the real meaning— “I miss you”—comes across.

Americans have an empathy deficit, says Calvin Fitch, a clinical health psychologist with Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He believes fostering empathy is the antidote to the divisiveness ripping society apart. “The fortunate thing about empathy is that it can be trained,” he says. “It can grow.”

3. Develop empathy for someone different from you

In 2024, connect with someone from a group you have a moderate level of difficulty understanding, Fitch suggests. You could follow someone from a different political, religious, or ethnic background on social media, spend time in their community, or even read about a fictional character from that group. “Aim to understand their perspective and read their emotions,” he says. “Try to be able to thoughtfully answer these questions: What makes this person happy? What makes them worried? What are their dreams? What experiences and emotions have shaped their world view? And how are their thought patterns similar to mine?” As Fitch points out, people with high levels of empathy tend to function better in society than those with low levels—with more robust social networks and closer relationships.

4. Stop ruminating about work

This can be the year you stop spending evenings replaying upsetting thoughts about the workday, or engaging in fantasy duels with your rude boss. The simplest way to counteract these unproductive thoughts—which might trigger a visceral stress response, like chest tightness—is to convert whatever you’re ruminating about into a problem-solving question, Winch says. Say you’re spiraling over how much work you have to do and how you’ll never get it done. “That’s the ruminative thought,” Winch says. “The problem-solving version is a scheduling question. When do I have time to deal with the thing that’s bothering me? What can I move or reprioritize? Do I need to look at my schedule to reassure myself I do have time?” Figuring that out, he says, allows you to “ease the stress and distress and continue on with your evening.”

5. Slate four activities each week

One way to buffer ourselves against life’s stressors is to engage in a wide variety of activities, Fitch advises. First, seek out something that’s pleasurable, like going to a football game or belting out your favorite Taylor Swift album. This sort of fun activity “decreases your reactivity to stress by helping you accumulate more positive events than negative ones,” he says. Then check off a “mastery activity,” like cleaning your house or running errands you’ve been delaying. You might not want to do them, but you’ll almost certainly feel better once they’re done. Also key are being social—a sense of belonging facilitates better health—and doing physical activities that get your heart rate going.

6. Do one small thing to alleviate climate anxiety

If you’re distressed about the state of the planet—and more of us are—festering in your thoughts will likely exacerbate the situation. Instead, take a cue from Winch’s family: Each year, they pledge to do one thing to ease their climate anxiety, like eliminating plastic bags, composting food scraps, or walking 15 minutes to nearby destinations in lieu of driving. “It’s overwhelming—I feel like I can’t get my arms around it,” he says. “But doing one small thing is a way of feeling like you’re upping your game.”

7. Write a thank you letter

Being grateful is linked with an array of benefits, including improved mental health—but that hinges on practicing it in a way that feels natural to you. Once a year or so, Winch likes to write a thank you letter to someone who did a small thing that they might not have realized had a big impact on him. “I tell them the context, and I tell them why I’m reminding them of something they have no recollection of,” he says. Once, he reached out to someone he had shared a summer house rental with years prior. The two are now close friends, but at the time, they didn’t know each other—yet the then-stranger had picked up a set of toiletries for him, since there weren’t any there. “It was so lovely and considerate and warm,” he says, and helped him feel immediately at ease. Now, thanks to Winch’s letter, his friend knows exactly how he feels—a boon for both of them.

8. Write ‘you time’ into your schedule every day

It could be just 10 minutes twice a day. The key is embracing designated time that’s all about you—and making it a standing meeting on your calendar. That way, “it’s seen as just as productive as any other business appointment you have,” says Kelsey Latimer, a clinical psychologist based in Florida. You might go on a quick walk outside, do some stretches, or close your eyes and embark on a guided meditation, she suggests. Silence your phone and close your office door (or Slack app) to let the people around you know you’re briefly unavailable. You’ll be much happier, and feel more energized, the rest of the day.

9. Check in with a professional

You could set all the mental-health resolutions in the world and still benefit from talking with a therapist or other licensed professional—someone who’s trained to help you optimize your well-being. If you’ve been to therapy in the past, the start of the year is a terrific time to schedule a catch-up session, Tawwab says; if it’s a new idea, check a directory like those run by Psychology Today or Good Therapy to find someone who’s available and affordable near you. “Do a mental health check-in just to make sure those bigger things are addressed, and to get their opinion on things that are coming up,” she notes. A therapist will be able to arm you with the tools you need to thrive in 2024—and beyond.

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