I’ve been thinking a lot about what to write in this blog. Traditionally January is linked with fresh starts and new beginnings and with the Christmas break and the start of they year giving us time for reflection, often its seen as a chance to look forward, set goals and head towards a bright new future. It seems like the perfect thing to link with mental health. Take a breath and take a step into your future with optimism.
Except that it isn’t always like this is reality.
I was talking this week with a very wise lady who was telling me that she hates new starts, new year’s resolutions and all the optimism that come with this time of year. For her the future is unknown and scary. Given what she’s been through to date it is not surprising that setting forth into the future is not something she relishes. What if things go wrong again? What if I struggle again? What if I can’t got out of a slump that I find myself in? What if it gets worse?
For some people a fresh start and some goals is exactly what is needed to motivate them. We do know that setting ourselves goals can help give us direction, motivate us to achieve and this can then have a positive impact on our mental health. In fact I even read an interesting article about a chatbot that helped a lady out of depression, by doing just that – setting her small achievable goals. So, don’t dismiss this approach as one that can really help. If we wait for the motivation to do something we may wait an awful long time (particularly if we’re feeling rubbish). Instead we need to set ourselves a goal and work towards it in spite of our lack of motivation.
But for some people new year does not feel like a good or positive time of year. In fact, it’s the opposite and the future is as frightening as their memories of the past. It’s like you’re stepping into the new decade dragging behind you large and heavy bags which slow you down and zap your energy. And if this is the case it may be that some of this baggage needs dealing with first.
Now as a Psychologist I’m a big believer in the power of talking things through, sometimes with a trained person like a Clinical Psychologist. But I’m also very aware that this doesn’t work for everyone. For those people who don’t find talking easy there may be other ways to unpack the baggage or leave it behind. Those ways are as varied as people are themselves. There’s a good evidence base for writing things down – perhaps your life story or writing about something difficult that happened or writing down what you’re struggling with. Or if writing is not you’re thing then dictate it into your phone or record it in some way. Then there are things like mindfulness practice. Or going to a group or meeting. There’s sports and exercise (in groups or alone), there’s arts and music as a way of expressing yourself or as a way of getting out the emotion.
But whatever kind of person you are (goal setter, baggage carrier or something in-between) the absolute first step is being kind to yourself. Recognise that critical voice which tells you ‘push harder this year’ or ‘don’t look forward, bad things might happen’. Everyone has a critical voice, and it’s hard to fight against. But noticing it’s even there is the first step to being ok with yourself. And from there, something, maybe anything is possible.