4 Essential Mental Health Lessons Everyone Should Know, According to a Psychologist
If focusing on your mental health is on the top of your list for 2020, listen up.
In my work as a clinical psychologist, there were two New Year's resolutions I heard the most for quite some time: I want to lose weight, and I want to save money.
But in the past year or so, I've noticed a big shift. I've been hearing more resolutions such as "declutter my brain", "simplify my life", "meditate more", and "be more mindful". I think this is pretty huge—evolving, letting go of old baggage, and taking care of the mind are becoming more commonly thought of as worthwhile goals.
And if upping your mental game is on your to-do list for 2020, these major lessons I've learned during my career can help you thrive in the new year and beyond.
Lesson #1: You can improve your mental health on your own.
Therapy is great. And if you need it, you should get help. (FYI, here's how to find the best therapist for you.)
But realistically, most people can only go to therapy once a week—two, if they're lucky. So what are you supposed to do if you want to prioritize self-development, but you can't spend several hours every week talking out your feelings?
Luckily, there are two super effective practices you can do on your own to feel more centered and get to know yourself better.
The first is journaling. Try to do it every day. You can just vent if you want. You can also write with a specific purpose, like recounting your life from childhood to adulthood, looking for places where you might need to dig deeper. Feel free to write in a stream-of-consciousness manner, without any punctuation. Just get it all out on the page, and you'll be surprised what you can work through on your own just by writing it down.
The second practice is breathwork. You likely know about the mind-body connection, but most people don't know how to strengthen or access it. That's why I teach breathing because it helps you join the body and soul. When you breathe calming breaths, it helps your brain and nervous system align, and you'll be able to integrate that information that your brain knows but your heart doesn't more quickly and more thoroughly. (Related: 3 Breathwork Techniques That Can Improve Your Health)
Lesson #2: The "how" is just as important as the "what".
When you set a goal or resolution, it's natural to focus on the outcome or what you hope to achieve. But how you're going to get there is just as key, if not more so.
Let's say you want to love your body in 2020. You need more than just a Post-It note with an affirmation on your mirror to make that happen. Although those little things can help, actually getting to the core of the issue is necessary for real change.
How do you do the work necessary to make that change? That's what you need to focus on in order to be successful. Journaling, breathwork, meditation, and mindfulness can all help you figure that out. (Related: How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation Anywhere)
Lesson #3: The goal of self-love is not enough.
Lots of people have "self-love" as a goal, and that's great. But what does that actually mean for your real life? Usually, it's that you actually want to have better self-esteem, or you know that you can't love anyone else until you love yourself. These are big, meaningful words, but when you get down to it, you have to really break down what you mean by wanting to "love yourself more". (See: This Woman Perfectly Explained the Difference Between Self-Love and Body Positivity)
Here's an example: Maybe you've been told you're self-deprecating, and you're not great at accepting compliments. You know this about yourself. So, your first step toward self-love is to start accepting compliments and pausing to acknowledge when you do feel beautiful or smart.
Lesson #4: Most people misunderstand self-care.
Self-care is a common New Year's resolution. And it usually brings up the image of going to an appointment: a massage, pedicure, facial, etc. It's true that those things can help you feel taken care of. But in today's world, everyone is so over-scheduled that self-care can actually be canceling things. (See: I Practiced Saying No for a Week and It Was Actually Really Satisfying)
Self-care can also be setting aside your to-do list, or letting your kids eat pizza two nights in a row so you can do something you really want to do. I see so many moms who let their kids' appointments take complete precedence over their own mental health and busy professionals who let their workloads take over their entire lives. Sometimes, you may even use these obligations to avoid what's really going on internally. You immerse yourself in everybody else's needs, so you don't have to meet your own. (Related: The Problem with the Wine-and-Bubble-Bath Style of Self-Care)
You think you have to do everything yourself because if you don't, it won't be done correctly. But you know what? Self-care means not allowing yourself to be a martyr. Sometimes, you have to let the other stuff go, so you can take "you time" to go to the gym, meditate, or sit quietly for 30 minutes. Because without those small moments that aren't for anyone else, you can't truly take care of yourself