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Happy New Year! We are nearly a couple of weeks into January and it is quite likely that more than a few people reading this have made new year’s resolutions. It is not an understatement to say that the vast majority of these resolutions will be health-related. Quitting smoking, doing more exercise, eating less junk food, eating more fresh fruit and vegetables, drinking less alcohol, drinking more water… The list goes on and on. Of course, there is nothing wrong about making such resolutions and even if we only manage to maintain a few of the promises that we make to ourselves at the start of the year, we will experience some health benefits. It is always interesting to me to see how so many of the resolutions we make are related to physical health and how few are related to mental health. Mental health issues (most commonly anxiety and depression) are thought to affect one in four people at some point in their lives and the Office of National Statistics (2014) highlighted that 12.7% of all sickness absence days from work could be linked to mental health issues.

With such statistics in mind, it would seem appropriate to consider new year’s resolutions that will be of benefit to our minds as well as our bodies. Here are a few that you might want to consider:

  1. Practice Positivity

A positive, optimistic outlook does not come naturally to us all. Many of us consider ourselves to be pessimists and tend to focus our attention on the negatives. However, it is possible to foster a more positive outlook through repeated practice. One way of doing this is to force yourself to think of two positive thoughts for every one negative one that you have. For example, you look out the window and see that it is raining. Your instant (negative) thought is that you will get wet. However, your positive thoughts could be “My plants will get watered” and “There might be a lovely rainbow afterwards.” For those with a deeply embedded negative outlook, such thoughts will feel ‘false’ and will not come naturally. Stick with it; in time and with practice, you will notice that it becomes easier. It might not turn a pessimist into an optimist, but it will offer a more balanced outlook.

  1. Live in the present

Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher and writer, is reputed to have once said: “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” There is indeed some truth in this. We cannot change the past and obsessing over things that have happened is a waste of mental energy. Similarly, worrying about what could happen in the future is only going to mean that you live in a state of uncertainty and stress. When working with clients, I encourage them to focus their attention on the ‘here and now’.

  1. Accept yourself

Perfection is an impossible, unattainable goal. Just as no work of art can be considered to be ‘perfect” (look at the wonky smile on the Mona Lisa), nobody is a flawless, ‘perfect’ being. Understanding that the pursuit of perfection can only lead to frustration and unhappiness, we should focus our attention on self-acceptance and being more patient and understanding towards ourselves.

Taigh Sàmhchair: professional counselling and psychotherapy

Hereward Proops MBACP, registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

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