How many times has a new year begun and you’ve set yourself some pretty ambitious and well-meaning resolutions, before finding that by February you're ‘scaling back’, putting some things off for another time, or stopping altogether?
If that sounds familiar, it’s important to try to be kinder to yourself. We often have the best intentions, but life can get in the way, we’re not invested enough, or we’re just being unrealistic and not setting ourselves up for success. With the year we’ve just had, instead of believing you need to make big changes in your life right now (reminder: you can press the reset button and try new things any time of year, not just January), think about what will truly contribute to a happier you. What are the things that make you feel good, that bring you joy?
AXA Health Physiologist, Louise McKee discusses some goals to help you with your motivation and some much-needed focus for the year ahead.
1. Appreciate the small things
2020 was far from ‘normal’ with various lockdowns and restrictions across the UK. Globally it has allowed many of us to take a step back from a busy life and reflect on the smaller everyday things. Now more than ever it has become vital to focus our attention on what nurtures and sustains us in life, so try to continue to recognise the things that are important to you. For example, taking in the sounds and sights of a nature walk, appreciating a good cup of coffee and a book, or a phone catch up with a loved one. Doing more of these things can be a real boost to mental health and help alleviate anxiety.
2. Practice gratitude
Noting down three things you feel grateful for each day creates a positive feeling and reminds us again what is valuable. Not only does practicing gratitude improve our mental health, it can have a real boost on our relationships with others. The more you practice and bring attention to this, the more you will notice yourself feeling grateful. You could try this first thing in the morning, or last thing at night before you sleep – it’s a lovely mindful activity to do, especially if feelings of stress or worry start to creep into your mind.
3. Spend more time outdoors
Embrace the outdoors and all it has to offer! Take social gatherings outside (as long as you’re following recommended guidelines for where you live), schedule lunch breaks outside taking a walk, or take time to watch the sunrise or sunset from a local beauty spot. A daily dose of fresh air and Vvitamin D really does improve our mental health, as well as boosting energy levels and restoresing focus. Aim for 30 minutes of fresh air per day if you can, but even a ten-minute brisk walk, if that’s all that time allows, gives your mind a break and gets your heart going to release some endorphins. Read more about the benefits of time in nature here.
4. Aim to set a limit on blue screen use
As much as technology has great benefits, almost every task throughout the day in both work and personal life involves a screen or a form of blue light. Set yourself a limit on your daily screen use if you can. Whether that means setting a timer or keeping screens out of the bedroom – aim to have less screen time and use this time to have a conversation with someone instead.
5. Practice mindfulness
Becoming more aware of the present moment can help us enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves better. Mindfulness is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to prevent depression. Remind yourself to take notice of feelings, thoughts, body sensations and the world around you. Schedule time each day to focus on this while completing everyday tasks, such as washing up or brushing your teeth.
6. Moving daily
We will each have individual exercise goals based on what is compatible within our lives to fit around family, the working day and commitments; it’s about finding what works for you.
Government guidelines recommend we complete 150 minutes of physical activity or exercise per week of moderate intensity. Try to increase your activity level each day by walking on lunch breaks, or even by standing more during your working day. Exercise doesn’t just benefit physical health, but our mental health too.
7. Keep up social connections
2020 for many of us was the year of the virtual quiz. It’s important to reflect on why this was so beneficial to maintaining wellbeing during the peak of lockdown. Continue with the social connections you have built with family and friends into 2021, checking in face-to-face, if restrictions permit, or virtually.
8. Aim for a good night’s sleep
Sleep is often one of the most underestimated factors to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Creating a regular routine to help you wind down and prepare for bed is vital. Make sure you are getting enough sleep - the average adult needs around 6-9 hours of sleep per day. A good night’s sleep ensures we are rested and can function fully the following day. Have a think about your sleeping schedule and review it to see if any improvements are needed and set yourself a goal of achieving a solid night’s sleep. This may mean prioritising sleep over that late-night television programme! Our sleep hub has lots more articles with tips from our experts to help you have a better night’s sleep.
Tips for setting your goals
With goal setting in mind, when setting yourself personal goals try to use the SMART principles. Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound to give your goal some accountability and a sense of direction. Here is a common example of a goal without SMART principles:
“My goal for 2021 is to be more active.”
This common goal can be SMARTer by applying the principles above:
“My goal for 2021 is to exercise more, achieving a minimum of 30 minutes walking every day throughout January.”
Take control of 2021! Why not try one or two of the goals outlined above in 2021? Or, create your own personalised goal using the SMART principles. You’ll find lots of inspiration for ways to boost your mental and physical wellbeing in ways that suit you – and above all, are enjoyable - in our Feelgood health hub. Take a look and start your Feelgood journey today.