With the New Year almost upon us, this time inevitably brings about reflection. We assess what went well, what didn't, and what we hope will happen next. We resolve to be healthier, kinder, and more active, or to be more open to love in the coming year. The thing we forget from time to time, buried in all the new-year-new-you rhetoric and promises to lose 14 pounds in 14 days is taking care of our mental health first and foremost. Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, an NYC-based licensed clinical psychologist, explains, "It takes a lot of mental toughness, self-love, and discipline to create the life you want."
Below, we outline the best New Year's health tips, ones that don't have a weight-loss or significant-other goal in mind. They're helpful for your mind, body, and soul all at once—each one bringing about a different way to feel better come 2020 (healthier, more active, and stimulated). Keep scrolling for experts' sage advice.
Look at your surroundings. If you're constantly wading through junk drawers and cabinets stuffed to the brim, it's time to clear the clutter. "Cluttered spaces reflect a cluttered mind," says Hafeez. She continues, "If you want to wipe the slate clean to allow room for new people and circumstances that serve you, you must get your mind clear. Many of my patients who describe themselves as anxious, stressed, or even depressed say they feel better when they start clearing up their physical space," recommends Hafeez.
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Hafeez works with a lot of patients to help them overcome body-image issues. With that in mind, she encourages aiming for smaller, attainable wins. "People set high fitness goals for the New Year and then fall off after a month or less. This leaves their self-esteem shot, which is when self-loathing and depression can sneak in," Hafeez says. She advises setting a reachable daily goal, like walking 10,000 steps per day. There are step-counting apps available to measure how much you walk, and they add up quickly. “When you see accomplishment on a daily basis, you stick with it, this sets your mind in a positive direction,” says Hafeez.
Working out with a partner improves results and makes the going-to-the-gym experience a more enjoyable one. "Having a partner to provide encouragement during workouts can help you get the most out of your exercise," says Vince Sant, a certified trainer and the co-founder V Shred. When you have someone relying on you to do the same, it makes you accountable and more likely to show up for yourself and your partner. Plus, it's more exciting that way.
There are tons of essential nutrients you can get from food that support your brain function, manage stress, and just generally make you happier. An improved diet can be part of the easy, attainable shift you've been looking for. "Research finds that along with other benefits, foods rich in omega-3, like some fish and nuts as well as those full of antioxidants, can help protect the brain from memory decline," says Hafeez. So adding salmon and fruits like blackberries and blueberries to your diet can help with memory and concentration, as well as staving off possible mood and anxiety disorders. The good news is that brain- and mood-boosting foods also include chocolate and avocados (two of our favorite things).
According to Hafeez, a clear path toward mental fitness is forgiveness. "Carrying around resentments and guilt wears us down and, believe it or not, can lead to serious illness," says Hafeez. "If you experienced a tough breakup, argument, or perhaps the political climate has led to disheartenment and lost friends, reach out, allow yourself to forgive, and move on," she adds. Remember, forgiveness doesn’t mean you condone hurtful behavior. Instead, it frees you and allows you to move forward without added baggage.
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Challenge your brain by learning to cook, paint, or speak a new language. Try yoga, meditation, or Tai Chi. Pick something you think would be interesting or useful to learn, and go for it. "If you avoided cooking your whole life, learning the basics will serve your brain very well," Hafeez says. "The more we can activate the cognitive functions of our brains, the better our short- and long-term memory, as well as our hand-eye coordination will be," she explains.