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Martha Neary

Martha Neary is the PsyberGuide Project Manager, based at University of California, Irvine. Martha’s broad and varied research interests include healthcare disparities among minority populations, the integration of technology into mental health interventions, and early education, particularly in the areas of health and sexuality.

Five Mental Wellness New Year’s Resolutions
(and apps to help you achieve them)

Some of the most common New Year’s Resolutions focus on things like eating better, exercising more, saving more money. Of course, some of these popular resolutions also have often unintended mental health benefits. But in the name of self-care, why not start the year with a concrete, deliberate effort to take care of your mental wellness? Here are five resolutions that can help you take steps towards a mentally healthier 2019 – and some digital tools that can help you on your way to achieving them.

Get More Sleep

A good night’s sleep can really make a difference to how you feel during the day. While insomnia is often associated with mental health problems like depression and anxiety, research has shown that this relationship works both ways; poor sleep may actually contribute to the onset of mental health problems1. As a self-confessed night owl, I’m trying this year to set myself a healthier yet realistic bedtime, and ease myself into sleep by at least starting to wind down by a certain time. There are lots of apps that can help with this: Sleepio and Sleep Cycle are just two that can help you track and identify patterns in your sleep cycle over time. If you need help winding down and falling asleep, try iSleep Easy, which contains meditations and sleep sounds to help you drift off. Many meditation apps also offer sleep meditations and sleep stories – check out Calm, Headspace, Stop, Breathe & Think, and Insight Timer. If you struggle specifically with nightmares, DreamEZ may be a useful tool.

Be Active

We’ve heard time and time again that physical activity has mental health benefits2 – exercise is well known to stimulate the body’s natural feel-good hormones which can make everyday stresses and problems seem more manageable. Spending some time focusing on physical activity and exercise can also act as a form of mindfulness and offer a distraction from daily stresses and worries. Try to focus less on the number you see on the scale and instead focus on how being active makes you feel – exercise has both immediate benefits (it can help boost your mood) and can also help you feel more energized, focused and lively throughout the day. Start small – if you don’t already exercise regularly, how about starting with 30 minutes exercise a few times a week? If you’re a FitBit or Apple Watch user, this is a great way to track your physical activity each day. You can also use apps like MyFitnessPal to track activity and give helpful reminders to be more active throughout the day.

Practice Gratitude

Research has shown that making a conscious effort to give thanks every day can increase our general sense of happiness 3 . One great way to start practicing gratitude is to take a moment each day to think of three things you’re grateful for. The beauty of practicing gratitude is that it encourages you to notice and be thankful for small, otherwise unnoticed details – for example, today I’m grateful for coffee, spellcheck, and finishing this blog post. You can use apps like 365 Gratitude, Secret of Happiness and Gratitude to document what you notice each day; best of all, you can set custom reminders on the app so you don’t forget to do this.

Learn a new skill or hobby

Spending time on a hobby can enhance our mental well-being, and people who spend time on recreational activities tend to be more alert and better equipped to cope with stress 4 . Plus, learning a new skill can help increase confidence and give us a real sense of achievement. While many hobbies will require a break from screen time and actually (gasp) going out into the world – there are a couple of apps that might spark your love of learning something new. Khan Academy allows you to learn almost anything for free, from math and economics, to art history and science. The DuoLingo app can help you learn a range of languages; they currently offer content for 26 languages. If you already have a goal in mind, SuperBetter provides a fun, gamified way to achieve goals and track progress.

Use less screen time

I’m clearly a proponent of using our phones to help us stick to our resolutions through reminders, tracking, and helpful content – but you may also consider using less screen time this year. I’m not talking about a full digital detox (we want our goals to be SMART, after all); however, reports suggest that the average American adult spends most of their waking hours staring at a screen. There’s an increasing number of studies reporting negative consequences of over-exposure to screens – we’ll have more on next month’s PsyberGuide blog on how to strike a balance between excessive screen-time and using the positive functionality of our devices. For now, apps like Moment or the iOS 12 Screen Time app can help you monitor your own screen time and make some positive changes.

Here’s to a happier and healthier 2019!

References

  1. Freeman, D., Sheaves, B., Goodwin, G. M., Yu, L.-M., Nickless, A., Harrison, P. J., … Espie, C. A. (2017). The effects of improving sleep on mental health (OASIS): a randomised controlled trial with mediation analysis. The Lancet Psychiatry, 4(10), 749–758. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(17)30328-0
  2. Taylor, C. B., Sallis, J. F., & Needle, R. (1985). The relation of physical activity and exercise to mental health. Public Health Reports, 100(2), 195–202.
  3. Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–421. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.60.5.410
  4. Street, G., James, R., & Cutt, H. (2007). The relationship between organised physical recreation and mental health. Health Promotion Journal of Australia: Official Journal of Australian Association of Health Promotion Professionals, 18(3), 236–239.