Mental health goals are not always top of mind when teens, young adults, and their families are considering New Year’s resolutions. But as your family prepares to flip the page to a fresh start on the calendar, it’s a great time to prioritize mental well-being.
“Taking a step back, evaluating your mental health, and being patient with yourself are key to being able to take on all that the new year can bring,” said Hailee Buras, an associate clinical mental health counselor at New Haven, an Embark Behavioral Health residential treatment center in Utah.
We sat down with Buras to learn about the importance of mental health in the new year, how to set mental health goals, and more.
Table of contents
- The Importance of Mental Health Goals
- Common Mental Health Challenges in the New Year
- How To Set Realistic and Specific Mental Health Goals
- 10 Examples of Measurable Mental Health Goals
- 1. Building strong support systems
- 2. Eating healthy foods and exercising
- 3. Practicing mindfulness and meditating
- 4. Using coping strategies to manage stress
- 5. Reducing screen time
- 6. Prioritizing sleep
- 7. Practicing self-care and self-compassion
- 8. Using healthy communication strategies
- 9. Removing substance use from daily life
- 10. Seeking mental health treatment if needed
- How Do You Maintain Progress and Track Mental Health Goals?
- Bringing Strong Mental Health Goals to the New Year
The Importance of Mental Health Goals
Think of a mental health goal as a roadmap. It provides a clear sense of direction and purpose to help your family understand what they want to achieve in their mental well-being in the new year. This roadmap is especially important for adolescents given the challenges they face. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, poor mental health during the teenage years can affect academic performance, decision making, and health, with many of the patterns established in adolescence carrying on into adulthood.
“Mental health is one of the most important parts of our lives, and we need to prioritize it,” Buras said. “If you or your teen or young adult struggles with mental health challenges, that impacts literally all other areas of your lives.”
She added, “Taking care of your mental health and focusing on specific mental health goals for the new year will help your family deal with any existing mental health concerns and lets you be proactive about your wellness.”
Common Mental Health Challenges in the New Year
Anxiety, stress, and depression are three common challenges for mental health in the new year.
Anxiety can affect anyone, and the new year itself can trigger anxiety for many people.
“Just thinking about the new year can make all of us feel overwhelmed,” Buras said. “We might be thinking about all the things we have to get done, or we might set very high expectations for ourselves about what we want to accomplish in the new year, or we might be nervous about the unknown. All of that is very triggering for anxiety.”
Uncertainty and change — two prominent aspects of transitioning into the next year — can trigger stress in many people. For teens and young adults, returning to school or work after the holiday break can also be stressful. While stress itself is not necessarily bad because manageable stress can build resilience, when it becomes overwhelming, it’s an issue.
“It’s dark and cold outside, and seasonal affective disorder is very real,” said Buras, referring to SAD, a type of depression related to the seasons changing. SAD is most common during wintertime, making winter mental health a real concern.
Buras noted that teens and adults can also feel depressed around the new year because they’re reflecting on the previous year, especially if that year brought its share of challenges. There’s also the emotional comedown after several months of festive holidays, as people can feel depleted and sad that celebrations are over.
How To Set Realistic and Specific Mental Health Goals
No matter what you envision for your family’s mental health in the new year, properly structured goals are highly motivating and will create a sense of purpose as you and your teen or young adult work toward positive changes. Here’s how to get started.
Create SMART mental health goals
The SMART acronym refers to goals that are:
Knowing exactly what you want to achieve for your mental health in the new year helps you avoid the ambiguity or unrealistic expectations that come with generic goals and objectives.
“You’re more likely to achieve goals that are structured this way, and you have a better understanding of exactly what you need to do on a daily basis,” Buras said.
Set daily, short-term, and long-term mental health goals
Setting daily, short-term, and long-term goals can lessen anxiety and help with any mental health struggle you or your teen or young adult are having, according to Buras.
“If you’re overly broad, you might say, ‘I want to better handle my anxiety in the new year,’” she said. “Sure, that’s a great objective. But that doesn’t help you track your progress or stay focused on what you need to do now or next month. Instead, you could say, ‘I want to notice a lessening of my anxiety in the new year, and I’m going to start with daily deep breathing exercises and then try mindfulness in a couple of months.’”
10 Examples of Measurable Mental Health Goals
When your family is considering mental health goals, remember the different factors that contribute to emotional resilience and mental wellness, such as a good support system, a healthy lifestyle, and coping and communication strategies.
1. Building strong support systems
“When we’re struggling, it’s important that we don’t feel alone,” Buras said. “Your support network can include close friends and family members if those family relationships are healthy. For your teen or young adult, it could include teachers whom they feel they can trust and reach out to when they’re concerned about something. A therapist can also be an important member of your support system — every single person can benefit from a little professional help with life’s problems.”
2. Eating healthy foods and exercising
A healthy diet can benefit physical health and improve gut health, which has been linked to better mental health. Focus on fiber-rich foods, lean poultry, seafood, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Probiotics — think fermented foods, like yogurt and sauerkraut — are beneficial too. On the flip side, avoid heavily processed foods, and limit sugar intake.
Exercise can also benefit mental health given its ability to relieve stress and boost mood. It can be especially helpful for those dealing with challenges like anxiety and depression. All exercise is beneficial, from walking to organized sports, but for added benefits, you may want to consider yoga, which incorporates mindfulness techniques.
3. Practicing mindfulness and meditating
Mindfulness and meditation practices can help reduce stress by promoting a sense of calm and staying present in the moment. Gratitude journaling, guided meditations through various apps or YouTube videos, or starting each morning with a daily affirmation are easy ways for beginners to try mindfulness or meditation.
4. Using coping strategies to manage stress
Coping strategies are techniques you and your teen or young adult can use to manage, reduce, or tolerate stress and emotional distress. Healthy strategies include physical activity, gratitude practices, talking to a friend or mental health professional, or spending time in nature.
5. Reducing screen time
As shared in a study published in Preventive Medicine Reports, there’s a correlation between increased screen time and lower psychological well-being in children ages 2-17. And children aren’t the only ones who get caught up in the digital world — adults do too. Those who use technology too much, including social media, may spend less quality time with family and friends and compare themselves to others more often, which can make them feel anxious. To reduce screen time, try designating certain areas or times as screen-free zones. For example, you might avoid using screens during meals or in the bedroom.
6. Prioritizing sleep
Not getting enough sleep can make it harder for your family to regulate emotions and deal with stress. Make getting proper rest a priority. According to the CDC, kids ages 6-12 need nine to 12 hours of sleep; teens need 13 to 18 hours; and adults 18 and up need at least seven hours.
7. Practicing self-care and self-compassion
Self-care refers to taking time for yourself so you can address your own needs, reduce stress, and pursue a balanced and healthy lifestyle. It might include engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation, finding ways to express yourself through creative hobbies, and setting healthy boundaries.
8. Using healthy communication strategies
Strong communication skills are foundational for building strong relationships, fostering understanding, resolving conflicts, and speaking up for your mental health needs. Cultivate better communication by practicing active listening, showing empathy, and asking clarifying questions if something is unclear.
9. Removing substance use from daily life
While some turn to drinking or smoking as a coping mechanism when facing life’s challenges, substances can have long-term negative effects on physical health, can lead to addiction, and may affect mental health. Buras recommended avoiding them completely.
“All the parties around the holidays and New Year’s Eve often make it hard to say no,” she said. “Share your boundaries with those you trust, and surround yourself with people who support your goals and don’t force you or shame you if you don’t engage in substance use.”
10. Seeking mental health treatment if needed
It’s never too early — or too late — to reach out for treatment.
“Don’t wait until you feel like you or your teen or young adult is in a mental health crisis,” Buras said. “Talk to a mental health professional whenever you want to be in a little more control of your life and your happiness, or especially if you feel like your mental health is keeping you from doing your normal daily activities. Therapy never hurts. It’s a toolkit for being proactive and addressing life’s problems instead of waiting for a breaking point.”
How Do You Maintain Progress and Track Mental Health Goals?
Monitoring your progress creates a sense of accountability for you, your teen, or your young adult. You’re more likely to stay on course and take responsibility for your journey toward improved well-being in the new year. Use a journal, celebrate your wins, and don’t let cognitive distortions set you back.
Use a journal to track daily progress
Journaling encourages self-reflection, helping you become more aware of your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. This heightened self-awareness lets you see the factors influencing your mental health — such as identifying patterns between stressful situations and how you react to them — and track changes over time.
Journaling also promotes accountability. When you write down your mental health goals and the steps you plan to take, you’re more likely to follow through. Think of it as making a personal contract with yourself.
Small successes build momentum over time, according to Buras. Acknowledging and celebrating these little victories can be motivating, reinforce positive habits, and help you maintain a positive mindset. If you’ve been using a journal, look back and see how far you’ve come, even during challenging times.
Don’t let cognitive distortions deter progress
“Cognitive distortions are irrational thoughts and biases about yourself or about events you’ve experienced,” Buras said.
Common examples include assuming what others are thinking, catastrophizing, which is anticipating a situation’s worst possible outcomes, and overgeneralization. These cognitive distortions can set you back and sabotage your progress toward your mental health goals.
“If you catch yourself thinking negatively about yourself or a situation, check the facts and challenge those thought patterns,” Buras said. “In most cases, the things we are thinking aren’t true.”
Bringing Strong Mental Health Goals to the New Year
By taking care of your mental well-being, you and your teen or young adult can embrace a new year full of possibility. Set and pursue SMART mental health goals, and track your progress.
“Keep it simple,” Buras said. “Start with something easy for you to be able to do in the long term to help your mental health in the new year. You can do it!”
Embark is the most trusted name in teen and young adult mental health treatment. We’re driven to find the help your family needs. If you’re looking for support, contact us today!