As the new year approaches, many find themselves setting goals for 2023, whether they want to learn a new language, finally take a different direction with their career, or experience new things in life. Others may have learnt a thing or two from previous years and may know better than to make plans or set resolutions, given how unpredictable things have been, both in Sri Lanka and across the globe.
However, it appears that people, especially young people, are planning on prioritising their mental health in 2023, a welcome change in how we look at our health and wellbeing. New Year’s resolutions typically involve going on a healthy diet, exercising more, or losing X number of kilos. We rarely promise ourselves better mental health, where we listen to our mind and the warning signs it gives us and actively work towards resolving certain issues that may set us back or make it difficult for us to reach our full potential.
A study conducted by Forbes Health and OnePoll found that, of the 1,005 adults questioned last month, 45% said improvement in mental health was one of their top New Year’s resolutions. In comparison, 39% said improved fitness was their goal, 37% wanted to lose weight, and 33% cited an improved diet. Forbes Health added that among those aged between 18 and 25, 50% said improved mental health was their top resolution – this number was 49% among those between 26 and 41 years.
While the survey was carried out in the US, thus making it difficult to generalise the findings, especially in Sri Lanka, it is fair to say that conversations around mental health and prioritisation have increased, especially among younger people. As Forbes Health notes, there is perhaps a cultural shift in what is valued when it comes to wellness, pushing back against the idea that health is measured simply by the number on the scale.
Forbes Health quotes Harvard-trained clinical psychologist, professor, researcher and Forbes Health Advisory Board Member Dr. Sabrina Romanoff as saying awareness about the importance of mental health has drastically increased among younger generations.
“This is likely due to the combination of amplified exposure, learning about the experience of others through various outlets (e.g. social media platforms, videos, blogs, articles), the proliferation of the mental health industry, and reduced stigma (that) has created more resources to discuss experiences and receive care,” Dr. Romanoff said.
While we may still have much to do regarding mental health awareness in Sri Lanka, conversations have been taking place, especially online. In 2021, for instance, swimmer Kyle Abeysinghe took to Instagram to talk about being diagnosed with what he referred to as a debilitating mental disorder.
“After the initial shock subsided, this diagnosis seemed almost like a death sentence. All that I had planned for, all that I had dreamed of, it all seemed to slip away from me in the space of a few minutes,” Abeysinghe wrote, adding that with the help and support of his doctors, family, and friends, he had now reached a place of stability.
“I hope that in time, mental health, and more specifically, mental illness, and the conversation surrounding it, will be one that can be had comfortably, openly, and with less stigmatisation,” he went on to say.
While online programmes like the Shhh talk show by Shanuki de Alwis have also shed light on various mental health concerns, organisations such as Sumithrayo, Sri Lanka National Association of Counsellors, and the National Institute of Mental Health use online platforms to spread awareness about mental health, keep conversations going, and encourage people to access the services and resources they need.
While we talk about prioritising our mental health, especially in 2023, we, however, cannot ignore how the expectations of a new you in a new year can weigh one down. While a new year can fill us with excitement and optimism, it can also cause a lot of worry and dread about failing to make the most of a new year or not being able to make a significant change or improvement in one’s life. Hearing about what others achieved in 2022 and hope to achieve in 2023 can make us feel like we are falling behind.
“While goals are motivating to some, they also may paralyse others who feel overwhelmed by the resolution,” Dr. Romanoff said, explaining that instead of motivating the person to achieve the goal, it may cause them to feel stuck in achieving them if too improbable.
If you are stuck on where to start, she suggests categorising goals between short and long-term, finding compatibility between goals, anticipating obstacles, being flexible, and finding a way to transform one’s goals into values.