Posted January 05th 2023
Trigger warning: this blog contains references to eating disorders.
It’s the same story every new year: talk turns away from festivities and toward conversation surrounding fitness, hobbies, dieting, and weight loss.
On the first of January, all that is considered ‘bad’ for us is ditched as people endeavour to better themselves and change their lifestyles within a matter of weeks.
But are resolutions good for our mental health? Are we perhaps putting too much pressure on ourselves?
In a YouGov poll conducted in December 2021, 80% of a UK sample size of 2,118 adults said they did not make resolutions for the year 2021.
Within this sample, the 11% of participants who did make New Year’s resolutions answered that they were mostly focused on fitness, diet, and weight loss.
However, only 31% of these resolutions were actually kept, with 44% sticking to some, and 19% not sticking to any.
What is interesting about this research is that 16% of those who reported using New Year’s resolutions for the year 2021 said that they would continue to do so for 2022 – an increase from just 11% of those who said they made resolutions for the previous year.
Unsurprisingly, just under half of these resolutions also centered around fitness, diet, and weight loss.
These statistics led me to consider the efficacy of New Year’s resolutions, and if the pressure to change can negatively affect our mental health with particular regard to fitness, weight loss and diet, which can facilitate poorer body image.
The Mental Health Foundation suggest that particularly in the wake of COVID-19, ‘there is a real need to take a compassionate look at self-development and our mental health’.
‘Whilst New Year self-improvement can be a positive thing with benefits for your mental and physical health, they can also be fuelled by unhelpful self-criticism’.
They suggest what may be more helpful, instead of resolving to change, is to set a ‘theme’ for the New Year that encourages a ‘gentle approach to self-development’.
‘Being kind to yourself regularly is one of the best things you can do.’
They have also created a theme-setting template to help generate ideas surrounding positive wellbeing and self-acceptance.
For those still wanting to set resolutions, emphasising self-acceptance can also remind us to consider our mental health with each resolve we make.
Try asking yourself ‘will this benefit my mental health?’ before setting particular resolutions.
With this in mind, here are the two most common New Year’s resolutions, reframed to encourage positive wellbeing.
Move, eat, and rest
Across the board, resolutions pertaining to losing weight, improving fitness, and changing diet habits are the most common, year on year. However, resolutions that centre around changing our bodies can sometimes stem from unhappiness with the way we look in the present.
Resolutions that directly relate to our body can also be especially difficult for those with lived experience of eating disorders and body dysmorphia.
UK charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) highlight the importance of body acceptance in their online resources on body dysmorphia:
“The perfect body doesn’t exist. No matter what the scale says, no matter the definition of your muscles, or the hairs on your head, that image of the perfect body in our heads is make believe.
And chasing after it? It can make life pretty tough and sometimes can lead to other mental health issues such as eating disorders, obsessions and anxiety.”
It’s so important to remember self-acceptance when setting resolutions surrounding diet, fitness, and weight loss, and to be aware of what mental health conditions can often stem from putting too much pressure on ourselves to change.
Re-framing resolutions centred around body image with a holistic approach can be helpful.
Instead of focusing on the future outcomes of exercise, think about the benefits of moving our bodies in a way that feels comfortable in the present moment.
Mind.org provide a wealth of resources for those considering physical activity and mental health, such as what to do when getting active doesn’t work for you.
TalkED also emphasise ‘treat[ing] food and exercise as a form of self-care, rather than a tool to change the form of your body’ in their advice on dysfunctional dieting. Which also includes useful books to promote body positivity.
Remember, exercising and nourishing our bodies with nutritious food is great if we are able to do so, but putting pressure on ourselves may create or heighten feelings of dissatisfaction and distress.
Social media consumption: take time to unplug
Another common resolution is to limit the time we spend on our phones.
Whilst social media can be a powerful tool that allows us to feel connected to others and alleviate feelings of loneliness, it also can trigger feelings of comparison, anxiety and stress.
These feelings can often be created or exacerbated by the content we choose to view online. When considering digital wellbeing, it is important to question the content of our newsfeed and ask how this makes us feel about ourselves.
What feelings do certain accounts trigger? Are they positive?
By asking ourselves these questions we can identify and unfollow accounts that don’t make us feel good, and curate an online space that promotes positive wellbeing.
Although spending less time online may be the goal, it is equally important to ensure that the content we consume whilst we are plugged in sparks contentment, not negativity.
Mind.org provide a guide on digital wellbeing which includes suggestions that promote a healthier online/ offline balance, such as setting time limits for when to switch off and take a break.
Pressure and change
Often, what follows New Year resolutions is a sense of immediacy. It’s easy to fall into the trap of measuring progress or successes after just one month.
But it’s important to manage our expectations when setting resolutions to avoid adding unnecessary and in some cases, dangerous pressure.
SheffieldMind advises that when considering resolutions to remember that ‘change is a difficult process and if you’re already living with depression, anxiety or any other form of mental ill-health, the failure to adhere to resolutions might add to feelings of low self-esteem or make you feel that you lack control over your life’.
Without the added pressure of measuring change, we can focus on what our resolutions are, and what benefit they can bring to us in the present, not the future.
Remember that setting resolutions is not necessary, and if you feel unsure it’s important to reach out to your support system or mental health organisations such as Mind, BEAT, and The Mental Health Foundation.
The Mental Health Foundation | Setting a New Year’s theme
The Mental Health Foundation | New Year’s theme template
CALM | Guide to body image
Mind | Guide to digital wellbeing
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