This past year has been full of adjustments. And while we’re all looking forward to a brighter 2021, COVID-19-related worries can make traditional New Year’s resolutions more stressful to stick to. But who says you need to take a traditional approach to self-improvement?

“The problem with resolutions is that they can create an internal struggle between what you feel like you should do and what you want to do,” says Anne Klein, a psychotherapist at Evolve Chiropractic & Wellness Centre in Calgary.

Instead, make 2021 the year of mental health. This gentler approach gives you space to think about what you really want to change to feel better. It also leaves behind the idea of creating unrealistic goals that can ultimately make you feel worse.

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health. But these simple, low-stress resolutions can help boost your mental wellness for a happier New Year.

1. Create a new morning routine that fills you with positivity

If the chaos of COVID-19 has upended your day-to-day life, create some structure with a 2-minute morning routine.

“Start by reflecting on your first thoughts after you wake up. Then replace stressed or negative thoughts with positive affirmations,” suggests Klein. “It sounds trite, but it can make such a difference in how you start your day.”

A mantra as simple as “I’m good enough, and I can handle anything that happens today” can shift your thinking. It can help you feel primed and ready to take on the challenges of the day.

“You can also take a minute to make your bed for added structure,” advises Klein. “You’ll instantly feel more at ease.”

2. Avoid watching or reading too much news to keep your mental health intact

Politics, climate change and, of course, the global pandemic create a constant stream of mostly-negative news – one from which it can be tough to turn away.

“It’s almost like when you’re on a highway and you pass the scene of a car crash. Our instinct is to look,” says Klein. “But it can become overwhelming to focus on issues outside your control.”

Of course, you want to remain aware of what’s going on in the world. But if the 24/7 news cycle stresses you out, pare down your news-watching to an hour or two.

Instead, focus on issues within your sphere of influence. For example, you can write your MP about an issue that concerns you. Or, you can find a way to donate or give back to an important cause. More and more people are now taking action to support important causes like diversity and anti-racism. Here’s how you can start making a meaningful difference in the world.

You can also spend that time pursuing other intellectual goals, like reading or learning a new language.

3. Find a fitness routine that makes you feel good

Getting active is one of the simplest ways to boost your mental health. But you don’t have to reach a certain weight or physique to make you feel like you’ve achieved something. You’ll get added mental health benefits if you simply try to get active to feel good.

By treating exercise as the goal in itself, you’re more likely to succeed – and feel great about yourself in the process.

When it comes to exercise, any activity you enjoy works – whether that’s walking, weightlifting, dancing, skiing or something else entirely. If you crave group exercise, try an online fitness challenge. You’ll get a sense of community while staying socially distanced.

4. Learn how to keep friends during the pandemic

It’s no secret that social distancing has led to more social isolation. “It can feel all-too-easy to fall into a rut of friendship-over-text,” says Klein. “But try to make sure you’re reaching out for more personal connections.”

To maintain your friendships amid the COVID-19 pandemic, try:

  • watching movies with your friends using an app like Netflix Party, Zoom or Discord,
  • heading out for a socially-distanced walk outside, or
  • making time to chat on the phone.

“Sometimes just hearing your loved ones’ voices can make a big difference to your mental health,” says Klein.

5. Get mental health help and support when you need it

Let's be honest: you’ve got a lot on your plate, including:

  • the pressure of the pandemic,
  • the stress of the holidays and
  • the potential for seasonal affective disorder.

With all that in mind, this New Year may be tough. Reaching out to a counsellor or therapist for support can help.

Do you have employee benefits at work? Check to see if your benefits include an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This program offers free virtual counselling or therapy sessions for employees and their families.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, visit Lumino Health to find a mental health-care provider in your area. Many health-care professionals now offer virtual appointments or e-therapy sessions. This way, they can help people during the pandemic while reducing the spread of COVID-19. The empathy, care and personalized support you’ll get from a professional can help you reduce stress and live better and brighter in the New Year.