Tackling 2017 on Your Own Terms

Resolving to meet the possibility of change—always ripe in the New Year—with an open mind, open heart and positive outlook can transform our realities into supportive, nurturing spaces to cultivate peace and happiness in day-to-day life. Like all resolutions, however, the intention to encourage kindness and compassion in your thinking often is easier said than done. Even the very process of setting New Year’s resolutions, and the rigid self-enforcement that accompanies them, can create feelings of stress and malaise.

“When life gets overwhelming and becomes more than we can handle, our mental health suffers,” Dr. Suzanne Nixon said. She is a licensed professional counselor, marriage and family therapist and the founder of Northern Virginia Integrative Therapy Center in Lansdowne. “Having healthy lifestyle practices to manage and cope with feelings of overwhelm increases our ability to stabilize our mental and emotional health. Without them, the gateway to anxiety and depression widens.”

Those healthy practices can include a wide range of activities and behaviors, but the degree of achievement you attain in sticking to them needn’t become yet another measure of your overall success as a human being. This year, avoid browbeating yourself to submit to the strict constraints of a traditional “New Year’s Resolution.” Rather, resolve to accept yourself where you are at this present moment and face the next 12 months with the following suggestions in mind for a calmer, more peaceful you.

1) Put down your device and go outside

There are myriad benefits to spending just a short time in nature, and those tend to multiply as the number of nearby electronics is diminished. Grab your dog, kid, spouse, friend or just a warm coat and enjoy an unplugged walk through one of Loudoun County’s many beautiful parks and preserves, then take note of how you feel after. This is also a great opportunity to try journaling and drawing (two more proven methods to boost our emotional well-being). Nature can spark creativity, so take a pack of colored pencils and a sketchbook along and see what pours out.

2) Take a yoga class and/or meditate

There are few better ways to minimize harmful mental chatter and tune into your body than a good yoga class. Loudoun has several studios with many styles from which to choose—do a bit of research, pick a location and class that speaks to you and don’t worry if you’ve never tried yoga before. Resolve to enjoy the experience, whatever it brings.

3) Treat yourself

Aziz Ansari’s character, Tom Haverford, on the hit television series, “Parks and Recreation,” said it best when he suggested that, once a year, everyone ought to take a day and treat themselves to … whatever! Shopping! Good food! Movies! Whatever gives you those warm, fuzzy feelings. Of course, everything in moderation, but an indulgence here or there isn’t going to torpedo your entire 2017.

4) Exercise and eat well

This is perennially on everyone’s New Year to-do list, and for good reason. We know being active and eating healthy foods is a major key to overall health—if you’ve experienced difficulty sticking to a new exercise regimen or nutrition plan in the past, this year, consider adding a bit of suggestion No. 4 to your grocery list. Try your best, but don’t punish yourself for the occasional dessert or day off from the gym. Nobody’s perfect. Just do the best you can!

5) Seek help if you need it

Fear of judgment or feelings of embarrassment keep many people from seeking the help of a licensed therapist or counselor. Still, these professionals can help fortify your mental health toolbox and give you the capacity to handle life’s unpredictable nature, as well as cope with day-to-day indignities that can pile up over time. Particularly if you’re in crisis or feeling anxious or depressed more days than not, it’s important to seek help. If you can’t make it to a doctor’s office, a quick internet search will reveal several hotlines to get you started.

6) Spend time laughing with people you love

It’s an old axiom that “laughter is the best medicine.” Today, many scientific studies also buoy this claim. Laughter produces mood-elevating chemicals in the brain and encourages bonding with the folks slapping their knees alongside you. This is another great opportunity to leave the smartphone behind, bust out a board game and spend time talking, laughing and mindfully connecting with loved ones.

A final reminder from Nixon: “Know that good mental health is comprised of healthy thoughts, healthy feelings and healthy behaviors.” And, she adds, it is within all our capacities to choose affectations and behaviors that will enhance our well-being and help to minimize depression and anxiety.

Life comes at you fast—in 2017, resolve to pause, take a breath and choose to respond, rather than react, to the changes and challenges that manifest. Your body and brain will thank you

for it.

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