Mental wellness doesn’t just happen, and you can’t always tell how much work a person is putting into their mental wellness from the outside. While you might think that some people are just lucky or just happen to “have, it all figured out,” the truth is that everyone struggles sometimes, and it is often those who have struggled a lot who work hard at achieving mental wellness. As we start the new year, discussions around how to improve our mental wellness become a hot topic. As an anxiety therapist, I feel like everywhere I look, there are ads for free webinars and workshops to “help you make 2023 the best year ever”. It is likely that you are having the same experience I am. The trick is to determine what that means for you. What does your “best year ever” look like? I bet it’s different from another person’s ideal year. Mental wellness and how to get there are as unique as we are as individual human beings.
What is a Mental Wellness Plan?
A mental wellness plan is your approach to creating and maintaining mental wellness for yourself. We make a specific plan because goals are easier to achieve, and habits are easier to set and maintain when we have concrete action items to work with. If you want to enjoy more of your time this year, feel more resilient in the tough times, take more space to process your emotions, respect your boundaries more, and/or strive for more emotional regulation, that’s great! But then what? Once you decide that you want to respect your boundaries more, what’s the next step? An endpoint does not a travel guide make.
You may find that you experience obstacles to your mental wellness. Some of these may be out of your control, such as genetic predispositions. Others may be related to choices you’ve made, such as who you have around you, but are still tricky to navigate. Our mental wellness can be impacted by our living situation, our job situation, our interpersonal relationships, our physical health, our access to therapy, our access to hobbies and activities, and more. The important thing to consider when you are creating your action plan is what your highest values and needs are. Not everything you want access to or experience will be able to be prioritized right away, or in the manner you would like it to. But decision-making about how to spend your time will be more straightforward if you know where a goal ranks on your list and why you’ve placed it there.
3 Steps to Creating Your Mental Wellness Plan For 2023
1. Identify your mental health needs:
It is so easy to be influenced by what others say about what to do or how to improve our mental health. Especially when Instagram and/or TikTok is full of how-to videos that claim to walk you through a step-by-step process to “the perfect life.” However, what these videos will never be able to do is meet you exactly where you are and take into consideration your precise situation, abilities, and goals. It is great to be inspired by these videos and allow them to motivate you to identify what might work for you. You may see things that you wouldn’t have thought of or see someone who seems to be similar to you achieve something you might have thought would be out of reach. Inspiration is always helpful!
To know which tricks to use, which inspiration to chase, and which goals to set, we need first to identify our needs. So ask yourself: what is missing in my life? And ask yourself: what do I enjoy that I want more of? Why do I enjoy the things that I do? When we consider why we enjoy the things we do, we ultimately figure out how they help and benefit us.
When we are in the process of identifying, we often come across conflicting wants and needs. For example, we want more time to rest and relax, but also a spotless home. We want to feel comfortable in our skin, but we also want to control how that skin looks. We want more time with loved ones, but we also want to keep a roof over our heads and need to work a certain number of hours to maintain that. These conflicts can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. This is where you have to choose one that is more important than the other at the end of the day. It doesn’t mean that you can’t strive to organize your home more, but if you know that you need more meditative time to replenish your energy, then you know you have to make sure that that time wins out when it comes down to either/or situations. Another piece of this decision is that if you are someone who requires a certain level of tidiness to feel settled, then that is your threshold. So not only have you identified a base level for that need but also a liveable level.
The process of identifying your needs will be ongoing. Don’t pressure yourself to sit down and devise a finite plan in one hour. Begin to cultivate your list, and set aside time to revisit it as you need to. You will find that the way you prioritize the items on your list will change on certain days or even certain seasons of your life. Remember that if mental wellness is a lifelong goal, the maintenance of it will be as well. If you move, change jobs, change your marital status, have children, have your children grow up and move out, or any other major life changes, your tactics for mental wellness will change, also. Revisit your needs when you identify that something isn’t working and when you feel that something is. Take a moment to note something when you’re upset, but also set aside neutral time to reflect and consider.
2. Create a plan with measurable steps:
Many of us get caught up in the end result. We determine that at the end of the race, there will be an unmistakable sign that we have succeeded. In actuality, this idea (while it may be motivating on some level) is almost assured to be a direct route to disappointment. Why? Because how do you know what the end of the path looks like if you’re unsure which path you’re taking? Literally, picture your wellness plan like a map of trails. When you pick one, it leads you to a specific spot. You don’t just teleport to the end. You have to get there.
You might not know where to begin in your plan. You can recruit a person (or multiple people) to help you if you want. A close friend or family member might be a good person to sit down and troubleshoot with. Conversely, if you want to make sure you come up with a plan that puts your needs first, a neutral helper like a therapist can be a good resource; a therapist only wants you to be well and has no personal investment in whether you choose to take up knitting or go for hikes to decompress.
Once you have your plan in place, keep your support system going. Who in your life might want to join you at the yoga class you want to join? Who can you call if you feel overwhelmed and need to chat for a bit? If your needs conflict with an ongoing issue, can someone help you with that? For example, many people with ADHD struggle to tidy up their space but are overwhelmed by clutter. A technique that helps many of these people is having someone come over and sit in their space with them while they fold laundry, do the dishes, or go through that pile of papers on the desk. This technique is called body doubling. Is there someone in your life who you could trust to come to sit and chat with you while you do a chore? And is having a tidier home more important to you than your pride about someone seeing your mess? Revisit your priorities, and recruit accordingly.
These measurable steps allow you to create a how-to for yourself. Whether you want to start at the end and trace backward, block out time in your calendar, set reminders on your phone, or any other way to track bite-sized pieces of your goal, it makes your mental wellness goals far less overwhelming. Another benefit to measurable steps is that you can assign rewards to them. Waiting until “the end” of your journey to celebrate, to make time for happiness, or to consider how you feel about the work you’ve just done is a surefire way to diminish everything that you are doing for your mental wellness. We see and help a lot of people for anxiety therapy at our practice in Woodland Hills who are seeking a plan for their mental wellness, and we enjoy reminding them to celebrate their wins along the way.
3. Enjoy the process, not just the outcome:
When we talk about identifying steps we can take toward a goal, we can often become dependent on achieving those steps. It’s as if those specific steps are the only way for us to know how we are doing, and without achieving them, we are lost in the process. While these steps are important markers, they are not the only signs of growth, nor are they the only thing that matters about your efforts.
Let’s say that in your mental wellness plan, you have decided to journal three times a week (which is your measurable step) so as to identify and process your feelings more openly (which is your need). Inevitably, because of the way life works, there comes a time when you only journal once a week. This outcome may seem like a failure because you did not end up journaling three times; it can cause you to feel discouraged and ultimately give up. It is at this point that I want you to focus on the benefits of having journaled, not how often you’ve done it. Meaning: celebrate quality over quantity. Celebrate the mindset that you are in, thanks to your journaling. Even if you didn’t stop to write your feelings down, you still probably noticed and considered your feelings more because you are in the habit of checking in with yourself. Of course, the following week, I would like you to strive towards three times so that once a week does not become the new normal. But we don’t want having journaled once to stop you from noticing how helpful it was to journal, even if it was once that particular week.
Not everything on your action plan will make you giddy with anticipation. But how can you look at your tasks and find the fun in them? How can you make your mental wellness an adventure that you enjoy undertaking? The key here is to identify which pieces are easy to enjoy and really absorb them. Be mindful when participating in a hobby of just how good you feel and savor that feeling. Give yourself full permission to enjoy them. Some of the other parts of the journey will be rewarding but challenging. They will be easier to get through knowing that there are bright spots of unadulterated happiness on the path as well.
As much as you may strive to enjoy the process, keep in mind that nobody is happy all the time. That is not a realistic goal. The goal is to feel as emotionally regulated as you can, as often as you can. There will still be highs and lows, but the aim is for most of your time to be spent in the middle. It doesn’t make the highs any less exciting; it makes the lows more manageable and staves off the emotional volatility that leads to burnout.
Prioritizing your mental wellness is the ultimate act of self-love and self-care. Too often, we get caught up in everything we’re “supposed” to be doing or how we “have to show up for others,” and we relegate ourselves to the bottom of the list. Not only is this failing to meet our needs, but it also sets us up to burn ourselves out to the point that we don’t have anything to give to anyone. If you are struggling to put yourself first, start with the mindset of having more to give to those around you if you’ve met your own needs. Over time, continue to do the work to realize that you do deserve to come first. You can and will find a natural balance in your self-care and your generosity with others that won’t leave you feeling exhausted and drained but instead will leave you feeling energized and content.
Embracing You Therapy Can Help You With Anxiety Management
If you want to learn more ways to create mental wellness that works, feels authentic, and brings more calm into your life, reach out today and learn how anxiety therapy can help you. We’ll work together to find tools that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way.
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