Tips for a Healthy 2021

Barely a month into 2021, Ontario is in the midst of an extended lockdown, a stay-at-home order and increased restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

The pandemic has made it difficult for many people to strategize ways to approach the new year with positivity and ambition when tackling resolution and goal lists. 

Anne Wilson, a psychology professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, has advice for those who may be looking to start the year on the right foot. 

“First is a piece of advice I’d give [for] any new year: don’t make a resolution just because it’s the new year—you can resolve to make changes at any time you choose. They’re most likely to stick if they’re meaningful and intrinsically motivating to you—things you want​ to improve not things you feel you should​ do,” Wilson said. 

“One reason the new year can be a good time to make resolutions is because it feels psychologically like a ‘fresh start’; a time to break with past habits and do something new. However, we don’t need a new calendar year for a fresh start—people sometimes launch a ‘fresh start’ at the beginning of a month, or even the start of a week.”  

Regarding the pandemic, Wilson believes that resolutions need to be readjusted to fit a more realistic set of circumstances and the potential for personal success. 

“The second piece of advice is pandemic-specific. Resolutions often focus on ambitious long term goals—fitness and health, financial, career, academic and social,” Wilson said. 

“These resolutions are often derailed even in a normal year, but some of these goals may be harder than usual to achieve if you’re facing pandemic constraints with closed gyms, financial or health worries, barriers at school or a job, and limited social connection.”

“This time has been hard for many people with regard to wellness and mental health, and remote classes are a major adjustment and have posed extra challenges for some students and teachers,” she said. 

Don’t make a resolution just because it’s the new year—you can resolve to make changes at any time you choose.

Anne Wilson, professor of psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University

Narrowing the scope of particular objectives will help make them more attainable, especially when people are coping with a variety of different obstacles related to the stresses of the pandemic.

“It’s ok to re-evaluate what is an achievable goal under the current circumstances. We often fool ourselves into thinking only ‘big goals’ will bring us satisfaction. It turns out that the small, manageable daily choices we make can boost our well-being significantly,” Wilson said. 

Having smaller actions that are worked towards day-to-day is not only more realistic but more likely to result in long-term progress, particularly in regards to overall mental health and wellness. 

“Some well-being supportive daily behaviours include physical activity, engaging in hobbies or leisure activities that are personally meaningful, helping others, spending time in nature, meditation, spiritual or religious activity—for those who find it meaningful—and maintaining social relationships,” Wilson said. 

“Even at busy times, we can often fit some of these activities deliberately into our lives—we might consider replacing some passive screen time (like Netflix or social media scrolling, which don’t boost well-being and sometimes detract from it) with one or more of these well-being-supportive alternatives.”

“Students may face extra challenges with schoolwork in this disruptive year as well. It’s early enough in a new term to reflect on what is going well and what could be better, and think about small, deliberate changes to help you achieve those goals as well.”

“Similarly, creating and sticking to a schedule with time specifically booked for each of your classes—even of some classes have asynchronous options—will help you build a routine and habit and avoid procrastination and the anxiety it often provokes,” she said. 

It’s incredibly important during this challenging time to be kind to yourself and recognize the gravity of what everyone is currently going through. 

“Even though I’m highlighting small, manageable changes that can benefit well-being, it’s important to emphasize that’s not always sufficient. It’s important to strive for some self-compassion at this time if you’re not where you hoped you’d be,” Wilson said. 

“We’re all suffering loss in this environment and you’re not alone, even if it feels that way sometimes. Reach out to friends and family for support, and to Laurier’s Wellness Centre.”

“… We are living through something momentous in history. It may feel mundane and even awful day-to-day, but these challenges are forging part of the character of who you will become—this is a time you’ll look back on and tell the next generation about,” she said. 

And if you are having a difficult time, it is important to acknowledge that it won’t be permanent. 

“Finally it’s worth remembering that this too shall pass. The pandemic has been long, and may feel even longer! We will come out the other side,” Wilson said. 

“Research has found that writing a letter to your future self or putting yourself in the shoes of future you and writing a letter back to the present from that vantage point can be helpful when we’re feeling low about current circumstances, and helps remind us that in the long view of your life, this pandemic year will be a fairly short blip.”

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