It happens every January first: filled with the spirit of optimism that comes with the New Year, you make a long list of resolutions – big life changes you’re determined to make, starting today.
It happens every January second: as the stressors of everyday life begin to pile on (again), one by one every resolution on your list is relegated to “not now” status, and you return to the same old frustrating habits.
Sound familiar? Many of us fall into the New Year’s Resolution trap – making promises to ourselves we’re really not able to keep, and ending up feeling disappointed. For those of us working to manage depression, that can be a recipe for disaster. Instead of setting ourselves up for failure with unrealistic resolutions, we need reasons to feel good about ourselves and our accomplishments.
Does that mean resolving not to make any more resolutions? No way. The start of the year is as good a time as any to take stock of what’s working in your life, and what needs tweaking. But too many of us buy into the notion that a New Year should mean an entirely New You, a clean slate where anything is possible. In reality, we’re still the same people, in the same bodies, living with the same relationships and character flaws and challenges.
This article is your invitation to trade in that wishful thinking for realistic, positive, manageable resolutions, especially when it comes to fighting depression. We’ve provided some guidance for developing your own achievable depression-fighting resolutions, and have even suggested three possible resolutions you might want to explore.
- Think reasonable. The key to making resolutions you’ll actually keep is setting realistic, short-term, manageable goals. For example, rather than declaring “This year I’m going to lose 50 pounds and land a new job,” try taking smaller bites of the apple, like resolving to make one healthy food “swap” in your diet each month, or to revise your resume. Your chances of success are much greater, and once you’ve achieved one of your reasonable goals, you can move on to develop another – you don’t have to wait until next New Year’s Day!
- Make a plan. Experience shows that people meet with more success when they begin by setting a clear goal and making a plan to get there. Our Goal-Setting Worksheet is a great tool for thinking through a goal (or resolution) and how you’ll achieve it. Whether you’re undertaking one of the resolutions we suggest below or developing one of your own, this tool is a good first step to success.
Three potential depression-fighting resolutions for 2012
Interested in starting 2012 with a more realistic approach? Below are three suggested depression-fighting resolutions that make use of tools found right here in the Depression Toolkit. (Remember: no need to undertake them all – to start, try taking on just one.)
#1. “Resolved: I’m going to keep better track of my recovery process.”
If you have a treatment plan in place to help manage the symptoms of your depression, chances are it contains one or more of these components: taking medication, participating in psychotherapy, engaging in daily physical activity, making sound nutritional choices, taking steps to manage stress, and more. Are you getting the most out of each part of your treatment plan? The best way to find out is to do a little tracking to compare how your daily activities are helping improve your mood and manage your symptoms.
The Depression Toolkit has a number of different tools you can try for tracking
Or for a more comprehensive approach, try tracking a number of factors together.
Armed with the information you discover from keeping track of one or more aspects of your treatment plan, you and your healthcare provider can determine what’s working, and what needs adjusting to give you more symptom-free days.
#2. “Resolved: I’m going to take steps to sleep better.”
Good quality sleep is often the first thing to be compromised when we’re overscheduled, overstressed or suffering from depression. But you don’t have to settle for inadequate rest. There are steps you can take to build a healthier sleep routine. The toolkit has a number of suggestions for improving your sleep environment and schedule. Check them out here.
To help identify patterns that might be impacting your sleep (like staying up too late on weekends, or exercising too close to bedtime), you might find it helpful to track your sleep over time, using our two-week sleep diary.
#3. “Resolved: Besides the steps I’m taking to manage my own symptoms, I’m going to find a way to get involved in my community, or in the fight against depression.”
While your first priority should be looking after your own health and taking an active role in your own treatment, there are additional steps to consider taking that can make a difference in both your life and the lives of countless others.
- Think about volunteering. When you make a difference in the life of someone else, you’re likely to increase your own self-esteem and decrease stigma. Virtually every community and organization has a need for volunteers. Wondering where to start? Websites like Volunteers of America, VolunteerMatch, or Network For Good, can help you find opportunities that fit well with your interests and schedule.
- Consider advocating for the cause. Depression is both a personal battle and a national epidemic. Several national organizations are advocating for improved treatments and access to better care for everyone. To find out how you can get involved, visit one of these websites:
- Explore participating in clinical research. Every person who has ever taken a prescribed or over-the-counter medication or taken part in a proven mental health intervention like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy owes a debt to those who volunteered to participate in a clinical research study. Learn more about clinical research here.
Research studies into the causes and treatments for depressive illnesses are taking place across the country. To find out whether you are eligible to participate for a study near you, visit:
If you live near the University of Michigan, find out how you might participate in U-M Depression Center research here.
None of our suggested resolutions appeal to you? No problem – they’re only thought-starters. Feel free to develop your own.
Here’s wishing you the best of luck and a Happy, Brain-Healthy New Year!
Contributions to this article were made by faculty and staff of the University of Michigan Depression Center.