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DEPRESSION AND NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

Did you set yourself any resolutions for this year?  How are they going?  Have you flunked out, yet?

If you have, you’re in good company.  Stop beating yourself up about it.  It turns out that sixty-five per cent of New Year’s resolutions fall through by the end of January.

In the past, a broken resolution to stop biting your nails, have a dry month or to lose twelve pounds by April was neither here nor there.  You thought, “So what if it didn’t work out?  There’s always tomorrow … next week … next month …”  You shrugged it off with nary a sigh and just got on with living.

If you’re suffering with depression now, though, New Year’s resolutions might pose something of an actual threat without your knowing it.

Think about it:  you’ve had a difficult time and have never been more hungry for some peace and a spirit that’s free from pain.  It’s tempting to think that you can achieve that simply by changing your circumstances.  So, you set yourself a few resolutions to force yourself to act differently, create new habits that are bound to change things and lead you back to happiness … but there are two problems, here.

Firstly, depression is a real illness.  You’re not suffering it because you have bad habits that need to be changed.  This is a condition that needs medical attention rather than a first aid box full of New Year’s resolutions.

Secondly, your illness is very unlikely to let you find the energy and willpower to stick to your resolutions in any case.  When your best intentions fall through, what do you say to yourself?  “I’m such a failure!”, or “It’s only January and I’ve already flunked this – I’m just rubbish …” are unhelpful affirmations and a good sign that you’re taking the efficacy of New Year’s resolutions far too seriously.

I recommend that you don’t make any at all.  Living with depression is challenging enough.  Put off making resolutions for when you’re well again – which you will be.

If you insist on making some, though, here are some great tips before you start scribbling out lengthy lists of dream goals.

1)    KEEP THE BAR LOW

Your list of resolutions this year should not resemble the ones you’ve made in years gone by.  If you’re suffering from depression, your needs and desires are going to be very different for now.

Forget the “bucket list” of daredevil stunts you want to pull off – leaping out of a plane, scaling Kilimanjaro or shark diving.  It may be enough for you to simply want to wake up every morning without pulling the duvet over your head to hide from the world.

Darren, a businessman in York, has suffered with depression for the last eighteen months.  “For me,” he says, “I’d just settle for going through a whole day without wanting to go back to bed in the middle of it.  Sometimes I just want to make the world go away for a while.  Stay up for a few days in a row – that’d be a pretty challenging New Year’s resolution for me!”

A list of resolutions might include things that you’d never want anyone else to see – like, “Undo the curtains every morning”, “Breathe when I’m feeling panicky”, and “Stick to at least one arrangement a week to see a friend”.  That’s okay.  Resolutions are better kept private, anyway.  Besides, this is you for now – not you for always.

2)    MAKE “TALK TO SOMEONE” YOUR TOP RESOLUTION

As suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of fifty, it’s imperative that we learn how to communicate better about how we’re feeling.

Make this your Number One resolution the year.  Find someone you trust – a relative, a friend or colleague – and try to talk about the physical and emotional way you’re feeling.  Don’t let weeks or months slip by before you release the pressure a little.  This is your first step to mental wellness.

3)    REVISIT AN OLD HOBBY

Doing something that you think you might find fun (even if you don’t when you try it) sends a healthy message to your subconscious.  Instead of finding a new hobby, though, you might try revisiting an old one that you haven’t practiced for some time – one that you remember brought you joy and satisfaction.  This can be easier than starting something new and will improve your chances of doing it more often.

Is there something that you used to love to do that you haven’t given yourself time for lately?

4)    BANISH RESOLUTIONS THAT INVOLVE HITTING THE GYM

Of course, moderate exercise is good for you.  However, most people set themselves impossibly high targets for physical improvement at New Year.

Don’t be tempted to do the same thing.  You are simply not in the mental state to take on a brand new regime of going to the gym four times a week from none at all, or running a half marathon in a month’s time.  Depression doesn’t just affect your mind; it can bring with it all kinds of aches, pains and lethargy, if not chronic fatigue.

Listen to your body as well as your feelings.  You can save all of that resculpting for a time when you’re in a better place emotionally and psychologically.

5)    REALISTIC NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

“If at first you don’t succeed …” is the very reason why I say you should avoid making resolutions at all if you’re depressed.  The sense of ‘failure’ can only aggravate a low mood.

If you are determined to make a resolution or two, though, make sure that they’re realistic and be gentle with yourself.  If, by the end of January, you’ve fallen off the wagon (just like the other sixty-five per cent of us, remember!) then stop the self-accusatory voice as soon as it pipes up.

Instead, forgive yourself your temporary slip up and let it go.  That was then, this is now – you have another chance.  Pick yourself up and try it again.

And remember … tell somebody about what you’re doing.  It might just be the way into a conversation about your deeper feelings that will make all the difference for you.

 

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