Mainstream Living

Improving Mental Health in the New Year

The impact of social distancing and stress has taken a toll on many people's mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.  A Gallup poll has shown that American's mental health is worse than at any point in the last two decades. With 2020 coming to a close and the pandemic still disrupting lives, psychologists are recommending that people commit to an important new year's resolution — practicing excellent self-care and prioritizing mental health. "We have to recommit to this [self-care] and by excellent self-care, we mean getting a good night's sleep, getting plenty of physical activity, eating well, finding happy distractions," psychologist and CBS News contributor Lisa Damour told "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King.

Stress about finances, health and social isolation has disrupted the minds and routines of Americans, making it easier for people to not prioritize their mental wellbeing.  "The challenge, of course, is the pandemic is going on so long that we can get kind of lazy about this. It's easier to get in bed and just scroll on your phone than to have a disciplined routine that helps you fall asleep quickly at night," she said. 
A poll done on behalf of the American Psychological Association found that the coronavirus pandemic is causing a significant source of stress in 8 out of 10 adults' lives. The impact is causing psychologist to see an increase in an "all-or-nothing" way of thinking.  "When we feel helpless about so many things in our lives, it's easy to start to feel helpless about everything, to start to feel like 'if I can't have this go the way I want it to go, it just can't happen,"' Damour said.

Although routines and celebrations have been disrupted, Damour said that it is important that Americans continue to search for optimism and normalcy. "What we want to do is to think about what we can make happen. We can't celebrate birthdays in the ways that we like to, but we can still make them a special day. We can't see people in the same ways we want to, but we can still stay meaningfully connected," she said. Damaou said acknowledging the achievements and hardships of the past year is key to starting the new year off in a positive headspace.  "It's important for us to acknowledge what has been disrupted, to let ourselves be sad and frustrated about that, to do that work of kind of coming to terms of what we've had to give up. And when we do that work, it actually creates space, it sort of sets the stage for us to be open to what can happen, it lets us be creative," she said.

Americans are finding new ways to cope with the stress of the pandemic, including practicing gratitude, a method that involves a reflection of one's life. Many experts believe that practicing gratitude is one of the easiest ways to improve your mental health in the upcoming year. 
"Having a gratitude practice, thinking about what you're grateful for is one of the simplest and most effective ways we know in psychological research to increase well-being and life satisfaction," Damour said. "It is worth taking the time to focus on what you've got."

Reprinted from CBS This Morning 

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