Counsellor Sarah Barr explains why it is so important that we take a compassionate look at our self-development and mental health in 2021, with three ideas to help us get started:

The past 12 months have been like no other in living memory and it is important that we take a compassionate look at our self-development and mental health in 2021.

With the New Year comes the pressure to set yourself unrealistic expectations, compare yourself to others and generally speak to yourself in a very critical way. All this does is add pressure to your already busy life and leaves you feeling guilty, not good enough and a failure.

So please if you can, resist the urge to strive for an entirely new you in 2021.

Instead, approach 2021 with an aim of caring for and improving your mental health and wellbeing.

Here are three ideas to help you get started

1. Kinder Self-Talk

We all have a voice in our head, constantly narrating throughout our day and reacting to what’s in front of us. This voice also shapes our self-identity and how we feel about ourselves.

For many of us, our default self-talk is critical and negative. We judge ourselves, berate ourselves for our mistakes, and focus on what we perceive to being wrong with us. Instead of being our own biggest cheerleader, we end up discouraging ourselves.

Through effort and practice we can change our self-talk from negative to realistic. In the new year, when you notice the voice in your head being mean, take a moment to check-in with yourself. Then try to reframe the thought. It can often be helpful here to think about what you would say to a good friend in the same situation. Over time, “I’m so stupid” can change into “I’m learning and growing.” “I always mess up” can become “Everyone makes mistakes.”

2. Practice Gratitude

No matter your individual situation, 2020 was likely more difficult for you than the average year. Impacting on your mental health and well-being. With many people living daily with moderate to high levels of anxiety or depression.

Practicing gratitude can help to decrease stress and increase resilience, happiness, and self-esteem.

The key to practicing gratitude is to make sure you enjoy it. You can try writing down 1-3 things you’re grateful for each morning or night, practicing gratitude-focused meditation or set a reminder in your phone at different times throughout your day with something you are grateful for.

3. Learn to Say No

Our time and energy are our most precious resources.

How you want to expend these resources in 2021? Which activities, people, and interests are your priorities?

When you’ve figured out what you want to focus on, there will probably be other things that will try and compete for your attention. This is where the skill of saying “no,” is so important.

You have a right to say “no” and “no” is a complete sentence.

Many of us have been conditioned to seek approval and validation from others but people-pleasing is one of the quickest ways to lowering your self-esteem and burning yourself out.

It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to explain your “no”. Everyone has the right to politely decline something they don’t have the time for or don’t want to do.

Our wellness isn’t a box we check or goal we reach, instead, it’s a practice we commit to, mess up, and start over again. With some intention, reflection, and help from those who love us, we can face 2021 with all our messiness and imperfections and know that we are already more than enough.

And remember in 2021 you don’t have to do it all alone. Please reach out to a friend or family member, your doctor or a counsellor. There is help and support here for you.

Take care, Sarah.