How can we promote mental health in the new year?

Physical improvement goals tend to dominate January resolution lists. But one's mental health deserves just as much attention, according to psychologist Kelly Ryan, who said gathering with others plays a big role.

"One of the most important things that we can do to maintain our mental well-being is to connect in meaningful ways with those around us," said Kelly, service line director at Edward-Elmhurst Health's Linden Oaks Behavioral Health, which operates a Hinsdale Outpatient Center at 8 Salt Creek Lane.

She encouraged to people to use technology like FaceTime or Zoom to make eye contact when an in-person meeting isn't feasible. And try to ease up on the "social" media sites.

"We're seeing a lot more mental health concerns because social media work against that face-to-face community," Ryan said.

Setting goals is helpful, as long as they don't set one up for failure.

"Break them into small, digestible pieces. Ask yourself, 'What am I going to do today? What is smallest step possible that I can take toward that goal,' " Ryan advised. "That's moving you in the right direction."

To make mornings less hectic, pick out tomorrow's outfit or prepare lunch the night before.

"I like to tell people to be kind to their future self, so you're not forced to decide between things at the last minute," she said.

And fight the urge to either dwell on bygone disappointments or future challenges, which saps appreciation for the present.

"There are a lot of issues that can arise when we spend too much time focusing on the past," Ryan said.

She suggested developing a practice to regularly return to mindfulness of the here and now, like embracing the moment every time you're at a red light.

"It can be really helpful to decide for yourself to just keep bringing yourself back to the present and being mindful to the times and experiences that bring you joy," Ryan said.

Creating a gratitude practice is a way to keep grounded.

"I like to think of three things I'm grateful for each day and put them in a journal," she offered. "It's kind of cool to look back though that journal and see all the things."

Anticipating plans like an upcoming trip provide a nice source of excitement. But also try to find daily delights, Ryan counseled.

"Don't wait for that moment," she said. "Each day plan a pleasant experience like watching a show with a loved one, just something small."

Workplace satisfaction shouldn't be neglected.

"If you're feeling like you don't want to produce at work, I would evaluate that because there's probably something to that," Ryan said. "You need to feel like you're doing things that matter in order to be mentally well."

That may mean trying to build stronger relationships with colleagues, or possibly looking for a different job, she said.

"Advocate for yourself and for what you need to be happy," Ryan stressed. "It's about making time for joy."

- by Ken Knutson