10 Powerful Mindset Shifts to Improve Mental Health in 2021
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2020 was a particularly painful year for all of us. We experienced a pandemic, social unrest, election surprises, just to name a few. It has taken a serious toll on each one of us and today I want to offer you ten mindset shifts to heal and improve your mental health moving into 2021.
So let’s take a few minutes to acknowledge the things that we have gone through. For me, working as a front line healthcare provider has been scary as I’m watching people’s lives change every day. You may have suffered a loss of a loved one, friend, or even a colleague. Each one of us has altered the way that we entertain, shop, socialize, and interact. Face coverings are now the new normal, we have had to navigate remote learning and homeschooling. We have had to be creative with discovering new ways to work remotely, navigate financial strain, and zoom has become a common way for us to stay connected.
All of this culminated to create the current mental health state that we are in as a country. And I want you to know that you are not alone. A recent Gallup poll has discovered that mental health and emotional well-being have now dropped to a new low since 2001. That is the lowest that it has been in 20 years. There has been a rise in depression, anxiety, insomnia, stress, and substance abuse.
But 2020 wasn’t a complete loss. We did learn to be resilient. We banded together for innovation, technology, and science. We supported one another in ways that we had never used before. And I think it has caused many of us to find an inner strength that we didn’t even realize was present.
So how can we leave this year behind and improve our mental health for 2021? So that we can enter a new year with hope & promise for what lies ahead?
Well, it can be challenging and does take effort. Neuroscientists have discovered that we are all programmed for survival. Imagine a scenario where you are attacked by a bear. Huge, gnashing teeth and you barely make it out alive. From a mental health standpoint, when we remember that event, we are wired to overestimate threats, and underestimate our ability to overcome those threats. Can you imagine if we didn’t?!
So when we look at the events from the past year, our brain is literally wired to remember negative thoughts and events up to 7 times more than we remember positive ones.
So what can we do about that? Let me assure you that there is hope!
There are two psychologists, Dr Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis and Dr. Michael McCullough of the University of Miami. They have done a ton of research on gratitude and positivity. In one particular study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week focusing on particular topics.
One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. Things like compliments, spending time with friends, and accomplishing goals.
A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them. Being stuck in traffic, arguments with their significant other, or being behind on projects.
And the third group wrote about events that had affected them with no emphasis on them being positive or negative. Things like, going to work, eating dinner, recording sleep times.
And after 10 weeks they discovered something very interesting. Those who wrote about gratitude and positive experiences were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly they also increased the amount that they exercised and had fewer visits to their physician office than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
So what does this mean for us as we enter 2021? It means that there are ways that we can change our mindset to improve our mental health.
Here are 10 simple tips to improve your mental health in 2021 so that you can heal from the events of this past year and increase your health and happiness:
Tip # 1: Choosing an Alternative Viewpoint/ Reframing
It’s easy to look back on 2020 with gloom. And remember, we are wired to remember the most negative events so that we can protect ourselves in the future: things like stocking up on toilet paper, or keeping hand sanitizer available, and having masks in our cars and purses. But when our memories of 2020 are recalled from a negative point of view, it makes us sad and stressed.
So by reframing, you focus on lessons learned, and not the misery that you endured. I work with clients on a daily basis to help them achieve their goals. And each time a client comes to me feeling badly that they have not accomplished what they set out to do for that week, my first question to them is “what did you learn from this experience.”
Take the opportunity to find the positive lessons amidst the chaos. In 2020, I discovered TikTok. I feel like I am in a support group when I admit that, however I did learn a lot of organizational tips and laugh a lot.
What lessons did you learn in 2020 that you can take with you into 2021?
Tip # 2: Look for Opportunity
There are opportunities all around us. And sometimes things don’t go as we planned. That’s just the way it is. But in every single situation, we can look for the opportunities.
Opportunities to do better next time, opportunities for innovation, and opportunities for resilience.
In 2020, you may have lost your job. So did that open the opportunity to start your own business?
The kids had to learn remotely, so did that give you the opportunity to spend more time with them?
Most things were closed, so did you learn how to cook at home? Or did you have more time for hiking?
Did you do a house project?
Opportunities are all around us.
What opportunities opened up for you in 2020 that you can take with you into 2021?
Tip # 3: Focus on positivity.
Just as those psychologists noticed with their journaling experiment, we can change our mindset and energy level when we focus on positivity.
2020 was not the last time in our lives that we will encounter fear, heartbreak, and setbacks.
But when you have a positive mindset, you find an inner strength and drive that improves your mental health and overall happiness. It keeps you going. It improves your health. It manages stress.
Can you name some positive things that happened to you during 2020? Check out the Self Love Challenge!
Tip # 4: Focus on the Solution
If 2020 highlighted anything, it’s that we wanted to get through this time as quickly as possible.
But imagine if we had only focussed on the events instead of solutions: people would not have been able to go out with masks. If businesses just shut down, they would have missed possible online revenue. If schools hadn’t pivoted, kids would have endured an entire year of lost education.
When we focus on the problem, negativity gets in the way. It causes us to dwell on a certain aspect of the situation and get STUCK.
But when we take a step back and focus on the solution, you can see potential in the big picture. It makes you feel empowered to be able to maneuver obstacles and curveballs that have been thrown at you. It gets your “creative juices” flowing!
What possibilities do you see for 2021? What solutions can you brainstorm for current problems in your life?
Tip # 5: Push Fear Aside!
Fear holds us back from doing something new and taking action because we can’t always predict the outcome. And since we are wired for survival, that makes us uncomfortable!
But don’t let fear hold you back in 2021.
You have strengths that are special! You have abilities that are unique to you!
Share those strengths, share those talents, Don’t hold back! Be BOLD: ask for that promotion, ask that cute guy from work out on a date.
You may get shot down, or may break your arm trying to “hover board” with your son. And that’s ok. Because each time you put yourself out there, and realize that it’s not as scary as you thought, you empower yourself to try again.
What did fear prevent you from doing in 2020 that you can try in 2021?
Tip # 6: Give!
In 2010, Elizabeth Dunn and Associates did a little experiment, where they gave people some money, ten dollars. And they said, “Hey, you can keep all this money for yourself or you can give as much of it as you want away.”
And then they studied what happened in the brain. And it turns out that the MRI scans of those people who gave their money away had increased activity in the “happy and reward feelings” part of the brain, and less activity in the “negative emotions” part of the brain.
Science actually showed that the more of that $10 that people in the study gave away, the happier they felt. Conversely though, the more money people kept for themselves the more shame they experienced.
Giving has also been shown to decrease the stress hormone in the body! And it doen’s need to be financial. Even something as simple as a compliment to brighten someone’s day, or giving a friend a card for no reason, sending anonymous flowers to someone at work, or dropping off a meal for a neighbor who had surgery.
The result is that regular giving promotes positivity, fights against stress, and starts to create a ripple effect on the ones around you in a positive way.
When someone in need receives help, they benefit directly from the support; but it has been suggested that the giver actually benefits more: specifically with physical changes in the regions of the brain associated with stress, feeling good, and happiness.
What are some ways that you can give in 2021?
Tip #7: Keep things in Perspective
If you have ever been around kids, you know that they argue about the dumbest things. Mia is crying because Savannah wanted to play ponies, but they played ponies last time and Mia really wanted to play mermaids…
And they are full-on arguing, crying, refusing to sit next to each other….
Life does not often go the way that we planned, and 2020 really took that to the extreme.
But instead of it causing you to throw a tantrum and then prevent you from moving forward, you can choose to contain the situation. I’m not saying that we should ignore tough things that we have gone through. But look for a way to let go of grudges and move past certain events.
And this is how we build resilience. We get knocked down and focus on the road ahead. This builds our strength to get right back up and try again. Don’t blow things out of proportion.
Do you have any situation that you can minimize and overcome in 2021?
Tip # 8: Practice Solitude
There is something to be said about taking a step back from the busyness of daily life. You replace chaos with peace and serenity.
Almost every morning, I get up early enough to have my coffee outside. I bundle up and sip my heavenly morning motivation in complete silence. I listen to the birds, I clear my head, and sometimes I even talk to myself.
Even just five minutes to meditate, pray, practice yoga, appreciate nature, or listen to soothing music can significantly improve mental health.
What type of solitude do you practice?
Tip #9: Practice Positive Self Talk
I am going to read a statement, and when I do, imagine that you are saying this to yourself in the bathroom as you look into the mirror:
“I am doing a great job. I am beautiful. I am a wonderful mom/spouse/friend/sister. I am proud of my accomplishments and everything that I have gone through to get to this point in my life. I love my body, even my stretch marks and saggy boobs. Because those are the reminders of my children. And I see those love handles, but that extra fat is full of memories of fun times eating nachos with friends…”
It is so easy to talk negatively to ourselves. And to brush off compliments. And to be critical of our looks. And to compare ourselves to other people who “have it all together.”
But this is terrible for our mental health. You may look back at 2020 and compare yourself to other people who “survived better.” But as you enter 2021, stop with the self doubt and negative self talk. Show yourself compassion. Practice looking in the mirror and saying positive affirmations out loud, even if you don’t believe them. And stop being hard on yourself.
What would you say if your best friend? Would you tell her that she was too fat and doing a terrible job? Write a list of affirmations for 2021.
Tip # 10: Recognize a Fresh Start that Comes from the Ashes
The practice of using controlled fires for forestation has been used for many years. They take these beautiful, full grown trees and burn them completely to the ground. Now obviously there’s a lot that goes into planning and considering this process, and many different analogies that can be drawn. But the one I want to highlight today is that because of this process, the forest is able to stay healthy and regenerate. It prepares an area for new growth.
You may have been burned to the ground in 2020. And you feel like everything that you had built is now a pile of ashes. But I want to encourage you to use the mindset that this may have paved the way for you to have a fresh start in 2021.
As we wrap up tonight, I encourage you to use these tips. Choose to cultivate a mindset that improves your mental health. This is one of the most powerful things that you can do to care for yourself and heal as we move into the new year.
Here we come, 2021!