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10 mental health clinicians share their resolutions for the new year

Smiling african american psychiatrist talking to young couple

By Anika Nayak

To say 2020 was just a stressful year would be an understatement. You may have had a strong start to the year, but it’s safe to say that it probably did not go the way you planned because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as you head into a new and unpredictable year, a bright beginning may feel super appealing. 

In honor of 2021, you’re probably thinking about parts of your life you’d like to improve for positive change. The annual tradition of making New Year’s resolutions tends to have a bit of a bad reputation since such swift changes to habits are difficult to keep. Echo spoke to 10 mental health clinicians to learn what resolutions they’re setting for a happier, healthier 2021. Here’s what they had to say. 

Strengthen your existing resolutions

“Rather than developing new goals, I find it helpful to focus on what’s already working and tweak it ever so slightly. This feels much more realistic than taking on something new,” says Dr. Aimee Martinez, a psychoanalytic psychologist. “Let’s be honest, resolutions came a bit early this year when people took on so many new projects at the beginning of lockdown. Unlike other years, people are working from home and have had to create and develop new boundaries and structure for maintaining work-life balance. Keeping a routine similar to the one I had when I was going into the office really helped me maintain emotional equilibrium. In addition, still allowing myself ample time off each week to rest and recharge will be just as important in 2021 as it was in 2020.” 

To learn more about Dr. Martinez’s work, visit her website draimeemartinez.com.

Embrace rest

“I want to prioritize rest this year, and when I say rest, I don’t mean napping,” says Dr. Rebecca Leslie, a clinical psychologist. “For me, this can look like yoga, a mindful walk, or a bath listening to music. This can also look like pausing what I am doing and being intentional about taking deep breaths for several minutes. I want to prioritize at least once during the day time where my brain can rest and not have to think about anything. Rest can help rejuvenate your body and your mind, improve your mood, increase mental clarity, and reduce stress.”

To learn more about Dr. Leslie’s work, visit her website drrebeccaleslie.com.

Start a journal

“I’m going to spend more time journaling in 2021,” says Kristin Meekhof, a therapist and author of A Widow’s Guide to Healing. “I usually journal some of my feelings or create my own prompts on the page. The process of journaling helps me to distill complex situations into simple fragments, and feelings come into that dialogue. In 2021, I plan to continue journaling in some of my existing journals in addition to starting a new one in honor of the year.”

To learn more about Meekhof’s work, visit her website kristinmeekhof.com. 

Invest in self-care

“Since the events of 2020 and multiple stressors presented I have reached a new mental health homeostasis based upon several self-care strategies I hope to integrate into my 2021 New Year resolutions,” says Dr. James Zender, a clinical psychologist. “Having been a workaholic for my entire professional career, following the publication of a new book this year, I gave myself permission to work less and take more time for rest, solitude, and contemplation.  Structuring my work week to four days and giving myself a three day weekend each and every week has turned out to be far easier than I would have guessed.  Taking more time for myself, unplugging from my professional life, and enjoying downtime with family or alone will fuel optimal mental health for the next year.”

To learn more about Dr. Zender’s work, visit his website drjameszender.com. 

Focus on the journey, not the end result

“This year, in whatever I do, I’m resolved to enjoy the process and be less attached to outcomes,” says Jordan Aura-Gullick, a licensed psychotherapist. “In a capitalist society, we often conflate productivity with self-worth. Instead, I’m trying to revel in my efforts and not let the results influence how I view myself. I’m taking a cue from the children in my life who are just as happy leaving a book partially read, a puzzle unfinished, or a drawing incomplete – to them, the journey was the fun part, not the outcome.”

To learn more about Aura-Gullick’s work, visit her private practice website alyssamariewellness.com. 

Adopt play

“I’d like to bring more playfulness into my everyday life,” says Eliana Lev, a licensed marriage and family therapist. When I think of what it means to play or embody playfulness, I think of a child. It’s the openness and curiosity which fosters the capacity to play. And if we play more, we generally experience more joy. For me, riding my bike makes me feel alive and free.”

 To learn more about Eliana Lev’s work, visit her website www.elianalev.com.

Read more books 

“My New Year’s resolution is to read more books, especially by diverse authors, says Dr. Chandan Khandai, a consult psychiatrist at the University of Illinois. “I used to love reading, but then medical school and residency happened, and it became so easy to not make time for books –– instead, I’d just passively watch TV and scroll on social media. We know that bibliotherapy, or reading as therapy, has mental health benefits, and it’s even been a great source of wellness for my patients during this pandemic with ‘less screens, more pages.’ I’m also part of a Zoom sci-fi bros book club, and we’re committing in the New Year to read sci-fi and fantasy by women, LGBTQ+, and minority authors. I’m personally aiming to read at least one new book a month.”

To learn more about Dr. Khandai’s work, visit www.linkedin.com/in/chandankhandai/

Give back to your community

“This new year, I’m committing to having a generosity/abundance mindset,” says Michelle Pow, a licensed clinical social worker. “Society sends us on an endless goose chase of hyper-comparison to others and fierce competition, quite the opposite of what mental health is all about. I believe we reap what we sow and receive in ten-fold what we give. The need for healing is abundant, and I strive to be generous in what I give to the community.”

To learn more about Pow’s work, visit her website www.michellepow.com

Share your thoughts with the world

“For 2021, I plan to continue writing op-eds around mental health and advocacy for LGBTQ+, Black, and other minority populations,” says Dr. Chase TM Anderson, a child and adolescent psychiatry fellow at the University of California San Francisco. “Writing for me is a way to process how I feel about the world and helps me to put words to emotions. Writing also is something that is in my blood, and when I write, I heal. Just as importantly, I always believe that words are one of the most beautiful ways to change hearts and minds, to help bolster others, and to foster dreams of a better world. I also hope to find a literary agent for a memoir I wrote about medical school to help other medical students who are minoritized and have depression know they are not alone.

To learn more about Dr. Anderson’s work, visit his website www.chasetmanderson.com

Create an affirming retreat or point person

“We LGBTQ+people are thriving contributing members of society who have advanced and improved every aspect of human life,” says Dr. Jack Turban, a fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine, where he researches the mental health of LGBTQ youth. “Despite that, politicians, the media, and sometimes even our families send us false negative messages about LGBTQ people. Internalizing these negative messages is a major predictor of mental health problems. Identify a person you can reach out to for reality testing when you notice that you’re starting to believe the negative things people say about LGBTQ+ people. Gaslighting dangers are real, and having someone affirming in your life to help you reality check and battle society’s hateful messages about LGBTQ people. This can be a lifeline for your mental health. I’ve been blessed to have people like this in my life, and my hope is that you will make this your New Year’s resolution too. If you’re having trouble finding someone, remember that The Trevor Project is staffed 24/7 with people who can provide you with this kind of support.”

To learn more about Dr. Turban’s work, visit his website www.jackturban.com.

If you are an LGBTQ young person in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, dial the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386 to speak with a counselor.