With the end of the year approaching, you’re probably thinking about resolutions you want to make for the next one. Resolutions, big or small, can often be hard to keep! We make them with the best of intentions, but life happens. I would like to suggest a new approach to the usual New Year methods: GOALS.
Have you ever considered creating goals instead of resolutions? Goals involve setting intentions, creating a plan, and taking real actions to get there. Goals are more specific and can often create the positive changes we are looking for. Goals aren’t always tangible things like saving for a new car or getting that promotion at work. Mental health care goals are also very practical and among the most important you can make! These kinds of goals have the potential to overflow into all areas of our lives.
The first step in the process is to determine your “why” behind setting personal goals. The reasons should be for YOU, not what someone else is telling you to focus on or what society is telling you is necessary. What works for one individual may not work for another and vice versa. Positive mental health is key to truly live. Mental health goals should be rooted in gentleness, attainability, core values, and what we truly want for our overall wellbeing. One thing I have found helpful is to first write down all the things I do NOT want to bring into the New Year. By evaluating what I want to get rid of, I can see more clearly what I would like to work towards adding in.
Another tip is to try and break down long-term goals into more easily digestible short-term goals. Making huge changes all at once can become overwhelming. Having short-term goals for each day, each week, and each month, will boost your motivation and allow for more grace-filled, slower progress. Mental health is tricky and cannot be rushed. Most people want to push through the tough parts, but a goal is meant to be a steady build. Take note of each small win and acknowledge yourself along the way for how far you’ve come.
Due to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) policy, Emotional Support Animals are NO longer allowed to fly in airplane cabins for free. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs are eligible.
The past few years have brought a lot of new difficulties and uncertainty. If you were already struggling emotionally, these changes were probably even more hard-felt. You likely have experienced a range of uncomfortable or negative emotions on a large scale. When these feelings come up, our gut instinct may be to stuff them down or pretend them away. This reaction is a psychological defense that we use to protect ourselves and block out any anticipated pain. However, we do more harm to ourselves by not fully processing our feelings and it isn’t a productive way to cope.
So why do we have such an issue with confronting our emotions? For many years, I was in a category of living called “survival mode”. It was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other, so digging into how I was truly feeling was way more work than I had the capacity for. Yes, it is a LOT of work to go through your feelings instead of around them. However, I promise that owning your emotions is one of the most powerful things you can do for your mental health. It allows you to work through authentic mindfulness, which is the “basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Saying “no” is often difficult to do. Why? Well, it is usually mistaken by others for being selfish or rude. That is far from the truth, however. Saying “no” when appropriate means that you respect yourself enough to stand up for healthy boundaries. We often feel immense pressure (even from ourselves) to do things we do not want to do. We think about what we should do, what we should want to do, or the expectations others might have of us. These thoughts can overwhelm us, debilitate us, and leave us feeling conflicted, restricted, or full of angst. We forget it is okay to say “no.”
There will always be people and circumstances vying for our attention. Sometimes you will be able to give it; sometimes you will not. Your worth and value as a person remain the same regardless. You run the risk of mental and physical exhaustion by putting everyone else’s needs before your own. Use boundaries to confidently express your own feelings and accept that you cannot control the opinions or responses of others. Don’t be afraid to back out of a previous “yes” if you realize that pressure or expectation kept you from a “no”. Even if others are disappointed, it is always better to make the right decision late than follow through with a false sense of obligation. You are only guaranteed today, so make choices that are going to be best for your whole self. The more you decline undesirable circumstances for your life, the more room you are making for things that truly matter to you. I hereby permit you to be free of guilt or shame for doing so! If you have experienced backlash in the past from toxic people, try to let it go and let them be responsible for their own reactions. It really is for the best.
When it comes to personal growth, our culture tends to celebrate self-assuredness. While strong self-esteem is not a bad thing (aside from arrogance), self-compassion is possibly a better way to approach success and sustained positive mental health. Self-compassion is different than self-confidence. It is a way of treating yourself versus a way of thinking about yourself. For example, self-confidence makes you feel good about your abilities, while self-compassion helps you to embrace your limitations. Once you can accept your flaws, you are more likely to view them objectively. Sometimes our weaknesses can end up being blessings in disguise! It is a wonderful goal to cut out any self-destructive narratives and reinstate those of gentler realism.
Self-compassion helps you to view yourself more favorably. Empathy, another character trait, helps you to see others in a softer light as well. Empathy is the ability to understand and relate to the feelings of those around you. Practicing empathy can be beneficial in multiple ways. It can help you to see that you are not alone (everyone has their own struggle), as well as allow you to recognize there are different ways of viewing and processing struggles (by hearing another’s personal viewpoint). The ability to momentarily place yourself in someone else’s shoes can bring a new, and possibly much-needed perspective. I would encourage adding both of these attributes to your cognitive goals list!
If you’re anything like me, you have (at some point) found yourself going around and around the same mental health struggles with little progress. Sometimes the mechanisms we have used in the past become less effective for recurrent episodes of stress, anxiety, or depression. It can be worthwhile to dig into new methods for improvement!
One of my personal 2022 goals is to start intentionally taking vitamins that replenish my body. Another is to start each morning with a quiet meditation before pushing into our overwhelming family hustle. You should choose a few goals that are practical for your situation, and work towards consistency in the New Year. Need more suggestions? You could try out an exercise routine or potentially utilize an Emotional Support Animal or Psychiatric Service Dog. All have been proven to significantly benefit those managing mental health disabilities.
Welcoming help from friends and family members can be hard, but reaching out for assistance is a valuable goal to aim for when your mental health is at risk. Letting the right people in can build trust and break down walls of isolation. Some sample steps for this particular goal might include:
Don’t forget that it takes time to accomplish goals, and the process won’t always go smoothly. If things aren’t working, you may have to pause and readjust your goals altogether, but don’t give up! Many times unmet resolutions leave people discouraged. Goals are meant to do just the opposite. They aren’t “one and done” experiences, but rather building blocks towards lasting change. Goals require a “one step at a time” approach. Therefore, you should fully expect to still be working towards your 2002 goals into 2023 and beyond. That’s the beauty of it! No rush yet great reward. Your mental health matters and you deserve to be happy and whole. I hope you have found these words encouraging enough to begin your goal-setting journey, and that you’ll share your successes with us @americanservicepets.
The benefits of an Emotional Support Animal certification and a Psychiatric Service Dog certification are drastically different. Fortunately for you, American Service Pets’ network of active board certified doctors can help you find the right path to certification. To find out whether you need an ESA or PSD letter, take our easy, three-step Pet Owner Survey!
More Great Resources