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Thrive tip: Reframe your self-care habits for the new year

Jessica Gold, MD, MS
Jessica Gold, MD, MS

As we begin the new year, many of us aren’t feeling as optimistic as we thought we might be for 2022. We are nearing the end of year two of the pandemic, battling another surge, all while we continue to adjust our day-to-day lives with many unknowns to the immediate and future outlook.

Jessica Gold, MD, MS, assistant professor of psychiatry and director of wellness, engagement, and outreach at WashU, provides some tips for reframing how we look at the new year and ways you can help yourself and loved ones cope with healthy well-care practices. 

Listen to yourself and the emotions you’re experiencing.
Gold says we spend a lot of time trying to push down or hide our emotions, yet they’re there to help us and hiding them often makes it harder for us in the future. Give yourself space to feel your emotions and then move forward.

“Eventually avoiding your feelings catches up to you, so it’s better to acknowledge the hard emotions, the good emotions and that both exist at the same time,” Gold said. “You move forward by recognizing and understanding the emotions you are experiencing and your reactions.”

Figure out what works for you.
Often, we spend time trying to cope in “prescribed ways – this is what my doctor said, what my friend does or the latest celebrity trend,” Gold said. She recommends we approach coping, or dealing with emotions, not as a homework assignment but by finding something you enjoy and personalizing it into a coping mechanism. If you need help identifying one, take a look at the tip below.

Search for new hobbies.
As cheesy as it may sound, try searching for lists of pleasant activities. Gold notes there are many lists available and it’s likely something you might have never given yourself time to do. “It’s not revolutionary, but we’re not taught to value those things and while it seems silly, it might be inspiration for a new hobby,” Gold said.

Use a coping mechanism to help both acute and long-term needs.
As a practicing psychiatrist who also has her own therapist, Gold knows the importance of practicing useful coping mechanisms both professionally and personally. When we’re in crisis mode, we look for an immediate solution. However, if we have an established coping mechanism that works, it can help us both immediately as well as far into the future.

Gold breaks down coping mechanisms into buckets: physical needs (exercise, using a weighted blanket, etc.), internal reflection (mindfulness activities, yoga, journaling, etc.) and indulgence (doing more of what you already enjoy, such as watching TV, socializing, listening to music, etc.). Find something you like and see if it works for you. Reminder, you can resort to Googling new ideas if you need them!

Set “check-ins”, not deadlines.
Ditch the mindset that to be successful, you must achieve your goal by a given date. Many people fail at their new year’s resolutions and then give up on their goal altogether. “Deadlines are arbitrary anyways, so disassociate the failure and absolute timeframe, and consider check-ins as you make progress,” Gold suggests. “You’re trying so give yourself kudos and take stock of the progress you’ve made.”

Talk to yourself like you’re talking to a friend.
Those infamous words from Brené Brown ring true to Gold and her recommendations to her coworkers, family, friends and patients. “Our inner voice is mean,” Gold says. “The world is hard enough and we don’t need to be part of that if we can. Life is complicated right now and you’re doing the best you can.” Gold recommends listening to the way you talk to yourself and then consider how a friend would talk to you. Likely, it would be much more empathetic and compassionate, so try that next time you give yourself criticism.

Look forward and control the things you can.
Gold realizes that is easier said than done in the middle of a pandemic, but it’s important to minimize our stress and positively impact our overall well-being. “Focus on day-to-day things you can control: your reaction to things, how you’re feeling and how you treat yourself and your loved ones,” Gold recommends. “The pandemic is perpetually stressful, so instead, acknowledge how you are feeling, reflect upon your emotions and then move forward.”

As a WashU employee, many mental health resources are available to you including access to WashU’s Psychiatry Services, which provides convenient, affordable, evidence-based mental health care. Please call (314) 286-1700 to make an appointment. You can also visit WashU’s Well-being Hub for more well-being information, programming and resources for you and your loved ones.