11 Healthy Intentions to Set for the New Year

Don’t let the stress of 2020 destroy your mental health in 2021.

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Young African American woman sitting on exercise mat outside on her patio and meditating in the lotus pose during a yoga session
Young African American woman sitting on exercise mat outside on her patio and meditating in the lotus pose during a yoga session

2020 has been a difficult year for Americans. Pandemic-related lockdowns have wreaked havoc on many workers’ finances, while social isolation has negatively impacted individuals’ mental health. Most Americans (53%) report that coronavirus-related stress has adversely affected their mental health, according to Kaiser Family Foundation.

In other words, if you’re feeling weighed down by 2020, you’re not alone. Prior to the pandemic (between April and June 2019), about 8% of adults experienced anxiety symptoms and around 7% of adults had depressive symptoms. By that same time in 2020, those figures shot up close to 26% and 24% respectively, the CDC reports.

To avoid allowing the stress of 2020 to bleed into 2021, you’ll need the right tools to cope with financial setbacks, support your emotional and mental well-being and maintain good physical health. Start by setting healthy intentions, then identify what you’ll need to develop habits from your goals. Being proactive will allow you to withstand future hardship while helping you move forward from the stress of 2020.

Mental

  • Practice radical acceptance and self-care. Since we can’t change the current circumstances, there’s no sense spending energy trying to deny your feelings about it. Radical acceptance is a technique practiced in dialectical behavior therapy that opposes our tendency to deny reality: It simply means accepting how things are and how that makes you feel. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to have compassion for yourself and engage in self-care activities (think meditation, bubble baths, naps or whatever else you might need).
  • Take breaks to pursue something you enjoy. Recognize when you need a break and use that time to do something that fulfills you. Studies show that people who engage in hobbies are less likely to experience stress and depression. You might read a book or watch the sunset, do something creative or learn something new. Music is an especially powerful way to manage stress, whether you practice playing an instrument or just listen.
  • Seek help from a mental health professional. You won’t always be able to manage anxiety and depression on your own. Luckily, many professionals are offering virtual visits so you can get the help you need without putting yourself at risk of contracting COVID-19. You could also take advantage of an online therapy app like Talkspace or BetterHelp.

Financial

  • Stock your emergency fund. Experts generally recommend saving three to six months’ worth of expenses in an emergency fund, but you might need more than that during an economic downturn. If that goal feels too overwhelming, aim to save a minimum of $2,467 — that’s the amount economists say will decrease the risk of financial hardship in low-income households. To ensure you’re meeting your goals, set up automatic deposits into a high-yield savings account. Or, if your income fluctuates and that’s too difficult, use an automatic savings app like Digit.
  • Improve your credit score. Taking a hard look at your credit score and identifying areas of improvement may seem daunting, but you’ll thank yourself for the hard work later — especially when you go to make a big purchase like a car or house. The first step is identifying what your current score is and what factors might be keeping you from an exceptional credit history.
  • Boost your financial knowledge. Only 57% of U.S. adults are financially literate, so many of us could use some help understanding financial concepts. The good news is, there are plenty of free online resources you can use, as well as helpful money podcasts that can aid in improving your financial knowledge.

Physical

  • Develop an exercise routine. Aerobic exercise has been proven to decrease stress — just five minutes of cardio can help calm anxiety. Since group fitness classes and public gyms aren’t the safest options right now, choose an outdoor activity, like running, or something you can do from the comfort of your living room, like high-intensity interval training or yoga. There are plenty of free YouTube videos to help you get started. Start small, but aim to work up to four to five days of exercise per week.
  • Eat a healthy diet. People tend to reach for high-fat foods and sweets when they’re stressed, but recent studies have shown that eating healthy foods can support stress reduction. Focus on Omega-3s, Vitamin E and fiber-containing foods, as well as maintaining an overall balanced diet. Plus, you should also be sure to drink enough water.
  • Get plenty of rest. Most Americans don’t get enough sleep, according to the American Psychological Association. Stress and anxiety can keep you up at night, which begins a vicious cycle that only leads to more stress. To break the cycle, set up a calming bedtime routine (a cup of tea, a yoga flow, guided meditation — anything that helps you relax) or take advantage of a sleep app.

Social

  • Set boundaries. Whether physical, emotional or psychological, setting boundaries is a crucial part of establishing your identity. Spend timing thinking about what makes you uncomfortable in professional and personal settings, then create boundaries that help stop you (and others) from pushing too far. Whether it’s telling your romantic partner you need some alone time or telling a co-worker you don’t want hugs, communicate your boundaries with the other party so they understand how their actions impact you. A crucial component to practice is consistency, so get comfortable saying “no.”
  • Maintain strong relationships. Healthy social relationships can reduce stress, promote a healthy lifestyle and even prolong your life. Work on communication and share enjoyable activities with people in your household. Set the intention to listen to the people you love and respond with compassion. And even if you’re keeping your distance from friends who don’t live with you, keep in virtual contact as much as possible. We all need emotional support during these trying times.
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