While the New Year appears to present a positive opportunity for us to “reinvent” ourselves and make ourselves “better,” the process of setting New Year’s resolutions can negatively affect our mental health.
In the days surrounding January 1st, we are bombarded with articles and advertisements that suggest we, as we currently are, are not enough. Whether you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed or a reputable news site, you’re likely to come across articles with tips on how to “get in shape,” “watch less TV,” or “finally quit drinking” this year. Before I became a body image advocate, I devoured articles like these. I wanted to know what I could do this year to lose weight, eat more healthfully, or be more confident. I saw setting New Year’s resolutions as an opportunity to better myself and my life; I bought into the idea that a “new” and “better” me (where “better” was defined by these articles I had read, not myself), would be a happier me.
Though the New Year is supposed to be about positively impacting your life, these New Year’s resolutions had negative impacts on my mental health and self image. Resolutions pushed me to change myself instead of cultivating self-love and encouraged me to use my current dissatisfaction with parts of my body and life to fuel this change. Focusing on what I didn’t like about myself made me even less comfortable in my own skin, resulting in feelings of depression and anxiety. However, what was negatively impacting my self-image was not my resolutions in and of themselves, it was the motivations behind my resolutions.
Like the majority of Americans, my resolutions tended to be health-related. In 2016, for example, one survey found that 41.1% of respondents wanted to “live a healthier lifestyle” and 39.6% of respondents wanted to “lose weight.” These statistics were consistent across age groups. While living a healthy lifestyle and losing weight can be positive goals, they are only positive if they are positively motivated. If someone resolves to lose weight because the $64 billion diet industry has convinced them that only certain body types are attractive or tries to “live healthfully” because they dislike parts of their body, they, like me, will inevitably experience feelings of low self esteem. I would resolve to lose weight because I hated my stomach or wanted others to find me attractive, and it was these negative motivations that triggered periods of poor mental health.
So what can we do to remain mentally healthy in the wake of New Year’s resolutions? It’s important to remember that you by no means even have to set a New Year’s resolution! Even if everyone you know has set resolutions and the media is pressuring you to “better yourself,” please do not feel like you have to change anything about yourself! You are allowed to be happy with yourself and your life as is.
If you do choose to make a resolution, ask yourself why you want to make a change. Make sure your reasoning comes from a place of self-love (e.g. “I want to drink more water so I have more energy to do the things I love), not a place of self-hate (e.g. “I’m going to lose weight because I hate the way I look”). Furthermore, ignore the many people, businesses, and industries telling us what we need to change about ourselves, and make resolutions for you, not them. Your life and your resolutions are up to you and no one else.
Danielle de Bruin is a fourth-year undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Sociology with a double minor in Italian and Global Health. She is the blog coordinator for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative and the director of UCLA’s Body Image Task Force, which is a committee within the Student Wellness Commission. With the Body Image Task Force, Danielle organizes events, workshops, and campaigns to promote healthy body image, self-confidence, and mental health on campus. She is also published in the journal PLOS Medicine and the Huffington Post.