Every new year we set about making New Year’s resolutions. Usually they’re related to our physical health: going on a diet, joining a gym or drinking less. But what about our mental health?

Mental health is central to every part of our lives: how we interact with loved ones, how productive we are at work, and how we feel when we are alone. So here are 7 things science says you can do to improve your mental health.

1. Stop dieting

It is probably the most popular New Year’s resolution.

A lot of people make strict and prohibitive New Year’s plans. But there’s evidence such resolutions just don’t lead to weight loss, and instead restrictive dieting typically leads to long-term weight gain.

People with poor body image typically avoid social outings, physical intimacy, and exercise. Poor body image is also linked to depression, anxiety, and a raft of other mental health problems.

People often avoid fully participating in life while waiting for their ideal body. Make 2020 the year you stop doing this. People who appreciate their bodies, irrespective of their body size, tend to have better mental health, and happier romantic relationships. If your goal is mental (or physical health), stop focusing on trying to be thin, and instead work on self acceptance.

2. Focus on sleep

Improving your mental health could be as simple as going to bed an hour or two earlier every night. Studies have shown that lack of sleep is a huge problem as it affects both physical health and mental performance.

Poor quality sleep and depression have a strong link and people who don’t get enough sleep or sleep badly may be more likely to develop mental illnesses.

If you think you’re one of the many people who isn’t getting enough sleep, make an effort to increase the length of time you sleep and improve your sleep quality. Going to bed earlier is a great start (try setting a bedtime alarm to remind you) but it’s also helpful to start winding down in the evenings well before bedtime with a relaxing evening routine.

3. Declutter Your Life

Decluttering and cleaning your home of excess junk can not only make it a more pleasant place to be, but it can also do wonders for your mental health. It’s easy to become weighed down by too much “stuff.” Having a good clear out can really help you to feel more mentally free.

Completing tasks such as decluttering a room will also give you a great sense of accomplishment, boosting your self-esteem and making you feel more productive.

New Year is the perfect time to have a good clear out and start the year with an uncluttered home and mind.

4. Move your body

I know exercise is an obvious one – a part of you wants to skip over this resolution. Don’t. Exercise is one of the most effective ways of reducing depression or anxiety and maintaining cognitive function.

It doesn’t matter if you’re walking around your back yard or running a marathon – any sort of movement is going to help you. Adhering to an exercise plan can be hard. Aim to identify exercise you find enjoyable, that gets you out socialising, and that allows you to build competence.

Exercise that does any of these things is easier to continue doing than exercise done with the goal of improving appearance.

5. Reduce screen time

So how will you make time to exercise? Reducing screen time is one answer. This doesn’t mean you have to give up your favourite shows. But excessive screen time is linked to poor sleep quality, as well as depression. Screen time should be part of a happy life, not a substitute for it.

6. Start a Meditation and Mindfulness Habit

Meditation is another easy way to improve your mental health, which even the busiest people can fit into their lives – even five minutes of meditation a day can make a big difference.

Mindfulness meditation (a type of meditation where you focus on the current moment instead of dwelling on the past or stressing about the future) has been shown to be helpful for those dealing with anxiety, depression, and stress.

Meditation is no longer considered a hippie, new age practice and there’s no requirement to sit cross-legged chanting mantras. 

7. Seek help if you need it

We often hide mental health problems from sight, assuming we’re going to be able to cope with them by ourselves. The truth is sometimes we need help, and the smart, strong decision is to seek it. Visit your doctor and get on a mental health plan or get in contact with us, we will help you to find the right support.

Ultimately, you should pick goals that genuinely reflect who you are and what you want, and aim to break them down into concrete, specific steps (specify the “when”, “where”, and “how). 

The research suggests doing this will maximise your chances of success.