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Setting New Year’s Resolutions When You Have Anxiety

By Natasha Tracy B.Sc  •   January 17, 2022

Photo Credit: by Towfiqu barbhuiya, Pexels.com
Photo Credit: by Towfiqu barbhuiya, Pexels.com

New year’s resolutions are common, but some people have trouble making them, and, of course, many people have trouble keeping them. One reason a person might have trouble making resolutions is anxiety. Anxiety and making New Year’s resolutions can be tough, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Here are some things to take into consideration when you’re setting New Year’s resolutions when you have anxiety.

What Is Anxiety? What Is an Anxiety Disorder?

According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety is:

“an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”

Anxiety is a normal part of the human experience. A person might, quite naturally, feel anxious about an upcoming event such as a first date or a tax audit. This is completely understandable.

People with anxiety disorders, though, experience anxiety more frequently, with regards to more experiences, places, people, etc., and more intensely. According to the American Psychological Association, people with anxiety disorders usually,

“have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat.”

People with anxiety disorders often need treatment including psychotherapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication like fluoxetine (Prozac) or paroxetine (Paxil). ((strong>Please note that those medications are by prescription only. Talk to your healthcare provider about what is right for you.)

Certainly, those with anxiety disorders can have trouble making New Year’s resolutions but anxiety of any kind may complicate the process for anyone.

Why Making New Year’s Resolutions Can Be Hard for People with Anxiety or an Anxiety Disorder

New Year’s resolutions are a promise to yourself. You “resolve” or “promise” to do something or not do something. This is an opportunity to better yourself – which seems like a good idea. But making a choice and sticking to it could cause anyone anxiety – let alone people with existing anxiety concerns.

People with anxiety experience excessive fear and worry and this can make decision-making all the more difficult. According to the paper, “Anxiety and Decision-Making,” people with anxiety:

1. Tend to focus on threat-related information

2. Tend to see things in a negative way

Both tendencies can affect decision making, such as that required to set New Year’s resolutions. A person with anxiety may feel “stuck” in their anxiety, unable to move forward with making resolutions.

For example, unpredictability or uncertainty naturally elicits more anxiety than predictability. Making a resolution, looking into the future, is very uncertain and this may mean that people with anxiety have greater concerns about upcoming threats or risks than others. Additionally, anxiety may create a greater desire to avoid this risk as well as view this risk more negatively than perhaps is warranted. All of this makes setting a resolution untenable for many with anxiety.

General Examples of New Year’s Resolutions for People with Anxiety

You might want to start with some examples of New Year’s resolutions for people with anxiety before you start making your own. According to Jessica Booth, someone who deals with a lot of anxiety, here are 11 New Year’s resolutions ideas that make sense for people with anxiety:

1. Resolve not to feel bad about your anxiety. Feeling bad about feeling anxious does nothing to help the situation and is unwarranted. Anxiety is an overreaction of a natural process that is not your fault. It’s hard to remember this when anxiety has a negative impact on your life, though, which is why it’s such a great New Year’s resolution for people with anxiety.

2. Resolve to talk about your anxiety instead of hiding it. Of course, the first words out of your mouth in any conversation don’t have to be about anxiety, but it is appropriate to talk about your anxiety with supportive people in your life. Talking about problems can always make them feel smaller.

3. Resolve to focus more on making yourself feel good rather than making others feel good. Some people worry about making everyone else in their life feel good and there is nothing left at the end of the day for themselves. Resolve not to let this happen to you.

4. Resolve to try yoga or meditation. Both yoga and meditation can help quell anxious thoughts and feelings, but you don’t have to be a yogi or excessively enlightened to reap the benefits. Taking a yoga class in person or following along with a yoga video on YouTube once in a while can really help. Similarly, learning to meditate – even for a few minutes a day – can help calm your mind.

5. Resolve to exercise at least 15 minutes a day. Exercise is important for everyone, but it may be even more important for those with mental health concerns like anxiety. While more than 15 minutes of exercise per day may be optimal, there is no need to start there. Exercising 15 minutes a day is a more achievable New Year’s resolution for a person with anxiety.

6. Resolve to do at least one thing this year that scares you. It’s understandable that a person with anxiety might want to avoid increasing their anxiety further by doing scary things, however, facing a fear and working through it can be incredibly rewarding and enrich your life.

7. Resolve to get out of your comfort zone. While the above New Year’s resolution is about tackling specific fears, this resolution is about trying new things outside of your normal, day-to-day comfort zone. This could be something as simple as having coffee in a new place or hanging out with new people – it all depends on your current comfort zone.

8. Resolve to do what works for you. While many people may offer advice on how to deal with anxiety, it’s important to remember that your milage may vary. In other words, people are all different and what works for one may not work for another. Make sure and do what works for you as a unique individual.

9. Resolve to confront people. Many people avoid confrontations and while this is okay sometimes, it isn’t okay all the time. You need to be open and honest about your feelings – even anxious ones – and sometimes that means confronting people.

10. Resolve to compliment yourself more often. So much of the time we focus on complimenting others, and this can actually make us feel worse about ourselves. This year, try giving yourself a compliment when you compliment someone else.

11. Resolve to get help from others. Fighting anxiety is hard and often a full-time gig, but you don’t have to do it on your own. Getting help from others can improve your life all year long.

How to Make a Specific New Year’s Resolution When You Have Anxiety

While the above resolutions are great starting points, they aren’t very specific. Advice about setting New Year’s resolutions with anxiety are similar to advice for anyone but following it may be more important for those with anxiety as it may make them feel more in-control and thus less anxious about making resolutions.

According to the Executive Director of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Susan K. Gurley, when you’re making your New Year’s resolutions, make them:

1. SMART

2. Flexible

3. Compassionate

The first criterion is for a SMART New Year’s resolution. This means, your resolution should be:

• Specific

• Measurable

• Achievable

• Realistic

• Timed

For example, saying, “I resolve to read more,” might seem like a great resolution, but it isn’t SMART. A New Year’s resolution that is similar, but SMART, would be, “I resolve to read one new book per month in 2022. I will get these books from the recommendations at my local library.”

This second resolution is more specific (I will read books, specifically), measurable (one book per month), achievable (I want to read books from the recommendations at my local library), realistic (I know I can read that much), and timed (over the course of 2022).

The second criterion for a New Year’s resolution, whether you have anxiety or not, is for the resolution to be flexible. This flexibility can be seen in two ways. First off, the flexibility should be built into the resolution, which will make it more attainable. In the above resolution, there is flexibility in when and how the books are read, the only requirement being that one is read per month. But also, flexibility should be seen in allowing yourself to tweak your resolution as needed. New Year’s resolutions should not be set in stone. Understanding that you can alter a resolution as needed, brings about more comfort as there is less fear of making a mistake when making a resolution. For example, you might need to take a month off from your book-reading resolution if you have too much work one month. This is completely okay.

Thirdly, New Year’s resolutions with anxiety need to be compassionate. According to Gurley,

“. . . self-compassion is a proven antidote to the self-criticism that blocks us from achieving our goals. It also allows us the treat of kindness that we might typically only reserve for our best friend or child.”

A way of incorporating compassion into a New Year’s resolution is by celebrating each small step of the resolution. For example, each time a book is completed, you can add it to a list and celebrate that addition with a small treat.

In all, setting New Year’s resolutions can be more difficult with anxiety, but it can be done.

Here’s to self-improvement in 2022!

Sources

1. American Psychological Association, Anxiety . Apa.org, Accessed Dec. 29, 2021.

2. Bhatt, N., “Anxiety Disorders Treatment and Management.” Medscape, Updated March 2019.

3. Booth, J., “11 Resolutions for People with Anxiety.” Bustle, Dec. 2015.

4. Gurley, S., “Setting New Year’s Resolutions: 3 Ways to Prioritize Your Mental Health.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Dec. 2021.

5. Hartley, C., and Phelps, E., “Anxiety and Decision-Making.” Biological Psychiatry, July 2012.

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Disclaimer:

The purpose of the above content is to raise awareness only and does not advocate treatment or diagnosis. This information should not be substituted for your physician's consultation and it should not indicate that use of the drug is safe and suitable for you or your (pet). Seek professional medical advice and treatment if you have any questions or concerns.