Mind Matters: New year tips for better mental health

A lot going on in your head? When life feels busy and stressed, take the time to pause and just breathe
Anne Costello

EVERY year millions of people make new year resolutions yet almost 80 per cent of us fail to achieve them, ultimately setting ourselves up for failure.

January can be a difficult month. On the one hand we are glad to get back to the routine and discipline of work and begin our new year resolutions but on the other hand we brace ourselves for a month with little money, long dark evenings and lowered immune systems which can lead to illness.

Part of the reason that we cannot deliver on our new year resolutions may be due to the fact that they are not realistic. It may be better to introduce 'bite size' changes into our lives – small achievable goals rather than a radical series of changes in any one aspect of our lives.


:: Mindful breathing: Don’t underestimate the power of the breath

When life feels busy and stressed we often forget to take the time to pause. Take a moment without any disturbance to catch your breath.

Deep mindful breathing calms the central nervous system, decreases stress levels, aids digestion and lowers blood pressure. Try it out. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Breathe in through your nose deeply, then breathe out through your nose slowly and calmly. Repeat this several times during the day, especially when you begin to become aware of your stress triggers.

:: Worry less: Avoid over thinking and ruminating

The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2030 more people will be affected by depression than any other health problem. Don’t join the club – make it a resolution to look after your mental health in the same way as you look after your physical health.

One of the leading mindfulness advocates Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about growing our mental muscle through meditation in the same way as we grow a physical muscle through exercise. We often go about our day on automatic pilot, worrying about what has happened or stressing out about what is going to happen. Worrying about the future or regretting the past wastes creative energy and time, leaving us feeling anxious and exhausted.

A mindful intervention would be to notice what triggers your bouts of worrying and anxiety. Pause, bring yourself back to the present moment, breathe deeply, cut off the ruminating thoughts and if something needs attention set aside a time to deal with it.

:: Exercise – mindful walking

You don’t have to pound the treadmill to get active this January. Any exercise, especially walking, releases endorphins which are naturally occurring chemicals that make us feel happier, and boosts energy levels. Research shows that just working small extra movements into your day has amazing health benefits.

Mindful walking involves intentionally attending to the experience of walking itself, so therefore if you find that you are absorbed in your thoughts, try to bring yourself back just to the sensations of walking.

:: Remember to be happy

Sometimes we get so bogged down in problems and worries that we forget to be happy. As the saying goes, 'Happiness is not a destination, it is a way of life'. A new year resolution might be to build in some play time into your life where you can enjoy your own company by seeing films you like or joining a drama club or dance class – just for the fun of it.

Happy new year.

:: Anne Costello BSN is a Belfast-based mindfulness and yoga teacher who offers mindfulness and stress management programmes to the public and private sectors. Email or see


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