Medically Reviewed By Elizabeth A. Swick, MS, RDN
Start Your New Year Strong with Post-Holiday Lessons Learned
As holiday cheer subsides and you pack away the last of the decorations, the beginning of the year naturally invites much reflection over the moments that defined the last 365 days, along with anticipation for the New Year ahead. It’s a happy time of year… right?
But what if life is not a cup of hot cocoa at the moment… what if instead of resembling a made-for-TV holiday romcom where things fall perfectly into place, your last few weeks were scripted like a comedy of errors where you play the role of an overwhelmed, stressed-out Scrooge… only you’re not acting. And this is really how you’re feeling.
It’s A-OK to have an Unhappy New Year. Perhaps the pressure of operating at full capacity after close to two years of laying low became too much, or there’s static from other personal struggles. Bumps in the road don’t follow a calendar. And while a Happy New Year is a universal pursuit, it’s not always realistic.
If your cup of joy and renewal is running low, fill it up with the power of hindsight and few new habits to help you make peace with the parts that didn’t go your way.
#1 Don’t fake being happy
Let’s get this fact out in the open: the end of the year is crammed with more stress than cheer. This is not conjecture – a survey by the American Psychological Associated revealed that 38% of people experience elevated stress levels during the season of ho-ho-ho.*
Overspending, traveling, decorating, wrapping and cooking – on top of working, care-taking and all our other day-to-day to-do’s makes not for a jolly mood. Whether it’s that we truly strive for once-a-year magic or we’re just gluttons for punishment, we don’t exactly set ourselves up for a strong start to the New Year.
The solution: stop pretending that everything is happy and fine. It’s not a competition, so it would serve you best to unload yourself of the pressure to keep up with friends and neighbors. By overriding your body’s stress response, you may feel even more disconnected from yourself and unhappy with your circumstances.
#2 Set and enforce boundaries
Ranking at the top of the list of best habits to adopt for genuine happiness and joy is honoring your personal boundaries. Setting limits and enforcing them is a liberating and grounding experience, because it’s the ultimate act of self-care.
Instead of reflecting on the past year and hoping for things to change in the New Year, do a brain dump of what gives you purpose vs what brings you down; what pushes you in the direction of the sun vs what steals your sunshine. Identify the people, places, actions and things that help you realize your best self.
Setting and enforcing boundaries offers a bevy of emotional and physical benefits, according to health experts. They include building self-esteem, avoiding burnout, bolstering your sense of self and reducing stress.** And if it means having to say “NO” to live in your truth, then so be it.
#3 Stick to your routines
We often muse about needing a vacation to recover from a vacation. The end-of-year hustle and bustle is no different as it’s incredibly disruptive to our daily routines and places greater demands on limited resources.
Routines and habits bring comfort. Comfort offers stability. And stability brings an authentic sense of joy. So take a moment to decide how much or how little disruption you’ll invite into your daily routine this year. Identify the healthy habits that truly bring you joy and gift yourself permission to not compromise your happiness and wellbeing.
Be aware that this is not the same as staying inside your comfort zone, which inherently means passing up opportunities to elevate your confidence and testing your strength in the way that overcoming challenges can do. Setting limits is about you exercising your right to maintain balance and order in your life, and choosing to retain your energy instead of giving it away.
Nutrients that feed happiness
For many of us, good, wholesome nutrition is immediately compromised when we’re overwhelmed or not feeling like ourselves, which is also when we need it most.
To start your year strong and overcome known seasonal hazards to mental wellbeing, consider ramping up on one or more of these nutrients:
- Magnesium doesn’t see much fanfare, but this mineral “chill pill” is responsible for over 300 enzyme processes in the body that affect muscle and nerve function, blood pressure balance and immune system function.*
If your nerves are on edge and you’re having trouble relaxing, magnesium can help by minimizing overstimulation in the brain, reducing anxious thoughts and promoting a more peaceful state.*
- Vitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin” for a reason. Produced in the body in response to the sun’s UVB rays, vitamin D is considered essential during winter months due to its positive effect on mood, cognition and the immune response.
Studies show this powerful, fat-soluble vitamin can help beat wintertime blues and support mental health.* This is especially crucial if you live in a cold-weather climate where sun exposure is critically low in the wintertime.
- Vitamin C is another winter must-have, because it’s powerful against unhealthy microbes and bugs that go around this time of year. It boosts your natural defenses and overall health in a variety of ways, such as by enabling iron absorption.
Studies show just 200 mg daily of vitamin C can help reduce the duration of a cold by 8%, or about one day. * When you don’t feel well and you have to get back into the swing of things, every day counts!
The conclusion: it’s normal, realistic and perfectly okay to have an Unhappy New Year.
Take the best of the season and let go of outside expectations of what this time of year should look like. By setting good habits now and respecting your very human boundaries, you’ll set yourself up for a strong year ahead!