New Year: New You

It’s almost January again.  This can only mean one thing:  After a long month of over-indulging on food, alcohol, and just about everything else, people everywhere will make their New Year’s resolutions.

Statistics tell us that most people will resolve to manage debt, lose weight, improve diet, drink less, reduce stress, volunteer more, get a better job, and finally quit smoking.  Those same statistics tell us that within 6 months, only 46% of people who set resolutions will continue to work on them.

Resolutions tend to encourage all-or-nothing thinking.  People set large goals (such as going to the gym every day) that might be hard to attain, and end up giving up when life gets in the way.

People who set more manageable goals, on the other hand, have a better chance of maintaining those goals long term.  Promising to hit the gym 3-4 times a week allows more room for error.  If you miss a day or two due to illness or a crazy work schedule, there are still 5 other days left in the week to get there.

Still, I think there’s a better way to handle this New Year’s resolution thing.  I think we should all skip the goals and resolutions this year and focus on happiness instead.  Kicking stress to the curb is an impossible task, it’s part of life after all, but improving your emotional well-being is both attainable and well within your grasp.  Happy parents raise happy kids.  It’s time to think about happiness.

Below are a few tips to help you think about you for a change:

1.    Find your tribe:  Between parenting, work, and marriage, it can be difficult to focus on friendships.  Women who feel supported by friends are better able to cope with stress and difficult situations.  Commit to your friendships by establishing weekly phone calls and regular face to face interactions.  Remember, friendship is always a two-way street.  You need to be able to listen to and support your friends as much as they listen to and support you.

2.    Talk it though once:  While research supports the importance of female relationships when it comes to feeling supported and heard, it also indicates the need for limits.  Talking through the same worries or issues repeatedly with a friend can quickly become a form of rumination known as “co-rumination” which can increase the stress hormone cortisol.  Talk it through once then do something productive like take a walk, play with your kids, or cook a healthy meal.  Resist the urge to continue dissecting the same stressful situation repeatedly.

3.    Think positive:  Stress is everywhere and bad things happen, but that doesn’t have to mean that life is stressful or bad.  People who celebrate the small accomplishments along the way and visualize a positive outcome are more likely to reach their goals and enjoy the ride.  Try not to let one difficult day leave you feeling depressed and/or guilt-ridden for days to come.  Acknowledge the stressor, work through it, and find your happy place.  When parents feel positive, their kids tend to experience more positive emotions.  As it turns out, looking on the bright side really does make the world a better place.

4.    Smile often:  Research shows that smiling actually does lift your mood.  It’s true.  That’s why it’s so contagious.  Stuck in a funk?  Force a smile.  Although faking it might seem unlikely to work, plastering a smile on your face can cause you to experience a mood lift.  Of course, engaging in uplifting behaviors helps too.  Play with your kids when you’re feeling down.  Let their smiles bring one to your face too.

5.    Hug it out:  Have you ever noticed that you feel less tense after you pull your kids in close for a big hug?  Experiencing touch from a loved one or someone you trust has been shown to reduce stress levels and lower blood pressure.  Grab your husband and/or your kids and hug it out as much as possible.  It will help the whole family.

6.    Avoid all or nothing thinking:  People who think in black and white experience more stress.  One bad choice does not a bad parent make.  Over-generalizing leads to a very negative pattern of thinking that can be difficult to correct.  Give yourself a break when you make a mistake, and allow yourself the chance to correct it.  We teach our kids to take a few deep breaths and then try again.  You have the right to do the same.  We all make mistakes and we all experience negative emotions at times, it’s what we do with them that counts.

7.    Work on coping:  Life is hard at times. Stress happens.  We can’t control everything that happens on a daily basis, but we can control how we react to stressful situations.  Give yourself a minute to process the stressor, use deep breathing to calm your anxious or angry reactions, and examine the situation before you react.  Make sure you have a few different coping strategies that work for you:  Visualization exercises, yoga, exercise, positive social interactions, and meditation are all proven stress reducers, but you have to do what works for you.  If chamomile tea and a good book provide stress relief for you, by all means make that happen.

8.    Stop the gossip:  Have you ever walked away from a gossip heavy conversation feeling just a little built guilty?  You’re not alone.  Judging others and engaging in gossip can increase stress levels and leave you feeling worse than when the conversation started.  Resist the temptation to join the gossip and engage in more positive and meaningful conversations instead.  Leaving the negativity behind will free you up to think positive and visualize all of that success coming your way in the New Year!

How will you increase your happiness this year?

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About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and the forthcoming "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)