Among my clients, I see many people who are stressed and overwhelmed or just apathetic and unhappy. Here are 10 New Year's resolutions that will allow you to live the life you deserve. If you stop these behaviors, you'll have stopped undercutting your potential to be happy long term.
1. Get enough sleep.
Yes, I am all for quality time with your spouse or kids, but let's be honest, that's not why you're up until midnight (and then up again at 6 a.m.). It's usually one of the following: messing around on the Internet, watching TV, or housework. I don't think any of these things are worth missing sleep for (and I will elaborate on each of these below as well), since sleep is so important for health, mood, weight management, psychological health, and more. When you don't sleep, you're irritable, you can't accomplish much, you snack on crappy food, and depression and anxiety can get worse. You owe it to yourself to go upstairs by 10 or 10:30, and then no electronic devices in bed, because they can mess up your sleep too.
2. Watch less, or no, TV.
You would never let your kids watch as much TV as you do, and it still counts if it's in the background when you're "doing other things." The average American adult watches four hours of TV a day yet still says they have no time to exercise. From my perspective as a couples therapist, many couples spend a lot of time together watching TV yet still feel distant and detached, because they aren't interacting during this time. I would say an hour a day of watching TV together (and talking about it!) would be something to aim for, and no more, even as background noise.
3. Stop eating crap.
I totally understand the pull to eat mindlessly, but it is so bad in the long term. Sugar has been linked to obesity, fatigue, and even cardiovascular disease. Getting into a routine where you eat whole foods and not processed ones may be challenging at first, but your health, mood, energy levels will all benefit from a focus on eating this way. I enjoy eating low-carb now, but whatever you choose, try to avoid processed foods with sugar.
4. Make time for exercise.
Exercise has been shown to be an acceptable substitute to anti-depressants when it comes to controlling depression. I understand very well how hard it can be to find the time to exercise, since I have three small kids, one of whom still wakes up multiple times a night, and work. But the effects of exercise on psychological and physical health cannot be overstated. Even if it's just 2-3 times a week, try to give yourself the gift of regular exercise (where you work up a sweat and are out of breath -- not a slow walk around the block -- it just won't have the same effect on your health). Running a half hour three times a week is only 1.5 hours out of your life and is immeasurably helpful. And if you're a SAHM without childcare, try and find a Stroller Strides!
5. Stop keeping a spotless house.
I wonder how many people could afford a bimonthly cleaning service if they allocated money differently, or how many husbands and kids could be in fact be entreated to help with chores if it was a family activity once per week. And aside from this once weekly or once every other week cleaning, what would it be like not to worry about how clean the house is? It would probably free you up for many other genuinely enjoyable and relaxing activities, such as exercise, cooking, hobbies, sex, and so forth.
6. Have sex.
I get that you're tired, but there are many positive health benefits of having regular sex. Also, if you don't like your husband being passive, are you aware that having more sex with him can actually increase his testosterone levels, which directly impacts his physical and psychological health, and his energy and drive? Also, obviously, not having sex is usually not a mutual decision, so one partner ends up feeling very rejected and hurt. More sex -- better relationship, overall.
6. Have sex.
7. Stop interacting with and worrying about your kids constantly.
If your kids cannot entertain themselves, you are going to have a long road ahead of you as a parent. The goal is to be able to live your own life in the presence of your kids, at least some of the time. Child-centered marriages are in danger of falling apart more than marriages where both spouses' needs are taken into account, and in fact take priority over children's desires. I am also personally very averse to the idea of allowing parental anxiety to overshadow your and your children's lives. If you worry about your children daily, and this leads to an overall feeling of anxiety, discomfort, and impacts your mood, it is time to seek professional help to address this issue.
8. Stop waiting for your spouse to read your mind.
This one is big in couples work. It would be great if all couples were so attuned that they didn't need to express themselves directly to each other, but it would also be great if I had a money tree in my backyard. These are both fantasies, and as soon as you can accept and move past the idea that your spouse should read your mind, the better you and your marriage will be. The best course of action is to express yourself directly and ask to get your needs met, while also empathizing with your partner's perspective. If this doesn't work, try couples counseling.
9. Stop letting intrusive or rude family members or in-laws ruin your day/holiday/life.
Another common problem I see in therapy is allowing toxic family members to deeply impact your psychological well being and self-image. There needs to be a way that you (and your spouse, if it's in-laws) decide to deal with these issues, and it must involve not taking these behaviors or remarks personally, and setting either physical or psychological boundaries. (Physical example: We only see parents once per week; psychological example: acknowledge my mother is narcissistic and nothing she says needs to impact how I feel about myself.)
10. Stop wishing you were different.
This is the most important one of all. Yes, there are many positive ways to change yourself, but none of these can even happen until you accept where and who you are right now. Even if you grew up without acceptance, you can love yourself now and accept that you are a valuable and worthwhile person at your core. If you need therapy to help with this, then do it now. You owe it to yourself.
These 10 resolutions can give you back your ability to fully appreciate, enjoy, and engage with life. If you find that too many of them apply to you, please try to introspect as to why and how you can work on them. Life is too short to do things that don't help you live to the fullest. And until we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Wants You To Live The Life You Deserve.