As the clock strikes midnight and the calendar turns to a new year, many individuals find themselves inspired to set ambitious resolutions, eager to embrace a fresh start. For those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, the road to recovery can be uniquely challenging. Navigating the delicate balance between self-improvement and self-care is crucial. In this blog post, we explore the importance of setting realistic and attainable New Year’s resolutions for individuals coping with PTSD, depression, and stress disorders.
Some studies suggest that resolutions, when created haphazardly or unrealistically could be more detrimental to mental health. A 1988 University of Scranton study found that 77% of people made New Year’s resolutions. How many stuck to them is another story: only 19%, or one out of five, actually fulfilled them within two years. (Norcross & Vangarelli, 1988). A 2018 Statista survey found that, of the 54% making New Year’s resolutions, only a paltry four percent said they achieved all of them. (Statista Research Department, 2019)
Why is it so hard to keep those resolutions? Typically, it’s because they are unrealistic and too broad. More importantly, resolutions don’t typically come from a positive mental place. Focusing on what you feel may be “wrong” with your life can be detrimental – especially if you don’t fulfill those resolutions.
The Importance of Setting Realistic Resolutions:
Prioritize Self-Care: Setting realistic resolutions allows individuals with PTSD to prioritize self-care. Rather than overwhelming themselves with an extensive list of goals, focusing on a few manageable objectives ensures that self-care remains at the forefront.
Reduce Stress and Anxiety: Ambitious resolutions can contribute to heightened stress and anxiety levels, exacerbating the symptoms of PTSD. Realistic goals foster a sense of accomplishment and reduce the pressure associated with monumental changes, promoting a more peaceful and stable mental state.
Build Confidence and Momentum: Success breeds success. Achieving smaller, realistic resolutions builds confidence and momentum, creating a positive feedback loop. This positive reinforcement is particularly beneficial for individuals with PTSD, helping to counteract negative thoughts and emotions.
Establish Consistency: Consistency is key to any form of personal growth. Realistic resolutions are more likely to be integrated into daily routines, fostering a sense of stability. Establishing consistent habits contributes to a healthier overall lifestyle and aids in the management of PTSD symptoms.
Practical Tips for Setting Realistic Resolutions:
Keep It Real, Keep It Small: Begin with small, achievable goals. These can be as simple as incorporating mindfulness practices into your daily routine, taking short walks, or dedicating time to a hobby that brings comfort. Aiming too big could be setting yourself up for disappointment and feelings of failure, which should be the opposite intention.
Seek Support: Reach out to friends, family, or support groups. Sharing your resolutions with a trusted support network provides encouragement and accountability, making it easier to stay on track.
Be Specific With Your Goals: The more realistic and specific you are about what it is you’re trying to achieve, the better you will be able to understand, tackle, and complete the tasks that will get you there. Setting a resolution to “run more this year” is an example of going too broad. Saying “I will run a half marathon this year” is a specific goal that will then lead you to the (literal!) steps that you need to take to train appropriately and help you cross the finish line.
Celebrate Progress: Acknowledge and celebrate every achievement, no matter how small. Recognizing progress, no matter how incremental, reinforces the positive impact of your efforts.
Be Flexible: Life is unpredictable, and setbacks are a natural part of the journey. Be flexible with your resolutions and adjust them as needed. Adaptability is a strength, not a weakness.
Don’t Aim For Perfection: Being too critical on yourself and picking apart everything you find wrong with you is not healthy and is, in fact, a sign of depression and dysmorphia, whether it be physical or emotional. When struggling to heal from trauma, it can be hard for some to see themselves as they truly are which can lead to trying to overachieve, overcorrect, or completely change aspects of their lives to fit a mold of what they think bring others happiness. Remembering that everyone is a constant work in progress and that perfection is unattainable is a way to be kind to yourself in your healing. Waking up every day and doing your best is enough. And every triumph along your unique journey is worth celebrating.