As a NYC psychotherapist who provides mental health services, I can tell you the reality of what most of my patients are experiencing-- and it's not "new year, new me." The holidays, those magical two weeks where the "real world" recedes into the distance and you're surrounded by family, friends, food and festivity, can also be somewhat draining. For my patients who are going through a significant breakup or divorce, this sense of unreality is compounded by painful memories of lost love and pressures to "be better."
Prescription for the Blues
They are likely still recovering from the indulgence of the holidays and struggling to get back to their equilibrium. Maybe it's added financial stressors of being the sole gift giver (tipping your 6 doormen is way more affordable when you have a partner to split them with) or the daunting task of reentering the dating scene with the extra pounds packed on from night after night of holiday party decadence. It's also kind of jolting to return to a full schedule of work without the relaxed holiday vibe offices frequently experience. While it's common for people to complain about having a packed social schedule around the holidays, these events are also a major source of support for those who are going through a major transition. Suddenly, the festive lights (and moods) are packed away for next year, and what awaits is a long, cold winter fraught with uncomfortable changes and new realities of life as a single person.
So what do I tell my patients? Ignore the messaging, and focus on getting back to yourself. The emotionality around a major breakup or divorce is hard enough without the pressure of unrealistic goals and platitudes about being your best self. It's okay if you don't feel you can handle the pressures of an extreme diet (like this Whole 30 that I can't seem to stop hearing about!) or the idea that "2019 will be my best year yet" feels a little disingenuous. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but most resolutions fail, and ultimately, make the person setting them feel worse.
What I do encourage people to do is think of small, incremental changes that may ultimately put them in the mindset to feel more like themselves. For some, this may be unfollowing those annoying instagram accounts that tout self love but ultimately make you feel worse in comparison. By the way-- not everyone can afford a personal pilates teacher or has a ruggedly handsome husband to play babysitter to your adorably obnoxious kids while you #resolve to make more time for #girlsnight in which you are impeccably dressed in your chicest #ootd (outfit of the day for those who don't know). I encourage patients to evaluate what people places or things they come into contact with regularly that make them feel "lesser than" and unfollow/unsubscribe/don't reach out. People are typically less resistant to doing this when I remind them that all of this is temporary and reversible at any time. It's amazing how many negative things we keep in our lives just because we fear what it means to admit that they make us feel a certain way!
From there, we may shift to focusing on activities (no matter how insignificant) that do bring us pleasure and making it a goal to spend more time doing those things. No judgements here if these pleasurable activities are not "learning to meditate" or "giving back" and instead mean taking a whole afternoon to yourself to binge watch a season of your favorite show. it's about remembering what it feels like to feel good and even if it's a fleeting feeling, making these activities a priority.
Visualize Yourself Happy
I mean in no way to downplay the value of setting goals and going after them. Visualization has been proven to be an incredibly effective tool for people who want to motivate themselves to make positive changes and reach goals.
However, I think that it's simplistic to assume that everyone is ready to go on January 1st. So to those who are struggling with this, know that you are not alone and its OK to just want to be OK right now. If that means scrapping the ole New Years Resolution, so be it! Your mental health is the priority.
Meg Josephson, a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in NYC. Follow her on Instagram @citytherapist or connect with her on her website at http://www.meg-josephson.com/.
As a therapist, she is committed to providing therapy that is both compassionate and practical. Some of her clients seek therapy to address a concrete issue such as the dissolution of a marriage or relationship; others come out of a more abstract sense that something in their lives could be different or more fulfilling. By exploring and defining their personal values, Meg works with her clients to take the necessary steps in developing richer, more rewarding relationships and lives.