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The mental health toll of failed New Year’s resolutions

Posted on 02-07-16 in Cognition, Depression, Stress

The mental health toll of failed New Year’s resolutions

The most accurate study of New Year’s resolutions, conducted by researchers at the University of Scranton, noted a sharp drop in how long the New Year’s resolutions last. Among the individuals assessed, 77 percent stuck with their goals through a full week, whereas 55 percent followed through for a month. By six months into the new year, only 40 percent still pursued their goal.

In the human brain, goal-oriented thinking does not coordinate with the thinking related to habits. Even though we may intentionally be acceptable of change, we are unknowingly partial towards more routine solutions. Our habits are more deeply embedded than we realize, and trying to counter them with resolutions isn’t as simple as it seems.

A failing resolve

Humans endure psychological injuries such as failure or rejection just as often as physical injuries. Psychological injuries inflict emotional wounds that have a far-reaching impact. A single occurrence of failure can affect self-esteem, confidence and insight into goals and abilities. This can result in feelings of helplessness and incapability, even though, in reality, neither is the case.

Failure most often leads to feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty, guilt and shame, resentment and despair, of deep shortcomings and a general inability to cope adequately with the demands of life. None of these feelings add to sound mental health.

A damaged self-esteem

The 1994 study “Self-esteem and the promotion of mental health” asserted, “The most basic task for one’s mental, emotional and social health … is the construction of his/her positive self-esteem.”

Self-esteem refers to an individual’s evaluation of his or her positive or negative value, based on the scores they associate with themselves under different roles in life. Positive self-esteem is considered a basic attribute of mental health and a barrier against negative influences.

Several recent studies have shown a significant correlation between personal well-being and high self-esteem, and that self-esteem plays a major role in both mental well-being and happiness.

“Every time we fail, we damage our self-esteem,” says Janet Polivy, a psychologist at the University of Toronto in Mississauga. “We make ourselves less able to bounce back the next time. One thing we see is that, when people fail, they blame themselves. And that makes it hard to start again.”

Failed aspirations, self-esteem and mental health

The strain theory of suicide hypothesizes that psychological stresses usually pave the way for mental disorders including suicidal behavior. The four sources of strain are differential value clashes, inconsistency between aspiration and reality, relative deficiency, and a lack of coping skills.

An extensive psychological autopsy study conducted in rural China assessed 392 suicides. Two informants (a family member and a close friend) were interviewed for each suicide and relative environmental controls.

It was found that individuals having experienced failed aspirations were significantly more likely than others to be diagnosed with at least one mental disorder and major depression.

The study supports the hypothesis that the discrepancies between reality and an individual’s aspiration is likely to lead to mental disorders such as major depression and suicidal behavior. Lowering a patient’s idealistic aspiration can be one of the strategies used in cognitive therapies by mental health professionals.

Fear of failure

A fear of failure is essentially a fear of shame. Individuals with a fear of failure are motivated to avoid failing not because they are unable to manage the basic emotions of disappointment, anger and frustration that accompany such experiences but because failing also makes them feel deep shame and insecurity.

Such people typically worry about what other people will think about them, and they often tend to tell others beforehand to not expect them to succeed. They often get last-minute headaches, stomach aches or other physical symptoms that prevent preparation. Moreover, they often procrastinate and get distracted by less relevant tasks.

Time for change

A positive outlook is the key. It is vital to understand the predetermined limitations of your willpower, but the reverse is also true. If you believe in your ability to maintain self-control, you are actually able to sustain it for longer.

If you are still struggling to stick to your resolutions for this year, there might be some changes you need to make:

  • CHANGE: Trying to tackle everything at once
  • HOW: Focus on one thing to change at a time and do it well
  • CHANGE: Starting off with a big habit
  • HOW: Start with a change that is small and so reasonable that you simply can’t bring yourself to put it off.
  • CHANGE: Concentrating on the result rather than on development of the ritual
  • HOW: Focus on the behavior instead of the outcome. Simply setting New Year goals does not bring about the desired change; adopting a new lifestyle to achieve this goal does so
  • CHANGE: Remaining in the same environment
  • HOW: Construct an environment that endorses the desired change. You cannot be encouraged to eat healthy if you are constantly surrounded by unhealthy food
  • CHANGE: Not associating importance to the small changes
  • HOW: Changing habits and following through with a resolutions is a gradual process. Small changes need to be accounted for as they add up to the big achievement

Sovereign Health is a leading behavioral health treatment provider devoted to helping our patients not just succeed in treatment but excel in their lives as well. We understand the impact of pressures on recovery. If you or a loved one is currently battling such stress and depression, call us right away on our 24/7 helpline.

Written by Sana Ahmed, Sovereign Health Group writer

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