Setting realistic mental health goals does not have to be a daunting task. However, goal setting is often approached from an emotional lens, and while you certainly need emotions to be involved in this process, you need to make sure your goals are aligned with your values.
As we wrap up 2022, you may notice people reflecting on their goals & resolutions for the New Year. Unfortunately, many people (myself included) sometimes set goals simply because they feel like they should.
As someone raised in a dysfunctional family, what kept me going was planning for the future. Goal setting fosters hope and self-trust.
This post will help you set realistic mental health goals for the coming year that is workable for YOU by looking at your 'why' tips to stay on track and measuring your progress.
Why Set Mental Health Goals?
Goal setting can have many added benefits to your life. For example, when you want to prioritize your physical health, you set concrete goals like making healthier food choices, exercising, and drinking enough water. You must continually foster your physical health like other areas of your life. Similarly, your mental health has to be cultivated and nurtured.
The beginning of the year is one of those popular times when people like to think about what they want their life to look like in the upcoming year.
Setting mental health goals is a great way to prioritize your health and well-being. It allows you to move forward and build the life you want for yourself. Unfortunately, we live in a society where we barely slow down anymore, and our bodies are getting used to higher stress levels. This stress can- unknowingly- pour into different areas of your life like your workplace, relationships, and creativity.
Taking the time to slow down and reflect on your mental health allows you to engage in healthy ways of coping with stressors. In addition, you better understand yourself by reflecting on the behaviors that impact your mind. You also experience a spike in dopamine when you accomplish something, making you feel happier.
When you set mental health goals, label progress, and achieve them, this will also pour into those different areas of your life, but positively. As a result, there is an increase in motivation and an improvement in your mental health.
Mental Health = The state of your mental being
Mental Illness = A diagnosable disorder
How Do You Set Mental Health Goals?
Setting goals for your mental health can be fun because they are individualized to you. However, people tend to set extremely broad or vague goals like 'I want to be healthy' or 'I want to have an improved relationship with my parents' While you do want to start with broad goals, people tend to miss the most important step of planning around it.
If you are new to goal setting, don't worry. Here is a 5 step process for setting mental health goals.
1. Identify your 'WHY'
Before considering your mental health goals, it is important to consider the WHY. Your why should be the foundation of your personal and value-based goals.
If this is your first time doing value-based work, start by writing down your broader goals. There is no wrong way of doing this. Think as big as you want, and it's okay if the goals scare you.
After listing the goals, write down all the values that are important to you. The easiest way to do this is to google 'list of personal values' and print out the sheet. From there, you can either circle or highlight words that speak to you. Don't spend too much time finding the PERFECT values; it does not exist. Also, your values will change as you evolve.
Once you have created a list of your values, think of the top 3-5 values that align with the broad goals you wrote for the upcoming year. Then, spend some time journaling about why you chose those goals and values. For example, if you decided relationships as one of the values you would like to focus on next year, don't just write, "I want to spend more time with my family." Instead, I want you to expand on your why. This is where the emotional part of goal setting comes in.
I like to add my 'why' to my vision board since I know I will frequently look at it. So place it somewhere that will work best for you.
2. Set S-M-A-R-T Goals
Now that you know the why behind your goals, it is time to turn them into SMART goals.
SMART Goals are a great way to keep yourself accountable and have clarity around your goals. The SMART acronym stands for "Specific," "Measurable," "Attainable" (or Achievable), "Reasonable"( or Relevant), and "Time-bound."
3. Plan Weekly Mental Health Goals
It is easier to feel motivated during the start of a new year- the endless possibilities. However, as the year progresses, you might need more inspiration. A way to ensure you are still focused on your goals and planning effectively is to engage in weekly planning and goal setting.
You want to have a clear idea of your long-term mental health goals, but to keep working towards them, you need to make them into small manageable goals. Weekly planning lets you know your priorities keeping you on track, and hitting weekly goals will increase your sense of achievement.
To set and achieve weekly goals, pick a day of the week to plan. For example, I like to do this on Saturdays as it fits my schedule better. Then, think about ways to support your mental health during the week. Finally, remember your long-term mental health goals when thinking about these weekly goals. Examples of weekly mental health goals include attending therapy once a week or practicing 1-3 daily affirmations.
As you continue developing the habit of weekly planning, challenge yourself to add an end-of-week ritual to reflect on your goals. Taking time to engage in weekly reflections is an easy way to check your mental health by reflecting on your wins, challenges, and progress during the week.
15 Mental Health Goals
5 Long-Term Mental Health Goals to Set
1. Addressing Unmet Needs by Reparenting Yourself
If you were raised in a dysfunctional family, part of the reparenting process involves reflecting on your unmet needs in childhood and giving your adult self what you did not receive as a child. Reparenting work can be done with a trained therapist or on your own.
Addressing these unmet needs allows you to change the narrative of your life and live a happier life by finding yourself, learning & understanding your patterns, self-acceptance, and changing behaviors that are in your best self-interest.
Think of reparenting as the broader goal that encompasses all the other goals listed- emotion regulation, self-care, habits & routines, embracing hobbies & passions, therapy, and self-compassion.
Reflect: What did you need as a child growing up that you didn't receive? How does that impact your present life?
2. Self- Care & Stress Management
Everyone experiences stress in their life. Our lives are constantly moving & changing. You can proactively control some stressors, while some may be unavoidable. We all experience stress uniquely, and learning how to cope with your stressors healthily is an important life skill.
Growing up in a dysfunctional family, stress was a regular part of my life. It wasn't something I needed to manage- or so I thought. However, chronic stress has many negative impacts on your health. The goal is not to remove all stress from your life because stress can have benefits when managed effectively.
The goal is to do your best to remove unnecessary stressors from your life and learn how to cope with the rest by practicing prevention strategies like self-care, prioritizing rest, boundary setting with others and yourself, etc., as well as engaging in stress relief exercises like movement, therapy, journaling, etc.
Reflect: How do you know you are stressed and what do you do to manage your stress levels?
3. Healthy Emotion Regulation
One of the main dysfunctional family rules is 'DON'T FEEL.' Growing up, if you frequently repressed your emotions or if only certain emotions were allowed in the house, you may find it challenging to cope with your feelings in a healthy way as an adult.
There is also a need for self-trust when acknowledging, feeling, and expressing your emotions. Growing up, those certain emotions that were not allowed in the house translated to 'this feeling is not okay,' and expressing it might have meant experiencing consequences like shame, guilt, and violence. As a result, as an adult, you may continue to repress and distract yourself- repeating similar patterns.
Your parents or caregivers might have openly expressed their more significant emotions in an unhealthy way. However, that same emotion wasn't okay for you to express- that can be extremely confusing. Children in dysfunctional families witness their parents coping with their feelings using substances, food, and technology.
Another aspect of reparenting includes emotion regulation- paying attention to your emotions, sitting with them, and constructively processing them. But, again, this is a long-term goal you should continually work towards.
Reflect: What are the most common emotions you remember being expressed? How were they expressed? What feelings did you not feel safe expressing? Why? How do you currently express your emotions?
4. Building, Maintaining, and Repairing Relationships
Building and maintaining relationships takes work and commitment. But, like any other area needing nurturing, your relationships need to be nurtured. The core foundations of a relationship are the ability to identify each other's needs, trust & respect, spend quality time, boundary setting, and healthy communication.
Parents and family are the first templates for seeing and approaching relationships. Most people raised in a dysfunctional family might see dysfunctional patterns, abuse, neglect, etc., and consider this normal because that is what they grew up with.
Your attachment to your parents and caretakers influences your attachment to other relationships in your life- it creates your attachment style. Therefore, it is important to take some time to self-reflect on your behaviors and understand how you show up for your relationships, so you are not unconsciously repeating the same patterns.
Reflect: Describe your attachment style.
5. Fostering Self-Discovery
Getting to know yourself is a lifelong journey. A big part of the reparenting process includes getting to know yourself separately from your family. There are multiple roles in a dysfunctional family, and getting to know yourself outside that role takes willingness, patience, and self-compassion.
Self-discovery is a process that allows you to build a connection with yourself. It enables you to learn about your needs, wants, values, goals & aspirations, and feelings, which require awareness.
Self-awareness refers to your knowledge of your feelings, beliefs, and aspirations. The more self-awareness you have, the better you can identify, manage, and regulate your emotions, improve stress management, engage in behavior change, and live the life you want for yourself.
Reflect: Do you know who you are, really?
10 Short-Term Mental Health Goals to Set
1. Develop a Morning & Nighttime Routine
A morning and nighttime routine is a great way to care for your mental health. It provides stability and structure, allowing you to start and end your day correctly.
I know I am not the only one who scrolls through YouTube videos of 'my 5 am morning routine' or 'the perfect nighttime routine,' which can quickly get overwhelming. Your morning and nighttime routine will be individualized to your needs and daily life, so you want to ensure you set realistic mental health goals. Part of setting this mental health goal is experimenting with what does and does not work for your routine.
Example of a morning routine:
Example of a nighttime routine:
2. Daily Journaling
Journaling is one of my favorite mental health goals I like to set for myself. It is a great way to understand yourself better and get your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors on paper. In addition, it is a low-cost therapeutic tool that can lead to self-growth.
What I love about journaling is that there is no wrong way of doing this. From art journal therapy to journal writing prompts, you can engage in this practice that works best for you. If you are looking to add any new goals to your list for the new year, journaling is goals to set for mental health.
If you are new to journaling, take your time with the idea of writing daily. You can journal as frequently as you would like. Of course, it helps to keep this a consistent practice, so you stick with the goal. However, you get to decide when, how and what you will journal about.
3. Stress Management Techniques
Did you know stress is the Health Epidemic of the 21st century? A little bit of stress is a normal part of life and is good for you. However, chronic stress can negatively impact your physical and mental well-being.
You can't always control what causes the stress, but you can build & manage how you respond to them. Stress management helps you cope with and overcome different stressors.
Living in a dysfunctional family has its challenges and stressors. For many people, their home can be their source of stress. If you cannot move out of your house, you are left with dealing with the daily stressors of your life and coming home to more stress.
There are ways to build stress reduction skills even in a challenging environment.
Short- term mental health goals for stress management:
4. Discovering and honoring your feelings
Many people raised in dysfunctional families are taught to communicate in a way that blames, labels, or criticizes others rather than focusing on what they feel and need. Yet, part of emotion regulation involves discovering and honoring your feelings.
6 Steps to discover and honor your feelings
1. Use the feel wheel to accurately identify what you are feeling.
2. Give yourself permission to feel the emotion and sit with it for a few minutes.
3. Think about the prompting event & vulnerability factors (ex: hunger, lack of sleep, being sick, etc.) that triggered these feelings.
4. Where do you feel this feeling on your physical body?
For example, are your shoulders raised, or is your breathing shallow? Stretch and breathe through this tension. Remember not to judge yourself during this process. Instead, approach with curiosity.
5. Express your emotions.
Examples include but are not limited to:
- Use "I" statements. For example, When I (describe what you observed)____, I feel(choose a feeling from the feel wheel)____ because (identify your need or value)____
→When I wake up in the morning and see dirty dishes in the sink, I feel frustrated because I value a clean space.
- Deep breathing exercises
- Listening to music
- Creative work
6. Engaging in self-care.
Examples include but are not limited to:
- Lighting a candle and journaling to help reframe your thoughts
- Engaging in a hobby or creative activity
- Spending time in nature
- Taking a nap
- Discussing the emotion during therapy
- Reading a book or listening to your favorite music
- Creating a to-do list for the day
- Prioritizing rest
5. Add Serotonin Producing Activities
Serotonin is your feel-good & mood-boosting hormone. It influences your overall well-being.
Lower serotonin levels can impact your mood and contribute to mental health problems like anxiety and depression. However, when you have probably balanced Serotonin, you will feel happier and emotionally stable.
Some Serotonin boosting activities include:
1. Aerobic exercise
2. Practice positive thinking or keep a gratitude journal
3. Get out in the sunshine (My favorite summer goals mental health)
4. Manage your stress
5. Support other people
6. Eat nutrient-dense foods
7. Get a massage
8. Spend time with people that make you happy
6. Go to Therapy
Therapy is a great way to stay on top of your mental health goals. Whether you have specific mental health goals for anxiety or focusing on your overall emotional health goals, therapy can help you reach your goals and overcome mental obstacles that may come your way.
The goal of therapy is to bring awareness to the dysfunctional patterns in your family, understand how those patterns are developed, and how they were passed on through past generations.
As access to therapy is becoming more accessible, there are plenty of ways to get started.
7. Add exercise to your life
Your physical health and mental health are directly related. Therefore, taking care of your body is highly beneficial for your mental health. Simple things like eating a nutrient-dense meal, hydrating, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising should be incorporated into your mental health goals.
When setting mental health goals around exercise, ensure you are setting smart goals, including measurable mental health goals. " I want to exercise more in 2023" is an extremely vague and broad goal. Examples of mental health goals
1) I will run for 30 minutes 2 times a week for the next 3 months.
2) I will go to a yoga class once a week for the next 6 weeks.
3) I will eat out once a week this month.
The popular saying 'motion creates emotion' is true, so if you are in a low mood, try moving around.
8. Establish a daily meditation or breath work practice
There is so much research showing the benefits of meditation. Yet, only a few people engage in regular practice. Why? When people think of mediation, the immediate thought that may come to mind is sitting in one place for an extended period, assuming you have to clear your mind of thoughts.
It is impossible not to think. The goal is to observe your thoughts, not be so attached to them, and let them go. This is easier said than done; however, this will become easier with practice. The key to good mental health goals for daily meditation or breathwork is to start small.
When I first started with a meditation practice, I started with a 2-5 minute timer and continued to build on that.
Here is a YouTube video of Leaves on a stream, a popular cognitive defusion technique used in Acceptance and Commitment therapy to help you get started. This mini mindfulness meditation will guide you through creating distance between your thoughts and feelings.
On the other hand, a breathing practice is a little different from meditation, and it certainly goes beyond inhaling and exhaling. When you engage in regular breathing exercises, you focus on changing your breathing to reach a specific result.
It is a great alternative to meditation. While both have tremendous advantages for your mental and physical well-being, breathwork is the way to go if you have difficulties separating yourself from your thoughts.
My favorite breathing is the alternate nostril breathing exercise. Read: Nadi Shodhana: How to Practice Alternate Nostril Breathing
9. Mindful and consistent eating patterns
We live in a busy world where making time for eating and rest has become challenging. When you engage in mindful eating, you pay attention to what you eat, how you eat it, and how it makes you feel. As a result, you learn to understand your hunger cues and reduce disordered ways of eating.
Mindful eating is a form of mindfulness practice that can include things like eating slower, eating without distractions like tv and social media, engaging your senses, paying attention to how certain foods make you feel, learning what 'full' feels like for you, and coping with any anxiety around food.
Along with mindful eating, another important goal to pair with it is consistently eating. Unfortunately, many of us eat on the go or have extremely inconsistent eating times, which contributes to poor mental health.
Setting mental health goals around mindful eating and creating consistent eating patterns should be done under a licensed professional's supervision if you need extra support or have a history of eating disorders.
10. Build and foster a healthy support system
Having a solid support system has many benefits for your overall well-being. It can include your friends, family, or community members you can turn to in times of need. Your social support does not have to be limited to times of crisis but can also be beneficial to reach your mental health goals.
Whether you have mental health goals for anxiety, mental health goals for depression, or just a few daily mental health goals you would like to focus on, having a strong support system is a good way to stay on track.
An excellent tip I have tried to foster is not to make one person my support system for every area of my life. That can be overwhelming for the person trying to support you, and even if they can manage it all, you are allowed to have the support of different people supporting different areas of your life.
How To Reach Your Mental Health Goals: Tips
1. Setting Small Goals
When I observed the mental health goals for 2022 that most people were setting, I noticed that they either set huge or extremely small goals. Of course, when you first set mental health goals, you want to think big, so naturally, your goals will be broader. However, those larger goals require strategy and planning to ensure you follow through on them, which means setting smaller goals.
Smaller goals are easier to stick with and give you a sense of accomplishment. You also foster self-trust when you set small goals and consistently meet them because you give yourself a chance to experience small wins.
For example, if you have never journaled before, you should set a goal of trying to journal 2 times a week for 10-15 minutes instead of setting a goal of journaling every day. You are likelier to stick with the first goal than the latter.
2. Take The Time To Celebrate Progress
Celebrating your progress means acknowledging your accomplishments as they align with your intentions. Small rewards during the week or month give you something to look forward to and recognize your progress. Of course, you are not going to feel great all the time, and as I mentioned, your motivation isn't going to be high all the time- you need to create dopamine spikes to keep working towards your mental health goals.
One way of doing that is taking the time to celebrate progress. This is a habit I learned from my sister. She would reward herself weekly to celebrate her progress, which helped her continue working towards her goals. You can celebrate your progress by tracking of all your small wins or rewarding yourself.
3. Avoid All-or-Nothing Thinking
All-or-nothing thinking is a common distortion where people may view things in an all-or-nothing mindset with no grey area. When you see something in such extreme absolutes, it can be challenging to have a shift in perspective and possible solutions.
All-or-nothing thinking may include language like, "I am never going to achieve my mental health goals," " I always go back to my old ways," or " I should be able to reach all my emotional health goals."
When you continue to focus on the negative, you may procrastinate and not work towards the life you want. A good way to start tackling these thoughts is to pay attention to what you say and how you think. You can do this by tracking your thoughts and labeling the cognitive distortion.
When you label a cognitive distortion, you can reframe your thoughts and consider an alternative perspective. You can now think about your situation dialectically by using words like and, but, and or, allowing you to embrace flexibility.
Examples of mental health goals for anxiety:
Initial Thought: "I am never going to achieve my mental health goals."
Labeling the distortion: NEVER = All-or-Nothing Thinking
Reframe Thought: " I am being really hard on myself. I have already made significant small changes in my life that are meaningful."
4. Find an Accountability Partner
Having an accountability partner is a great way to stay on top of your mental health goals for 2023. They can be a constant source of motivation and help you stay accountable.
You can choose someone from your inner circle that you trust and may have similar goals.
5. Establish a Reward System
This is one of the most important tips to ensure you reach your mental health goals. As you set monthly and weekly goals, determine how you will reward yourself for reaching your mini-goals. For example, if your goal is to read 2 books a month and achieve the goal, a good reward would be purchasing a cup of your favorite coffee to read with your book.
Setting rewards gives you the extra push to keep working towards your goal and have something to look forward to.
How To Track Your Mental Health Goals
1. List Each of Your Goals + Breakdown Goals
Start by listing out each goal you want to achieve in 2023. Once you list each goal, break them down into smaller goals that include deadlines.
I like to add my yearly, six-month, and 3-month goals. That allows me to add smaller weekly tasks and not get overwhelmed.
Yearly Goal: "I want to prioritize my mental health this year."
SMART Goal: "I will attend at least 20 therapy sessions in the next 12 months to prioritize my mental health."
6 Month Goal: " I will go to therapy at least 2 times a month for these next 6 months to prioritize my mental health."
3 Month Goal: "I will go to therapy at least 2 times a month for these next 3 months."
Weekly Goal: Scheduling therapy appointments for the month, post-therapy session journaling, and 1 way I can apply what I learned in therapy to my week (set daily mental health goals).
2. Habit Tracker
A habit tracker is a great way to stay on top of your goals. Naturally, your motivation will increase towards the start of a new year. However, that motivation can start to dwindle with the year.
You can find a habit tracker app, bullet journal mental health goals, or find any other ways to help you track your goals. My favorite way of tracking habits is 'The Seinfeld Method.' It is a productivity technique that has helped me build good habits.
Taking care of your mental health is essential, starting with setting practical mental health goals for yourself. Whether you spend time with your support system, journal your feelings, or seek therapy, making progress toward your goals can make a significant difference.
Also, remember that everyone's mental health goals will differ, and your journey is about YOU. I hope these tips help you with your goals to improve mental health and goal setting for mental health.
Rooting for you, always!
Comment below with any mental health goals you set for yourself this year. Happy New Year.