Take the stress out of New Year’s resolutions

Tips and tricks to stay on track and stress-free
Published January 26, 2023

It’s New Year’s resolutions time again, and if that stresses you out – you’re not alone. The emphasis placed on making a new start at the beginning of a new year, with ubiquitous phrases like “new year, new me” and endless pressure on social media can be overwhelming to say the least. But it doesn’t have to be.

“Ditch the idea of perfection and don’t bite off more than you can chew. Better is the new perfect,” says Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDN, co-author of The Menopause Diet Plan, A Natural Guide to Managing Hormones, Health and Happiness.

By focusing on realistic improvements, as opposed to perfection and unattainable goals, you can set yourself up for success this year.

How not to be stressed by your resolutions

Your resolutions don’t have to be a source of stress like they may have been in years past. It’s all about how you approach them.

“First, I’d suggest not choosing an obviously highly stressful resolution. Often trying to abstain from something is a stressful one, more stressful than choosing to add something. And then it’s really how you structure the resolution that often determines how stressful it feels,” says Gail Saltz MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital and host of the How Can I Help? podcast from iHeartRadio.

“For example, start by setting realistic but also bite-sized goals. If the goal is weight loss, then ‘I’d like to lose one pound a week for three months’ is more attainable and less stressful than saying ‘I plan to lose 12 pounds.’”

Ward adds, “If weight loss is your goal, focus on the big picture rather than depriving yourself of all of your favourite foods while drastically cutting calories and working out more.”

How to stay on track

New Year’s resolutions are notorious for being hard to stick with – in fact, research has shown that most people abandon their resolutions in February. So how can we beat that trend and stay on track with our resolutions, while staying stress-free at the same time?

Saltz says setting yourself up with support and company will help.

“This often means enlisting trusted friends or family to help you and cheer you on and provide solace if you fall down along the way. Or it might mean joining a support group for the issue you’re tackling to have others lend helpful ideas, to add support and to feel less alone in your task.”

Positive reinforcement along your journey toward your goals can help as well, Saltz says.

“Provide yourself some positive reinforcement as you go. Lose a pound? Give yourself a new book, a gold star, the point is a small reward, it helps to motivate.”

She also suggests making your goals manageable and working on one at a time.

“Plan to change only one behaviour at a time, make it specific, and just one – grand multi-behavioural changes are stressful,” she says.

For example, Ward adds, if you haven’t worked out in a while, don’t expect to exercise seven days a week just because it’s the new year.

“Start out with a few days of exercise and pick activities that you enjoy,” she says.

Both Saltz and Ward caution resolution-setters from beating themselves up when there are slip-ups or struggles along the way.

“And most important, making change is hard, it’s common to slip up, do not beat yourself up over this,” says Saltz. “Just be empathic to yourself, and get back on the horse. It’s the self-flagellation that stresses people so much!

“Take the long view,” Ward adds. “Change is hard, and it takes time, so cut yourself some slack.”