In January, many of us make resolutions to live healthier, happier lives. We vow to do yoga more often, buy a Peloton bike, or call the dermatologist to finally get that mole looked at. The beginning of the year is also a powerful time to make a resolution to care for one of the most important aspects of our overall wellbeing– our mental health.
Two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have been extremely taxing for nearly everyone. More than 40 percent of adults report struggling with anxiety, according to the Government Accountability Office. And 13 percent say that they started using substances, or increased substance use, to deal with the stress of the pandemic. Health care workers report being at a breaking point after years of grueling work. And teachers, students and parents struggle with the ups and downs of school shut downs and quarantines. It is clear that Americans are badly in need of mental health care.
“Annual check ins with a mental health provider are a great way to ensure your psychological health is given as much attention as your physical health,” says Jennifer Street, LCSW.
Many people become accustomed to living with mental illness and assume that the symptoms of depression, anxiety, trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder are components of their personality, Street says. But that’s simply not true. Each of these conditions can be treated and the symptoms can resolve.
And even if you aren’t struggling, Street says, it can still be helpful to talk with a mental health provider. “There are many topics you can focus on in an annual mental health check up: relationships, career planning, goal setting, increasing productivity, improving sleep, dealing with grief, and resolving hurts from the past. These are all things therapy can help with,” she says.
For those who have previously gotten mental health treatment, Street recommends trying a new type of therapy. For example, she uses Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) to help clients struggling from unresolved trauma. “A lot of times with depression or anxiety, there is some untreated trauma,” she says. If you think of your life as a movie and if there is a distressing scene that replays over and over, you can treat that with ART.”
Street says she has seen many clients transform their lives. One client, a veteran who suffered a traumatic brain injury in combat, underwent ART, neurofeedback and other therapies to heal from both his brain injury and PTSD. “I saw him three years later and I thought he was a different person,” she says.
Everyone has this power to change their lives, Street says. The start of a year is an excellent time to reflect on ways we can heal and grow– and find a therapist to help in that journey. “Our brains are elastic and they can shift and change,” says Street. “We can train our brains to change. And if we can retrain our brains, that gives us the power to change other aspects of our lives.”