FEEL nervous at the mention of New Year’s resolutions? Break out in a sweat at the thought of dry January? You could be suffering with ‘old-lang-xiety’.
Rarely can we make it through the lead up to New Year without being asked: What’s your New Year’s resolution?
What are you giving up? What fitness programme are you starting? How are you losing the Christmas weight?
It’s no wonder then, that we feel a huge amount of pressure to make big changes to our lifestyle the minute we wake up on New Year’s Day.
And while change can often improve our health, for some, New Year’s resolutions could actually make it worse.
Millions of Brits make resolutions every year, but stats from YouGov show that of those who make a New Year’s resolution, only a quarter keep them (26 per cent).
Health comes top of the resolution list, with ‘Doing more exercise’ and ‘Improving fitness’ topping the list of resolutions (53 per cent), and ‘Losing weight’ (48 per cent) the second most popular resolution, followed by ‘Improving diet’ (39 per cent).
But these high pressure, big lifestyle change resolutions can bring a large helping of stress and anxiety.
Dr Alex George, former Love Islander and a campaigner for mental health says New Year’s anxiety is a very real condition, and something many people might not realise they are experiencing.
He says: “Anxiety can hit at any time in our lives and it’s no surprise that the New Year is an extremely common one.
“Anxiety is often caused by feeling overwhelmed, feeling out of control and fear of the unknown.
“On the lead up to the New Year we are surrounded by messages of: ‘You need to change’, ‘You need to restrict’, ‘You need to exercise.’
“Our brains want us to be safe and comfortable, so when we consider making big, scary changes, they respond with stress and fear.
“Change can make the brain release the stress hormone cortisol and can also trigger our ‘fight or flight’ response.
“Fight or flight is a physiological reaction to something our brains perceive as stressful or frightening and it activates our sympathetic nervous system making us feel nervous and anxious as a result.
“When you consider the pressure we put on ourselves at New Year, and all the expectations we think others have of us, it is very normal to experience anxiety as a result.”
Think you might be struggling with New Year anxiety? Here Dr Alex breaks down what causes it, why it’s bad for our health and how to avoid it…
WE MAKE RESOLUTIONS WITHOUT THINKING THEM THROUGH
Dr Alex says: “[At] New Year we are sold the idea that we should suddenly want a six pack, or should be going on a diet to lose weight.
“Some people might absolutely want to achieve these things, but lots of others don’t.
“During any other month of the year we don’t get told that we need to decide what big change we are going to make, but during January we feel it is expected of us.
“Instead of stopping and thinking, ‘Do I need or want to change anything in my life at the moment?’ we rush into making a cliché New Year’s resolution that isn’t right for us at this time.
“This not only leaves us feeling anxious about the change, it also makes us fearful for the coming month, because we know we are going to have to live while giving up something we love.”
WE FEAR FAILURE
Dr Alex says: “Anxiety is largely caused by fear.
“Most of the resolutions we chose to make for the new year – giving up certain foods or embarking on a tough new exercise routine – are not things we perceive as being easy.
“We set ourselves these resolutions knowing they are going to challenge us and that makes us nervous.
“We start to worry about where to start, how hard it is going to be and whether we will be able to achieve what we set out to do.
“The big difference between a New Year’s resolution and deciding to make change at other times of the year is that usually we have told people what our resolution is, putting that extra layer of pressure on us not to fail.”
WE COMPARE OUR RESOLUTIONS TO OTHER PEOPLE’S
Dr Alex says: “During other times of the year we might choose to start making healthier decisions, but we are not usually surrounded by other people doing the same.
“January sees us inundated with ad campaigns, social media posts and friends all telling us what other people are doing to ‘be better’ and we naturally compare ourselves to them and what they are doing, rather than focusing on us.
“This comparison can result in anxiety because we worry that others will judge us and our efforts.”
THE CHANGE IS TOO DRAMATIC
Dr Alex says: “After the high of Christmas and all the relaxing and high calorie food and drink, the New Year brings a drastic lifestyle change of high activity and restriction and that overwhelms us.
“If we choose to make lifestyle changes at other times of the year, it doesn’t normally come after a whole month of over indulging, but that’s exactly what happens following Christmas.
“The January blues is a very real thing. Levels of depression in the UK dramatically rise in January, largely due to the ‘come down’ after the high of the Christmas period.
“We’re no longer surrounded by friends and family, we have less money after spending it over Christmas, we have ‘nothing to look forward to’ and then we add to this, the restriction that New Year’s resolutions bring, and it results in anxiety.”
WHY IS NEW YEAR ANXIETY BAD FOR OUR HEALTH?
Dr Alex says: “If you have ever experienced anxiety you know that it is not a pleasant feeling – especially when you experience it for a long period of time.
“But as well as leaving us feeling nervous and uncomfortable, anxiety can have big impacts on our health.
“Long-term anxiety sees our brain constantly release stress hormones which leaves the body and mind in a constant state of stress.
“This can lead to minor symptoms including headaches, sweats and dizziness, but there are many bigger, long term problems including:
- Weight gain/obesity
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Digestive issues – Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Chronic stress
- Weakened immune system
HOW TO AVOID NEW YEAR ANXIETY
Dr Alex says: “It can be difficult to avoid the [pressure around] new year completely, but there are lots of things you can do to prevent yourself from experiencing new year anxiety.
“Before you make a resolution, stop and ask yourself: ‘How do I feel? Am I happy? Is this change going to make me happier?’
“If the answer is: ‘Yes, I want to make these changes and I’m making them for me’ then that’s great.
“But if you can’t really answer why you are choosing your resolution, then maybe don’t make it.
“Don’t change for the sake of it, do it because you believe it really will benefit you.
“New Year isn’t a time to compare diets or fitness challenges with others, it’s a time for you to do you.
“You are not only going to remove feelings of anxiety if you stop comparing yourself to others, but you are also much more likely to enjoy the changes you are making, meaning you are more likely to succeed.
“Unfollow anyone on social media who isn’t going to make you feel good during the New Year period.”
“We often feel pressure to make a big statement with a big, challenging resolution, but the smaller and more manageable the resolution is, the less overwhelming it will be.
“Remove anxiety and set yourself up for success by choosing a resolution that is exciting and achievable.
“Step count is a great place to start. Get a FitBit smart watch and set yourself a daily step goal.
“This is much less scary than joining a gym or trying to run a marathon, but it has an incredible impact on your health.”
“A New Year’s resolution doesn’t have to be isolating and scary, especially when we accept help and support from others.
“Speak to experts, use apps and technology to help you out and join online or face to face communities of people on the same journey as you.
“Making changes with others who are on a similar journey to you can be a great support and make it all more enjoyable.”
Dr Alex George is an ambassador for Fitbit, where he helps raise awareness of the psychological and physiological effects that this time of year can have on our health and wellbeing.
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