I love making New Year’s resolutions, but all too often, the thought of carrying on habits for a whole year intimidates me (and ultimately leads to me abandoning those lofty goals).
So this year, I decided to go for a total reset, but only for a month. I figured having that light at the end of the tunnel would help me get through the difficult times during a very dry January. No alcohol, no TV, no social media, no added sugar ― all at the same time.
I realized these habits were interfering with my mood, my productivity and my mental and physical well-being. After eschewing TV for a while last year, I was back to bingeing Netflix shows, frittering away the otherwise productive writing and reading time I would have in the evenings. My social media consumption was way out of hand, and it continually put me in a bad mood and wasted an enormous amount of time. The food I was putting into my body, especially throughout the holiday season, was making me feel like crap. And despite saying I only drank on the weekends, it was unlikely my husband and I wouldn’t crack open a bottle midweek.
The toll these vices were taking on my mental health wasn’t just in my imagination, either. Research suggests binge-watching TV is linked to poor sleep and insomnia, and social media use can cause increased feelings of loneliness. Consuming too much sugar can lead to heart disease, liver disease and diabetes. And other research shows alcohol can negatively affect your mental and physical state.
Quitting these habits cold-turkey seemed like my best bet to start the new year off on the right foot. Here’s why I’m planning to kick these habits for a month, along with expert guidance on how you can do it, too:
“Alcohol depletes a broad range of vitamins, amino acids, fatty acids, enzymes, proteins and minerals from your body,” explains Dr. Carolyn Dean, a physician and nutritional expert.
Dean says too much alcohol can disrupt sleep patterns, and though it may decrease stress in the moment, it can potentially lead to feelings of depression and anxiety, making stress harder to handle in the long term. Not to mention the hangovers the next day that drinking may cause.
To take a booze break, consider what might tempt you and work to avoid it. For me, I canceled my wine club order for the month, convinced my husband to go dry with me and decided to go to bed earlier ― since temptation tends to strike at night.
“With any resolution or goal, it’s important to identify what might ‘get in the way,’ so consider the obstacles,” says Julia Colangelo, a licensed clinical social worker and solution-focused therapist.
My late-night TV habit sometimes involved three straight hours of “The Crown” (and usually some wine and chocolate to pair with it). I’d look up, realize it was nearly midnight, and then stumble off to bed. Then, not surprisingly, I’d have trouble sleeping.
Amy Sunderman, director of science and innovation at Swanson Health, says that all that blue light can do real damage to sleeping patterns.
“Studies have shown that too much blue light exposure can disrupt our circadian rhythm, especially if we’re exposed to blue light sources at night, because blue light suppresses melatonin,” she explains.
Obviously, I’d still need some screen time, but ditching the nighttime Netflix was a good start.
“While it isn’t possible to avoid blue light altogether, you can take steps to protect yourself from the dangers of blue light,” says Sunderman. She suggests setting a “lights out” time in the evening for your devices, and limiting any screen time that isn’t directly for work.
Kelsey Torgerson, a licensed clinical social worker and anxiety expert at Compassionate Counseling St. Louis, warns that excessive social media use ― to the point where it feels like you have to check it ― can lead to an increase in stress and anxiety.
“We’re still in the New World when it comes to looking at the long-term effects of social media,” says Torgerson, “but we do know it’s not healthy to stare at screens for too long, that frequent phone usage before bed impact sleep habits, that our posture is a lot worse when we’re hunched over a phone, and that it can lower our mood.”
In addition to all that, I also knew I was wasting an enormous amount of time scrolling through social media. I would check my phone for messages or the time, and mindlessly click on Instagram without a second thought.
Torgerson says that quitting cold-turkey is no easy feat, but she suggests focusing on the positive, like how much time that will be saved and diverted to healthier habits (for me, that will mean reading more).
“Through the new year, make sure that your resolution to use less medicating behavior is really specific,” says Torgerson. “You want your goals to be S.M.A.R.T.: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time sensitive.”
I’ve always had a sweet tooth, and the effects of too much sugar are starting to catch up with me. I’m facing down some pretty hefty dental bills from cavities, and I’ve noticed how bad my mood swings are when I don’t get my “fix” first thing in the morning by heaping white sugar into my tea.
I decided to make a conscious effort to avoid added sugar completely, whether it be in my morning pick-me-up or just in packaged foods I buy in the grocery store.
However, this can be a more difficult task than many realize. (My method of total sugar annihilation has already left me plenty cranky.) So it should be noted that there are also benefits to just pulling back on sugar without completely eliminating it.
“When it comes to added sugar, you don’t have to cut it out completely,” says Toby Amidor, a registered dietician and nutrition expert, and author of The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook. “The 2015 to 2020 dietary guidelines for Americans set a limit for added sugar and recommend no more than 10 percent each day. That’s 200 calories, or about 12 teaspoons, for a 2,000 calorie diet.”
For those ditching all the added sugar like me, Amidor suggests making sure you have some healthy swaps on hand for when cravings strike, and being vigilant about reading labels for hidden sweeteners.
“Sugar can be listed on the ingredient list under different names, including glucose, brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, raw sugar, sucrose and molasses,” Amidor says.
Don’t Lose Hope If You Can’t Completely Commit
I’m all-in on my reset, but eliminating all your bad habits completely doesn’t have to be the answer. Cutting back can work just as well, as long as you’re clear on your intention. Research shows that setting out to achieve smaller, more attainable goals in different categories may increase your motivation to achieve loftier ambitions.
“Instead of saying ‘I’m going to stop eating sugar,’ look at what amount you can decrease in this first week and then keep tracking it,” says Torgerson. “For media, recognize that utilizing your phone and computer is a part of your life, so figure out where you can decrease the usage.”
“Then, remember that it’s OK to slip up! It’s hard to change ingrained behaviors. Relapse is part of the process. So be gentle with yourself.”
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