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Should You Make a New Year's Resolution?

If you’re managing a serious health condition, choose a resolution with care and be gentle with yourself, advises therapist Jodi Taub.

Typewritten phrase "This year I will..."

Jodi Taub, a New York-based therapist, specializes in treating patients who have rare and chronic diseases. Taub, who lives with a primary immunodeficiency herself, also works with patient advocacy organizations. 

It’s that time of year again. We resolve to do more of this or less of that. Or maybe we decide to finish something big that’s always been there, just slightly out of our reach.

But should this annual tradition really apply to those of us living with chronic health care conditions? It can be a prickly subject for the chronically ill. We have all lived with the disappointment of wanting to reach goals only to see them sidelined by an illness. On a deeper level, many of us have even had to forgo life goals because of our health conditions.

So just thinking about New Year’s resolutions can resurface stressful thoughts of how we’re not living the life we intended to live. And yet setting a time for intentional goal setting can be very healthy. Through goal setting we can achieve purpose and meaning – and establish a conscious commitment to complete something that we value. Acknowledged goals also can help us hold ourselves accountable when we want to give up.

So let’s redefine New Year’s resolutions to keep the good and avoid any unnecessary stress. Here are some ideas to consider:

1. Make it all about you.

Choose goals you find fulfilling, achievable and personally meaningful. Try not to compare yourself to others, which might mean consuming less social media. Although there is nothing wrong with getting a little inspiration from others, remember that your goals may differ from able-bodied folks, and that is OK.

2. Break it down.

Reconsider your definition of meaningful and achievable. Are you asking too much too soon? Could you break down goals into smaller components? Try accomplishing seemingly small changes to gain a valuable sense of accomplishment and confidence. It can be a foundation for tackling something larger later on.

3. Set relationship goals.

While diet and exercise are among the most common resolutions, you can choose goals that help you connect with others. Consider identifying important relationships and re-investing in them:

● Commit time to see or call a friend who you have fallen out of touch with. Then keep up with regular contact.

● Actively listen to your children or your spouse during a meal.

● Let go of resentments toward loved ones.

4. Set goals for your emotional health.

Forgive yourself, let go of self-directed resentment, recognize and celebrating even your small achievements; and set authentic boundaries with loved ones.

5. Use a team approach.

Living with a rare disease requires a team effort. Let others, who are willing, help you reach your goals. For example, let someone know your New Year’s resolution and invite them to help you accomplish it. Living with chronic health care conditions can be isolating.

When we let others step in, it can be a bonding experience, and you will get the extra bonus of also having strengthened a relationship.

6. Be time-flexible

Refrain from attaching a set-in-stone deadline to your goal. Health flares or other obligations could get in the way. Stay focused but don’t let time pressure stir up further frustration or make you feel less in control.

7. Make it fun and joyful.

A key to maintaining physical health is to also manage our mental health and well-being. In order to do so, it is important to experience joy. Dedicate time to having fun. This could be giving yourself time each day to do something you enjoy such as reading, crafting or taking a walk. Plan something you have been wanting to do, like learn a new language, join a book club, or check off a bucket list item. Your joyful goal could simply be giving yourself permission to take time for yourself away from daily life and health obligations.

Lastly, use New Year’s as a time for reflection and an opportunity to celebrate everything that you have achieved in the presence of your unique health challenges. Too often we’re reminded of all we can’t do. When you’re goal setting for 2023, don’t forget to give yourself some credit. We all could benefit from a daily reminder of our accomplishments. As a fellow patient, I wish you a happy, healthier New Year!