Typical New Year’s resolutions tend to fall into two categories: quitting something that no longer benefits you or picking up a new habit in the hopes that it will. Popular nutrition and exercise goals are certainly the most common, but there’s more to personal growth than physical health.
To come, mental health experts share a few habits to leave in 2022. From neurologists to psychiatrists and more, experts have shared a wealth of wisdom on the mindbodygreen podcast this year, but we’re here to remind you of what to leave behind as January approaches. Let’s get into it:
1. Not getting enough vitamin D.
As neurologist Dale Bredesen, M.D., author of the New York Times bestselling book The End of Alzheimer’s, says, “It’s surprisingly common to see people come in with cognitive decline and their vitamin D level is 19 or 20 [ng/mL].”
For reference, a blood level of 30 ng/mL1 is often considered the minimum cutoff for “normal” vitamin D status, but many experts believe a level of at least 50 ng/mL is crucial to keep your body healthy and feel your best.
But why is vitamin D so important? The sunshine vitamin influences not only brain development2 but also everyday brain function3; it even works to protect your brain as you age3. In fact, one meta-analysis4 conducted in 2019 that reviewed 11 studies on a total of 21,784 participants found significant associations between vitamin D deficiency and both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
While you can certainly get vitamin D from natural sources (like sunlight and certain foods), opting for a high-quality supplement will make checking off your daily levels even easier. Here’s a curated list of the best ones on the market right now for your browsing pleasure.
2. Ignoring the oral microbiome.
Both Bredesen and functional medicine psychiatrist Kat Toups, M.D., agree: The oral microbiome is too often ignored, yet it’s essential to healthy brain function. This is because your mouth is the gateway to your body and the beginning of your gastrointestinal tract (and we likely don’t have to remind you of the gut-brain connection).
“[Your mouth] is right next to the brain,” Toups says. “And what’s in the mouth and nose can travel right up into the brain so easily… It’s quite easy for bacteria to track up there.”
That’s why “I recommend everyone check out your oral microbiome,” advises Bredesen. (He suggests using a service like MyPerioPath.) “Do you have P. gingivalis, T. denticola, prevotella intermedia, F. nucleatum? These organisms are being found in the brain; they’re being found in the plaques of coronary arteries… These things are impacting us systemically5,” he says.
Also remember to floss every night, limit antiseptic mouthwash, and mind your sugar and alcohol intake. With all of these habits combined, your oral microbiome will be in better shape, and perhaps your brain as well. For a deeper dive into the oral microbiome, including daily care, research, and more, check out this guide.
3. Toxic positivity.
PSA: Positivity isn’t always beneficial. Developmental psychologist Sasha Heinz, Ph.D., who is an expert in behavioral change and positive psychology, says that some self-help books and overly positive slogans can actually backfire.
“People [think] this self-development work is cheesy or it’s about good vibes only,” Heinz says during her interview. “That is so untrue.” In fact, a positive-only mindset actually won’t get you anywhere. That’s not to say optimism isn’t important—but pessimism does have its benefits as well, as being realistic about what you can and cannot achieve can lead to greater success.
“Dream big, and then brush that dream up against cold, hard reality,” she notes. “Maybe it’s your skill set, the current climate, resources, or whatever it is… Use a strategic mindset and say, ‘These are the obstacles. How am I going to overcome these?'”
4. Saying yes to everything.
Here’s some good news: Being a people pleaser isn’t a permanent trait. What’s more, it can manifest from a young age (read: It’s not your fault you have trouble saying no).
As physician and renowned speaker Gabor Maté, M.D., bestselling author of The Myth of Normal, explains, people receive messages in early childhood that in order to be acceptable, they have to be compliant. “They have to suppress their own will, their own needs, their own perspective, and they have to serve others,” he says on the show. As a result, they feel uncomfortable saying no as they grow older.
“Nature’s agenda is that we should all develop into independent human beings with our own sense of what we want and what we don’t want, our own sense of values, our own sense of perspective on the world, our own desires,” he shares. “In other words: Nature wants to set a boundary between ourselves and other people’s will.”
But if you don’t know how to say no, “your yeses don’t mean a thing,” says Maté. If you begrudgingly say yes to a task, you can also grow resentful, which can have physiological impacts on your body. “Furthermore, you’ll be tired afterward because you’re already tired to start with,” says Maté. “So, not saying no has impacts on you.” Consider it your sign to set good, healthy boundaries.
5. Venting to basically anyone.
“A lot of people intuit that you should just vent your emotions. Don’t keep it bottled up inside,” he says. And that’s true, to some degree: The notion of venting to alleviate stress isn’t entirely unfounded.
Plus, it can be beneficial for your relationships.”Venting your emotions to someone else can be really good for strengthening the friendship and relational bonds between two people. It feels good to know that there’s someone else out there who cares enough about you that they’re willing to take the time to listen,” he says.
However, when the venting stops, you might be left with no plan to workshop the problem at hand. To prevent this, “You want to do two things,” he says. “[First], you want to find someone who does allow you to share a little bit about what you’re going through. It is important for you to feel validated, but at a certain point in the conversation, you ideally want the person you’re talking to to help broaden your perspective.” Essentially, be selective about who you vent to, and make sure you aren’t just wallowing together with no plan of action.
If you want to dive deeper into healthy venting 101, this story has all of your questions answered.
For a healthy start to the new year, it’s important to focus on your mental health just as much as your physical well-being. For the former, experts recommend prioritizing vitamin D intake and keeping up with your oral health, finding a healthier way to vent your emotions, saying no when you want to, and remembering that (on occasion) being realistic can be more productive than being overly positive. With all of these habits in the back of your mind, 2023 will surely become a year of healing and growth—if you commit to yourself.