Are New Year’s Resolutions Helpful for Someone With Depression?

The end of the year is a time of happiness and festivity, but it’s also a time of deep reflection and analysis—one of the most obvious examples being the ever-popular New Year’s resolution. For people with depression, the holiday season and end of the year can be tricky to get through, partially because reflection and goal setting can bring up a lot of sadness and feelings of inadequacy. This leaves many wondering: are New Year’s resolutions even a good idea for people with depression?

Research shows that it’s more difficult for people with depression to stick with and meet goals than for people who do not suffer from depression. Interestingly, study findings have suggested that depressed people have a tougher time setting realistic goals than non-depressed people, and also tend to abandon goals more quickly in the face of difficulty. Meanwhile, depressed people are more likely to set goals related to avoidance—things like “not drinking,” “not smoking,” and “not getting upset easily,” whereas people without depression set more positive goals such as “improve my marathon time” or “spend more time with friends.”

Though sticking to a New Year’s resolution might be difficult for someone with depression, it also has potential to provide direction. Goal-setting isn’t a bad idea for most people suffering from depression, but a few strategies for establishing and managing reasonable goals may be helpful. Here are our recommendations for setting a New Year’s resolution that sticks:

  • Set positive goals rather than goals based around deprivation. For example “eat a wide variety of healthy food from all food groups” is a better goal than “don’t drink any soda.”
  • Start with small and manageable New Year’s resolutions to increase the likelihood of sticking with these goals. When goals are smaller and simpler, you’ll have an easier time reaching them, especially when faced with adversity along the way.
  • Set goals that are realistic.
  • Create a step-by-step plan for sticking with your resolution throughout the year. You can even add monthly, weekly, or daily check-ins to your calendar.
  • Find encouragement to continue the pursuit of your goals by tracking your progress in small steps. Visualizing what you’ve accomplished might help you continue to move forward.
  • Build self-confidence by reminding yourself you’re fully capable of sticking to your New Year’s resolutions.
  • Find a family member, friend, or group member to lend support towards achieving your goal.
  • Challenge pessimistic thoughts when they come your way and threaten to derail your progress. Know that you have it in you to keep moving forward in pursuit of your goal rather than giving up when you experience difficulty.
  • At the same time, be easy on yourself. Remember that no one is perfect and failing to meet a personal goal does not make you a failure.
  • Be prepared for setbacks and have some ideas in mind for managing them.