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December 28, 2023

New Year, New You & the Impact of Toxic Positivity on our Mental Health.

At the end of last year, I was asked by a colleague about how I would be both theming and promoting my yoga classes in light of the upcoming new year.

It seemed like everywhere I looked—particularly in the yoga and wellness community in general—there was an expectation to add some weight to the pressure of the old adage “new year, new you.”

I found the questions confronting and it triggered something irksome deep within that felt worth exploring further, not just for my own peace of mind but also for how this topic affects others’ mental health.

It also struck me at the time that we need to find a balance between gently offering our sub-texts or themes and commercially promoting our messages as yoga teachers and/or business owners in a way that allows people to find organic personal growth.

The Pressure for Change

The dawning of a new year can oftentimes make us feel like putting a little added pressure on ourselves—a push toward great changes, big expectations, new ventures, promises to ourselves, and habits to be formed or forgone. That’s great if this time works for you and if you like to draw a line in the sand or create a fresh start. Perhaps some folks might have some rituals around this time of year too—creating intentions or resolutions.

But for a considerable portion of the population, this sense of pressure for change or growth can harbour a feeling of confusion, anxiety, stress, or disappointment. As though the year that has ended was not quite good enough or that we didn’t achieve all we set out to and now it’s too late—the year has ended, and a new year is beginning.

That proverbial ship has sailed and it’s left us on the shore feeling despondent, all at sea.

The Impact on Mental Health

Through the lens of a person with mental health issues, these times of what may be deemed a celebration by many (such as New Years, Christmas, birthdays, and so on) can be a cause of high anxiety, as if remembering times in the past that were better celebrated, or worse, endured.

Even the very acknowledgement of time passing in this way can rupture or produce unwanted feelings of inadequacies in one’s current state of life. Offering the whole new year, new you to people who have experienced mental health issues has the potential to be harrowing, even triggering. Something seemingly so light, positive, and harmless can have detrimental effects to these communities.

I feel we could do more in the yoga and wellness community to better include those with whom our words, seemingly harmless or not, can have the potential to effect negatively through our push toward positivity that some might call toxic at times.

Creating Inclusive Spaces in the Yoga Community

Exactly what it is that we need to do remains to be up to the individual in their approaches toward those with sensitive issues. And it mainly comes down to awareness, understanding, and of course, kindness and compassion.

Seeing it through the lens of my six-year-old daughter, we know instinctively that time is just rolling on, no beginning or ending.

We humans have just made up the names and words for time as a necessary construct to fit in with how we move through it. But it is we who evolve within it and decide when to make change, resolution, or whatever feels right, if we have the freedoms and urges to do so.

I agree that it is healthy to honour the way we feel at this time.

Whether it’s sadness, loss, or a sense of longing or hope.

There’s sometimes a desire to dismiss the old year, particularly if it didn’t serve us well, and we might feel the need to hasten and start afresh, hoping for better times and more fulfilled wishes.

Another Way Forward

But another option we have instead is to choose to honour all that we’ve learnt in the last 12 months—or longer, if we wish.

Honour, embrace, and appreciate all that came our way throughout the previous, precious year that has just passed. And even the not-so-good things, we can learn from these too if we want to.

After exploring this topic a little further, how it effects our mental health and how I choose to relay these messages to others, I am reminded of a quote by the Zen Buddhist master, Thich Nhat Hanh, the “father of mindfulness.”

“I am a continuation, like the rain is a continuation of the cloud.”

We can evolve as and when the time suits us and we can agree to put pressure on ourselves to move forward, take a step to the side, or take the pressure off completely and just float for a while, however and whenever we want to.

We are in control of this, not the calendar.

We are in charge of how and when we choose to move throughout life. We can turn the messages around of resolution, and even celebration, to positively impact us as and when we see fit to do so.

~

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