New year, new you

Dear Readers,

Lots of people make New Year’s resolutions. When a person can’t stick with the changes they planned – which is what usually happens – they may feel like a double failure. Not only are they continuing the behavior they meant to change, they also have been unable to keep their commitment. Considering this, my first thought was that maybe we should swear off the whole idea of New Year’s resolutions. But on second thought, it would be a shame not to make good use of the motivation for positive change that many people feel at the start of a new year.

Here are some suggestions to help you choose 2018 New Year resolutions that you’ll be able to keep.

Successful behavior change is gradual, not sudden. For most people, a reasonable change is no more than 25% at a time. This means, don’t try to change your behavior all at once. Don’t even try to cut down by half. Instead, try cutting down by one quarter (25%). For example, instead of trying to quit smoking overnight, decrease the amount you smoke by one quarter (25%). If you now smoke a pack (20 cigarettes) a day, decrease from 20 to 15 cigarettes a day. If you now eat meat with every meal and want to cut back, start with 1 meatless meal every day, or even one meatless meal every other day if that is what’s manageable for you. If you want to start exercising, start by exercising once or twice a week, not every day. Continue with this small first-step change for at least one month before trying for greater change.

After a month, if you feel comfortable in your new behavior pattern and it no longer feels like an effort, try to decrease your problem behavior, or increase your new, wanted behavior, some more. If the 25% change is still difficult after one month, don’t try to increase your behavior change any further until you are comfortable with the initial 25% change. It’s fine if that takes several months. Remember that when you are making changes for your health, the goal is to make changes that will last for the long term. Improving your health can’t be done with short-term or rapid change. It’s done by making gradual changes which can become a permanent part of your daily life.

Decreasing or stopping drug or alcohol use requires support. Managing addiction is not a solo, do-it-yourself project. You may be able to keep from using on your own for a while, but to stop using for the long term and achieve sobriety you will need education about the disease of addiction and support for recovery. Please seek help. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are not the only way, but they are good places to start because they are free and are available in most communities.

Here are a few easy resolutions that will make you feel good!

• Spend at least 20 minutes outdoors in direct sunlight on most days. This works best when there is the most sunshine, between 10 am and 2 pm. Increasing sun exposure will improve your sense of well being, help relieve depression, and increase your vitamin D level.

Twenty minutes of brisk walking, outdoors or indoors, on two or more days a week can have noticeable positive effects on depression, on feelings of sluggishness, on irritability, and on constipation. If you can walk for longer, that’s even better.

• Promote your own positive mood. It is worthwhile and in your best interest to seek out the things and people that make you feel good, positive, cheerful and energetic. Pay attention to the way different activities, people, and places make you feel. If the TV annoys you, turn it off or go in another room. Is there music you love but never listen to? Find your headphones and listen to it regularly. What about the friends or family members you love but never see? Get back in touch. Increase the activities you enjoy. Whenever possible, at work, school, and at home, spend more time with the people you enjoy and less time with those who bring you down. Mood has profound effects on the function of both brain and body. Mood is also self-reinforcing: people who frequently feel cheerful, happy or content get into the habit of being in a good mood. People who often feel annoyed, angry, dissatisfied, low or negative tend to become habitually irritable or depressed. Most likely you know some examples of both kinds of people.

No one knows better than you do what puts you in a positive or a negative mood. As much as possible, keep yourself positive for your own sake and also for the people around you. Your emotional state affects their moods as well.

Wishing you greater health and happiness for the new year.

Eva Hersh is a Baltimore family physician. Send your comments and questions to her by email at

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Dr. Eva Hersh, MD
Dr. Eva Hersh, MD
Eva Hersh is a family physician. Send your comments and questions to her by email at