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Health Matters: Give Yourself the Gift of Self-Reflection

By Christine Isaac, LCSW, LCADC

As the year draws to a close, it is an opportune time to reflect on 2022 and think about what the new year looks like for you.

What are the things that you hope to carry with you into 2023?

What would you like to leave behind?

For some, the practice of self-reflection may come naturally. For others, it may be an adjustment.

Either way, self-reflection is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself as you start a new year.

Benefits of Self-Reflection

Self-reflection, defined by the American Psychological Association as the examination, contemplation, and analysis of one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions, can have numerous benefits.

• It can help increase self-awareness and offer insight into what matters most to you so you can make informed life choices.

• It can help you identify what served you well over the past year and what things you could do differently.

• And self-reflection can serve as an emotional unburdening that can leave your heart just a bit lighter.

People often become so caught up in the day-to-day routines, that life can seem to just run on autopilot. Self-reflection is an opportunity to pause, check-in with yourself, and learn from past experiences. This can help you continue to grow, evolve, and feel a sense of satisfaction with how far you’ve come.

Areas for Self-Reflection

There are many areas in your life that may warrant self-reflection, such as:

Relationships. How did you get along with your family? Your friends? Partner? What about your colleagues at work?

Home life. What did life at home look like? Were you always rushing to take the kids somewhere? Did you accomplish that remodeling project that you set out to do?

Work or school life. What did you accomplish professionally or academically? What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

Health and wellness. How did you feel physically? Emotionally? Did you meet your fitness goals?

Social connections. Are you satisfied with your social life? What interactions or activities brought you joy? What are some things you might not do again?

Tips and Prompts for Self-Reflection

Self-reflection is a skill that takes practice, and while there is no “right way” to self-reflect, there are steps you can take to set yourself up for a meaningful experience.

Give yourself time. Don’t try to squeeze self-reflection in between dinner and the dishes. Find some time when you can slow down and take a breath. Maybe this is early in the morning before you start your day or maybe it’s in the evening as you wind down.

Find a quiet space. Being able to hear yourself think, so to speak, is important for self-reflection. If there are too many distractions and demands at home, perhaps head to a local park or your favorite coffee shop — wherever you can best tune into your thoughts.

Write it down. Writing down your thoughts and feelings and reviewing them can help you focus on what you need to learn and to do. Journaling may also help you identify an “aha moment” and enable you to come back to it later. Many people enjoy writing in an attractive journal, but any notebook or notepad will work. If you don’t want to write, voice notes could be an effective alternative.

So, you carved out the time, found your quiet space, and opened your journal, now what? Sometimes just getting started is the hardest part. Here are a few prompts to help:

• What is one thing you did for yourself in the past year that you are proud of, and why does it make you feel proud?

• Do you plan to do it again in 2023?

• What is something you would like to let go of next year, something that may not be helpful or productive?

While contemplating these or other questions it is important to remember not to judge yourself or your thoughts and feelings. Instead, recognize them and see what you can learn from them.

Letting Go

The process of letting go is usually not a one-and-done situation. Often, you have to let go of things that are not serving you repeatedly before you can really feel the burden lift.

A symbolic exercise that many people find useful, especially at the start of a new year, is to write down two or three things that you want to let go of and then get rid of the paper by tearing it up or burning it (safely) in a fire.

If self-reflecting triggers complex emotions that are overwhelming or bring up feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, or helplessness, it could be beneficial to talk to a mental health professional who can help you navigate those feelings.

Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health offers evidence-based treatment programs to help adults, children, and teens address behavioral health issues, develop coping skills and regain quality of life. Princeton House outpatient programs are intensive — ranging from nine to 30 hours per week — are group-based, and available in person or via telehealth.

For more information about Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health, call 888-437-1610 or visit www.princetonhouse.org.

Christine Isaac, LCSW, LCADC, is a licensed clinical social worker and licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor. She is a community relations representative with Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health.

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