How Starting The New Year With A Professional Challenge Can Boost Your Mental Health


Sometimes, we think of challenges as bad things to be avoided. But we need challenges in order to grow and thrive.

Consider an example. Many moons ago, when I was still a student, I began feeling stagnant. I felt like I hadn’t progressed toward my career goals in some time.

To alleviate this feeling, I subscribed to a professional journal and set the goal of reading every issue.

Doing so was difficult – I had to wrap my mind around new concepts and even get out a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words. 

But the challenge was just what I needed to get out of the “funk” I was feeling and continue to progress.

If you’re feeling the winter doldrums or feel like you’re stuck in a career rut, a professional challenge might be just what you need.

Below, we suggest four professional challenges you could take on today. We’ll also discuss why such challenges are beneficial.

Challenge No. 1: Supercharge Your Resume

Most of us know that we should review and update our resumes at least once a year, but few of us actually do. Check out these simple resume examples for inspiration.

Once you have reviewed your own resume, you might find that you view yourself and your situation in a more positive light.

“But,” you might contest, “I’m not looking for a job – why should I bother with my resume?” Well, having an up-to-date resume is a bit like keeping a first aid kit handy.

You don’t know when you will need it, but it helps remedy a stressful situation when you do. Having your resume ready can ameliorate the strain of sudden job loss or layoff.

Other situations may also call for a resume. These include applications for promotions at your current workplace, grants, awards, or participation in certain projects.

And as stated above, updating your resume can be a feel-good activity. When you see the skills or education you’ve gained since this time last year, you can feel good about yourself.

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Challenge No. 2: Make A Career Change

Finding a new career is a great way to challenge yourself – especially if you have been considering a career change for some time.

If you are feeling bored or uninspired by your current job, a career change might be good for you.

This may be as simple as inquiring about positions with more or different opportunities within your current company.

You can also make a change to pursue your passions – subjects and career fields that ignite your imagination.

To do this, you might need to continue your education, as discussed below.

Challenge No. 3: Educate Yourself

At the outset, I told you about my experience through self-education. You can do the same. Take classes online or pick up a class at a nearby college or university.

Get your Master’s or your Ph.D. Ask your employer about company-sponsored training. Go to an industry convention or seminar. Check out a book from your local library.

Challenge No. 4: Make A Move

If you are in need of a better work-life balance, making a move (geographical or otherwise) might be the right challenge for you.

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Depending on your profession, moving geographically may not involve quitting your job. Ask about being transferred to a location in another city or even another country. Sometimes, employers will even subsidize such moves.

Another option is asking about a hybrid work policy, allowing a more flexible schedule that includes remote work.

Depending on your company’s policy, you might be able to travel, working from internet cafes, cruise ships, or the beach by day and experiencing slow travel outside of working hours.

Another option is planning a work retreat. Such retreats place you and your coworkers in a stress-free environment in which you can focus on a current project.

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Why Professional Challenges Are Beneficial

Challenging yourself isn’t just a means of getting a fresh start, wiping the slate clean, as it were. It can be that, of course.

But a recent study from Duke university asserts that challenging yourself mentally reduces depression and anxiety. How?

Researchers found that stimulating a part of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex reduces the development of anxiety.

This part of the brain processes “working memory, abstract reasoning, cognitive flexibility, and emotional regulation.”

In the study, this brain region was stimulated by having volunteers answer challenging math problems.

But in the real world, any activities that require focused attention and intellectual challenge may do the same thing.

Key Takeaways

Challenging ourselves professionally can lead to better mental health. Research confirms that interesting challenges requiring focused attention may reduce depression and anxiety.

A few professional challenges you may like to take on include updating your resume, making a career change, educating yourself, moving geographically, or adjusting your work schedule to achieve a better work-life balance.

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