- Experts say it’s important for people to say farewell to 2020 in a healthy way.
- They say it’s OK to acknowledge all the challenges and sorrow, but it’s also important to move on.
- They recommend people shift their perspective, unplug when they can, and be kind to themselves as 2021 approaches.
Here’s the big question: Is it possible to look back on this past year and find positives?
Most people agree on this: 2020 was a year of constant, shifting, and often daunting challenges.
We suddenly had our lives put on pause. Many lost jobs. Children had to learn from home while parents juggled that demand while working from that same space.
Many of us gained weight. Many of us lost a loved one. Weddings were postponed. Parties were canceled.
We followed along as political battles boiled over. Some of us lost friendships over elections.
So, the idea of looking back on this year and assessing things may seem unproductive.
Do we really want to examine all that?
Social media influencer Ellie Schnitt tweeted this recently:
“Hey, honestly, if you achieved anything at all this year, even if you just managed to actually get out of bed and shower a decent amount, that’s a huge accomplishment and I’m very proud of you.”
Experts say she has a point.
“It has become apparent that while there has been a lot of truly bad this past year, there has been good as well,” Sophie Lazarus, PhD, a clinical psychologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Healthline.
“Of course there was so much pain and hurt, and lots of the changes had downsides,” she added. “But we also can see the good. Time at home with family, finding new hobbies, being out in nature. There were many ways people found good in this year.”
And it may be important that we take the time to dig into the past year and find those silver linings.
“The weight of this year has been pressing,” Lazarus said. “I say do this now.”
Katina Mountanos, a mindset coach and author of “On Adulting: How Millennials (and Any Human, Really) Can Work Less, Live More and Bend the Rules for Good,” said that for millennials in particular, it’s been a tough year.
“For so many of us, the start of our adult lives is being shaped by this time,” she told Healthline. “We were out there running toward achievements full speed and ended up sitting there thinking, ‘what if?’”.
That’s why, Mountanos said, it’s important to find the good in this past year and celebrate it, even if it’s as basic as the suggestion in Schnitt’s tweet.
Most who take the time to reflect, she said, will find more to cherish.
“For me personally, this has been a massive time of growth,” she said. “The time I had alone forced me to look at some things I had been pushing under the rug.”
The focus on relationships during theses times is a positive, Mountanos said.
“Reflecting on those and focusing more on the ones that are important, and I don’t think I’m the only one who did this, has made me stronger,” she said. “Not even necessarily the ‘love’ relationships, but all of them, the ones we may have been taking for granted, got more attention.”
Mountanos also saw many in her generation change their focus to what may be a more rounded way of life.
“For this age group, we are constantly trying to reach for these metaphorical trophies,” she said.
“Now I think this year has helped us think more about what matters,” she said. “That kind of movement could be very positive.”
How is one to look back and find good and then be ready for 2021?
First, Mountanos said, it’s OK to acknowledge the horrible.
“You don’t need rose-colored glasses,” she said. “It’s good to look at reality.”
But, she said, look, review and then — this is important — move forward.
After reflecting, Lazarus said, “pay attention to the present moment in a positive way.”
Her clients, she said, have impressed her with their fortuitousness.
“On a personal level, I’ve seen patients really go through some struggles,” she said. “But by finding their resilience and strength, I’ve seen each one of them come through stronger.”
“Certainly,” Lazarus added, “each one of us have developed some flexibility from all this. That’s a good thing.”
She suggests people take time to not just reflect but also to take care as the New Year rolls toward us.
Here are some recommendations Lazarus shares.
Shift your perspective
It’s easy to get caught up in what’s wrong in our lives and miss what’s positive or going well.
“Starting your day by reminding yourself of the good things in your life can help you keep a more balanced outlook in the face of the day’s challenges,” Lazarus said.
Many experts suggest writing in a journal about these positive things.
Mindless scrolling on social media can increase stress and anxiety.
Put the phone and computer aside and take a walk, cook a meal, or ask your family about their day.
Technology does help everyone stay connected, but Lazarus said we all should be mindful of how it affects us.
“How are you feeling when you get off your phone for a bit?” she asked. “A break can be quite telling. And often, we all need a break.”
Be kind to yourself
It’s easy to be overly critical of ourselves right now, which only increases stress and makes things worse.
“Pause to take a deep breath, a bubble bath, a nap, whatever you need that day to help you remember that you’re important too. Just take care of yourself,” Lazarus said.
“So much of this is out of our control,” she added. “We really can benefit from going easy on ourselves.”
If you find that you’re overly self-critical on anything — a messy house or a lack of enthusiasm for work — Lazarus suggests we “think of how we would speak to a friend, and speak to ourselves that same way. ‘Push hard and get more done!’ can be counterproductive.”
In other words, self-compassion works.
So how does this work in real life?
Let’s visit the Atlanta home of Becky Conway.
Conway is a mother of three children who were distance learning in three different grades. She was also new to the region, and juggling the added challenge of protecting a child with a chronic disease in a pandemic.
Conway would have every right to look back on 2020 and shudder.
But with her faith, she told Healthline, some hard work on taking care of herself, and open and honest communication in her family, they’re powering through.
Silver lining? She’s got more than one.
“I now know my son’s strategies for winning Battleship because we’ve played so many times, I can predict his moves,” Conway said.
There are other more practical milestones.
“I have a clean and organized junk drawer. Stamps. Shipping tape. Band-Aids,” she said. “I also perfected my broccoli cheese soup. It’s all in the slow stirring of the broth.”
“I was able to go slow and learn this because, as my husband says, ‘there’s a pandemic on,’ and pandemics do give you a minute to do things,” she noted.
Conway also found that in the search for those silver linings, she’s learned some deeper lessons and skills.
“Living with this uncertainty is definitely hard on those of us with children,” she said. “There are hundreds of questions and no answers. But what I’ve taught my kids is what I try to teach myself: Live in this moment. Be here now. What can we do today? How can we make this day special and remarkable amidst the same faces and spaces?”
That skill, she feels, may just make her children stronger for a lifetime.
And for her? There’s this.
“I’ve tried to teach my kids gratitude,” Conway said. “Gratitude for every breath we draw into our lungs. We are learning anew to never again take the beautiful things in life for granted and to treasure our moments and each other.”
“Especially,” she added, “if it gives us a leg up in Battleship. My son sticks to A1 and F10. I know this now, thanks to 2020.”