December 22, 2020
3 min read
Following the compounding major stressors of 2020, which included the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdown measures, a national/global reckoning with racial injustice and the U.S. presidential election, setting New Year’s resolutions might look different going into 2021, according to Sophie Lazarus, PhD, a clinical psychologist in the department of psychiatry and behavioral health at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Healio Psychiatry spoke with Lazarus regarding how stressors from this past year may affect people’s mindsets going into the new year and tips for making the most of New Year’s resolutions.
Question: How might New Year’s resolutions be different this year?
Answer: What we’ve been experiencing in 2020 has been really challenging, and it’s also required a lot of adaptation, which often causes stress. Even though there’s some flickering light at the end of the tunnel, it’s not really likely to end anytime soon. Although it is a healthy practice to really identify areas in your life where you would like to improve and grow, the added pressure to make this big change may just be too much to ask of ourselves and may even be counterproductive this year.
Q: Have the pandemic, the election, the nation’s reckoning with racial injustice and other stressors had any specific impacts on how you would recommend going about approaching entering the new year?
A: Stress can be helpful in the short-term by moving us forward and helping our productivity, but in the case of entering 2021, we’ve really been facing prolonged stress for months on end with event after event. Stress can become chronic, and our bodies never really get this message that we can calm down and recover. This can have a detrimental effect on our physical and mental health.
If we think about coping with this stress more effectively, we probably want to avoid the typical New Year’s resolutions. Instead, try aiming for a small shift that is achievable and doable and that we really know is going to add to our satisfaction and well-being. This is going to be far more helpful than setting a really high bar for a huge change, not meeting it and then feeling more discouraged and stressed.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for how best to approach the new year with a shift in mindset, or with an intention in mind?
A: Given that we know that New Year’s resolutions like losing a lot of weight or some intense exercise routine tend to not be very successful, we can benefit from taking a more moderate approach. One place to start is being more mindful and aware. When we do this, we can really notice how what we’re doing affects us and then make small adjustments to take better care of ourselves. When we’re on autopilot, we really don’t notice the effects of what we’re doing on how we feel.
Technology has been a huge blessing for us during the pandemic, since it has really allowed us to continue to connect and have that social support. However, it’s important to be aware and mindful of how it affects us. One really great way to notice how it affects us is to take some time without it or unplug and reconnect with the world around us, away from this often chaotic, overwhelming online environment. The mindless scrolling and absorption of information on social media can definitely increase stress and anxiety. Taking some scheduled time away from screens can help us let go of some of those stressors that are out of our control.
Q: Is there anything that you would recommend that clinicians/mental health professionals incorporate for themselves, or that they can encourage patients to do?
A: It’s important to be aware of and acknowledge the ways in which 2020 has been challenging for us. As humans, and certainly as doctors, it’s really hard to not be in control, or to be unable to affect change in some of these domains. It is easy to keep trying to operate on autopilot or as we normally would, but it is important to really make adjustments given the circumstances. One of those things can be that we tend to approach ourselves in a really harsh, critical way. We think if we beat ourselves up, maybe we’ll get it together and do better. But frequently, this harsh stance increases our stress and makes us feel more discouraged. We can experiment with whether we can perhaps be a little gentler on ourselves, the way we might approach a loved one or a family member. Even though that might sound a little awkward, this more patient and kind, yet firm attitude can ultimately make us more productive and able to tackle what’s in front of us.