Article written for the Venice Gondolier’s Well Being in Paradise Magazine | January/February 2021
On daylight savings time fallback weekend, I heard an older gentleman at the gym, quip, “Who wants another hour of 2020?”
Of course there is no magic at the end of one calendar year and the beginning of a new year. What will the new year bring? A new vaccine? A virus that relaxes its death grip on the planet? A world reopening to travel, commerce, education and sports? Maybe. The truth is nobody knows how the vaccine will impact our current status. We can hope, pray and maintain a solid faith about mankind‘s resilience, American ingenuity and/or God’s grace, but again the answer is… Nobody knows what lies ahead.
So how does a healthy person approach the new year? What are the keys to maintaining mental health amidst a worldwide pandemic? How in the world are you supposed to think after living through the disaster that was 2020?
Here are four evidence – based mental strategies as to how healthy people think, even when circumstances seem impossible, because these circumstances are outside out of their control.
Create realistic expectations
You are over the pandemic, I know. But the pandemic isn’t over. Let’s be realistic-your old life, whatever it was, has changed. Maybe for now, maybe permanently. Expecting life to return to what you know it to be may be a set up for disappointment and bitterness. How about reminding yourself that you adjusted to 2020 and will find a way to adjust to the next year, as well? Better yet, why not borrow a couple of ideas from your sober friends in AA? “One day at a time“ and “Live life on life‘s terms“ Why are these phrases that connote such wisdom? Because they contain true wisdom – Give up control over what doesn’t belong to you anyway.
Humans – not just YOUR family-like to maintain control over as much of life as possible. That’s normal, but it’s just not practical, as a significant part of life is dealing with the unexpected: your nephews leukemia, your wife’s infidelity, your buddies shocking business success (when you still don’t know how he managed to graduate high school).
The point is, we are always adjusting to our circumstances, not just during the great pandemic of 2020. The healthiest people mentally, just like physically, are the flexible ones. Let me restate the point: one of the hallmark signs of mental health is flexibility. When a door closes, a rigid person will look to dynamite down the door or retreat and feel victimized by the obstacle. A flexible person recognizes that there are always other options and opportunities. Disappointment begets growth ; detours afford us roads less traveled.
Do you know what else healthy people do? They accept losses and say goodbye. Healthy people appreciate that if they are fortunate enough to live to 85 years old, they will have sustained thousands of losses, people and things that they loved and lost along the way. Indeed, this is a life of love, loss, and grief, A process that repeats itself countless times throughout the lifespan. You’ve lost your grandparents, your pets, your first love, your father, your mentor, your favorite actor/athlete, your fantasy of what your life was supposed to look like. It’s OK, that’s how life works. But saying goodbye is what opens your heart to love again. And then to lose again. It’s not the losses, it’s the acceptance and subsequent peace that promotes mental health.
Healthy people, it appears, are not fixing it on the restrictions of the quarantine, the amount of financial losses sustained or what could’ve been if only …, instead they tend to focus on the blessings, the kindness of strangers, the stimulus check, the asymptomatic positive test. Healthy people live in gratitude. And grateful people, according to a number of research studies, are happy people, just as happy people are grateful. Want better news?You don’t have to be born grateful. You can practice gratitude. Even writing down three things you are grateful for every day will yield a happier and healthier version of you in a matter of weeks.
So happy new year to one and all! But please understand that how happy you are this year is less about your circumstances and more about your responses to them. Why not respond like a healthy person?