This time of the year is when many of us normally talk about New Year’s resolutions: how we want to improve ourselves, our lives; what we wish for for our families and friends. It’s a time to make and share plans.
This year, however, with the country in lockdown and most of us unable to see our loved ones in person, a different approach is required.
Much of 2020 was governed by uncertainty and an inability to plan ahead, even if it was just for a few weeks. Uncertainty, especially if we experience it over a prolonged time, triggers stress and anxiety in many of us. For those struggling with their mental health, adapting to the constant changes in guidance relating to the coronavirus, has been beyond difficult.
And, whilst it may be hard to see light at the end of the tunnel in early January when the days are still dark and Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations have been all but cancelled, we do have a little more certainty than we have had for months.
Despite being asked to cope with a strict lockdown, possibly the strictest lockdown since the beginning of the pandemic, we know vaccines are already being rolled out amongst the population of Scotland.
It may still take a good few months for the majority of Scots to be able to breathe a sigh of relief, but help is on the horizon. Judging by the initial rollout, the vaccine will be made available in a systematic manner. Systematic means plannable and predictable, giving us some degree of certainty and control. Having certainty across more aspects of our lives is hugely important for those of us dealing with anxiety.
So, how do we approach this year? Perhaps it is time to rethink what we generally consider suitable New Year’s resolutions. Rather than looking ahead to achievements tied to plans which cannot yet be made, we have an opportunity to redefine achievements. Kindness, for example, is a great starting point.
2020 has thrown big challenges at many Scots, and some have found coping harder. Most of us will know friends and family whose behaviour or outlook has changed. But how about, rather than focusing on what divides us, we focus on the things we have in common and build bridges.
Lockdown or not, friendships can be strengthened even with limited contact. It may not be possible to catch up in the pub or have a coffee in person, but that does not mean we cannot spend time with each other, even if we are seeing friends on a screen.
Kindness and connection can go a long way towards building better mental health. Recognising and acknowledging – as opposed to judging – another person’s challenges helps support them. Some of us may be very lonely in our homes and struggle to cope with isolation. At the other end of the extreme, a family’s attempts to juggle home office work with homeschooling and entertaining young children are just as taxing.
Rather than judge each other, we can start this year by pro-actively supporting each other and approaching the year with vigor to take on whatever it has to throw at us.
Positive, direct and indirect communication is so important during these times – a smile, a nod, a hand-written note…. It is easy to send a message in anger or leave a sarcastic comment on social media, for example. But it is just as easy, and very much more satisfying, to say something positive, uplifting and supportive. My personal New Years’ resolution is to do more of the latter.
Happy New Year 2021!
Professor Ewan Gillon is a chartered psychologist and clinical director for First Psychology Scotland with centres in Aberdeen and Inverness.