It’s finally 2021! After a year like 2020, it is hopeful that we are in a new year and moving towards an end of the pandemic with vaccinations becoming available. It is also important to recognize that there may still be a lot of challenges this year as many of us are juggling multiple responsibilities and have increased stressors including working and helping kids with distance learning or being unemployed and worried about having enough money to pay the bills. This year we may need to set more goals about taking care of ourselves and improving our mental health than normal. As a therapist, I have identified four goal areas that I will implementing into my life and hope that these are simple ways we can all take care of ourselves this year.

First, acknowledge the stressors. It sounds so simple to say this but a lot of times we don’t actually sit down and acknowledge that things are stressful. These are not normal circumstances that we’re living in and it is okay to feel overwhelmed almost a year later. It’s important to realize that what is happening is outside our control and may be unfair. In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, we call this Radical Acceptance or accepting your circumstances and realizing that you cannot change them. It doesn’t mean you agree or are okay with it but realize that this is the reality you’re been given. Sometimes it can be freeing just to say things out loud or write them down to recognize all the stressors that you have and try to find a way to accept it. This requires continual practice over and over again.

Second, feel your feelings. It is completely understandable that you are stressed, sad, or worried about our current circumstances living in a pandemic. If you can find a way to allow yourself to feel these emotions at times, it can be freeing. Sometimes this is a simple as talking to a friend, writing it down, expressing it with art or even talking with a therapist. The pandemic has pushed us all into difficult circumstances and has uprooted our lives and it brings about difficult feelings and emotions. And that is okay!

Third, do one small thing each day that brings you joy. I’m not suggesting that you Marie Kondo your life and declutter your whole home with the things that don’t bring you joy… unless that does bring you joy. It doesn’t need to be that complicated though. It can be as simple as drinking your favorite kind of coffee in the morning or lighting a candle and enjoying its smell. If you can find even a few minutes a day to do something that brings you joy and focus on only that for a bit, it may bring some comfort. If you have more time, do several small things a day like reading a good book or baking some chocolate chip cookies.

Fourth, practice Mindfulness & Meditation. I know this seems like a buzzword but all Mindfulness really means is focusing on the present moment and awareness of what you are doing currently without judgement. It can involve something as simple as noticing your breathing for a couple minutes and every time your mind begins to wander to something else, you just acknowledge that and bring it back to your breath. It can also involve observing your surroundings with your five senses and solely focusing on what you hear, smell, taste, feel or see in your current surroundings. It may even involve movement including progressive muscle relaxation, yoga or sports. It could also be taking a few minutes to pray to your higher power. As long as you are focusing on the present moment and not judging yourself or worrying about other things around you, there have been proven benefits to improving your health and well-being and decreasing stress in many studies if someone can consistently practice mindfulness over a period of time of about 8 weeks. There is even a Netflix show I recommend about called Headspace Guide to Meditation if that is more of your jam.

Those are the four goal areas that I will be focusing on this year and hope that you are able to do the same. I truly wish you a healthy and happy new year focusing on caring for yourself!

Lindsay Doten, MSW, LGSW
Individual and Family Therapist
Lakes Center for Youth and Families