“Happy New Year!” These are words we have been looking forward to saying for MONTHS now. I believe it is unanimous; 2020 was one for the record books, and not in a good way. That said, you may have noticed that although 2021 is finally here…so is the virus. I realize no one really thought that we would wake up on January 1 to a COVID-free world, but still. It’s an underwhelming start, and we have a long winter ahead of us.
So, how do we avoid crashing when our aspirations for the shiny New Year ahead meet up with the still very real pandemic? I spend a lot of time teaching folks mindfulness skills, which is to say, how to stay more focused in the present rather than the past or future, and there is a lot to be said for that. This is one of those times, however, when a little future focus may do us some good. Cue our fancy, future oriented minds!
If you are feeling blue because we are still in the grips of this nasty virus, then my suggestion is, step one, acknowledge that reality. The fact is, we will still need to be really, really careful. We just are not out of the woods yet. That said, we have good reason to feel hopeful, and that is step two! Because while we are just now entering what could feel like a rather dark winter season, we can brighten those winter days by thinking about how great it will be to do so many of the normal, and now absolutely amazing-seeming things that have been off the table for so long, once the vaccine has had time to be fully distributed. I look forward to going to a beach and not scanning to see how many other people are doing the same. I get excited imagining bigger things, like planning a trip, and seemingly small things like sitting down in a restaurant, smiling at my server, and taking in the people around me. How amazing will that be?? And of course, being able to hug someone, or shake hands, without worrying. Of course this all assumes a robust rollout of vaccines and good participation, but by sometime this summer that may well be realistic. I can also think ahead to next year’s holiday season and feel pretty darn confident it will not be fraught with life and death decisions, as this year’s has been.
The fact is, we have all learned a lot about how to maneuver around this virus, and we will need to use those skills to stay safe this winter. Zoom calls, snow shoes, and sourdough will all have their place in the months ahead, along with bonfires and binge watching. But when feeling discouraged, we can also let the future-oriented parts of our minds provide us with boosts of warm, hope-fueled energy, enough to help power us through the last, really crucial stretch of Being Careful during these cold winter months. If we do that, combining our newly acquired mad COVID-dodging skills and our great human ability to picture better times ahead, then before we know it winter will be winding down, and with longer days will come a lot of the relief we are all longing for. So let’s all repeat “Happy New Year” and by staying smart now really get to enjoy it then.
Allison Allen is NorthLakes Community Clinic’s Chief Behavioral Health Officer.