Mental Health and Wellness Resetting After a Trying Year

Without a doubt, 2020 has been one of the most challenging years many of us can recall. COVID-19 wreaked havoc on people’s physical and mental health, and our nation seems to be in constant political conflict. You, or someone you love, probably talked about feeling anxious, depressed or exhausted at one time or another during 2020. As the year comes to a close (finally!) we can look ahead to 2021 with a renewed sense of optimism. However, there is still a great deal of uncertainty. Mark Flanagan, LCSW, MPH, MA, a clinical social worker at The Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness Center at Piedmont Fayette Hospital, offers some advice for using the new year as a way to reset and re-establish a sense of wellness and normalcy.

“There is still some uncertainty as we head into a new year and uncertainty can lead to anxiety,” says Flanagan. “By using this time to make a plan for yourself, to renew some goals and to live intentionally, you can set yourself up for feeling better.”

If you made New Year’s Resolutions last year, there’s a good chance the pandemic made it difficult to follow through. Flanagan suggests looking back on your resolutions and thinking about what your hopes were.

“What’s still important to you? What matters less?” asks Flanagan. “Choose one or two of your goals to focus on. If none of the goals resonate with you any longer, make a new one. The important thing is that it is something you will feel motivated to do something about.”

A resolution on health or wellness, whether physical, mental, or spiritual, could be beneficial as the pandemic continues. Individuals can find success by making small, tangible goals. For instance, if you think that meditation is something you would like to try to increase mindfulness and decrease anxiety, establishing a goal of setting aside a few minutes each week to meditate is achievable. The same can be said for cutting out sodas or sugary drinks if your goal is to eat healthier. Once these small changes have been incorporated, you can add another.

“These are what we call SMART goals,” says Flanagan. “SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time Sensitive. They’re quantitative in nature and simple to achieve, and once you experience small successes, you’ll feel empowered to keep going.”

Spending your time and energy to accomplish your goals means you are living intentionally. It means your actions serve a purpose, but it does not mean overworking yourself to accomplish your goals.

“If you’ve had a tough day and are living intentionally, you won’t feel bad about giving yourself a break. You will just try to live a little more intentionally the next day. The focus is not on being perfect,” says Flanagan. “I like to use the mantra ’80 percent is perfect.’”

Flanagan states that the key to successfully living intentionally starts with determining what matters to you. After a year like 2020, it is possible that your values are clearer to you now than they have ever been.

“Whether you are focused on your health, your relationships with your friends or family, or your work, identifying where you would like to spend your time and energy in the new year will help you live more purposefully and establish those small, tangible goals that will lead to some successful changes,” said Flanagan. “Living intentionally is about being honest about where we are, where we came from, and where we are going.”

In order to reset after a hectic 2020, Flanagan recommends following some simple steps. First, slow down. “Meditation can help give you space to listen to your mind and body,” he says. “Our bodies are always integrating information around us,” says Flanagan. “When something is ‘off,’ we will feel discomfort inside ourselves. The process of slowing down reconnects you to your body and helps you realize why you’re experiencing discomfort.”

The second step is writing down what you want out of life, or what you value, in bullet-point form. “Set a timer for 15 minutes, there are no wrong answers, just get the ideas on paper and then decide what small steps you can take to make progress,” says Flanagan.

Lastly, accept that there is still a great deal of uncertainty in the world and there will be setbacks. “Setbacks are a normal part of change,” adds Flanagan. “If you can accept that setbacks will occur but that progress is progress, no matter how small, positive changes will occur over time and you will eventually be able to see the growth and change.”

For more information about making positive lifestyle changes, visit piedmont.org/living-better.

December 8, 2020

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