Here we are again — going into a new year with no idea of what’s to come, fearful of spending time with loved ones, and cut off from our usual coping mechanisms. Sound familiar?
To help you cope with the profound uncertainty as we enter the pandemic’s third year, we asked 10 therapists in Greater Boston to provide their advice and insights on caring for your well-being as we embark on 2022. Below are their responses, which they emailed to the Globe.
But first, a note: This advice is not meant to be a substitute for individualized mental health care. If you or a loved one are struggling, please check out the resources available through the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (mass.gov) or the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts (namimass.org).
Jennifer Alosso: Prioritize flexibility in 2022. Plans are likely to change unexpectedly, friends and family may have different ideas of what is safe, and the future may be hard to picture. It is normal to feel competing feelings at the same time. Instead of fighting with what you can’t control, use that energy to decide what is important and plan your next move.
Monique Bellefleur: Be gentle with yourself. Beating yourself up for not functioning at your highest level or for not having your dream body will only make you feel bad. When we feel bad, we tend to turn to our most unhealthy coping mechanisms, which ultimately distance us even further from our personal goals. Try self-compassion and consideration of our current world context instead. Of course you’re tired, unmotivated, sad, etc. — we are in the third year of a global pandemic and that cannot be discounted.
Joanne Edouard: As we look forward to 2022, the word that comes to mind is grace. We have all gone through so many different curveballs this year, some things that have shaken us to our core. Give yourself the grace that you have made it this far despite the obstacles. Acknowledge how far you have come in the face of adversity. You are doing the best you can in spite of all that is happening.
Deborah Jacobs: Our creativity links us to and fortifies our resilience and self-compassion in a way that doesn’t always have to take itself so seriously. Give yourself permission to take a moment or two to focus on something in your environment or out the window that appeals to you. Immerse yourself in that color, texture, scent, sound or taste. As you do, get curious about your inner responses; notice sensations, thoughts, images, breath, emotions. Create easy shortcuts to that pleasant experience by incorporating more of it into your daily life and surroundings (i.e. wear that color, texture, scent, make or have something around that reminds you of it).
Lauren Leone: For many people, the new year is a time of reflection and planning — but we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, a collective trauma. Many of us have lost a sense of predictability and control in our lives. I encourage people to resist treating this as a “normal” time and demanding from yourself the things that hyper-productivity, hustle culture, and capitalism demand of you. Instead, I recommend focusing on what you can control in your daily life and building empathy and connection — with yourself and others.
Laurie Rhoades: The common denominator I saw among my clients in 2021 was weariness. It’s exhausting to try to adapt to a new normal every few weeks, and in our quest to get back to some kind of ease and predictability, we often end up in an argument with reality itself. It’s kind of like trying to swim back to shore when you’re caught in a rip current. It seems logical, yes, but it’s much more effective to release the struggle and swim parallel to the shore.
Kortney Sumner: In a world where capitalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and violence are our daily bread, joy is an act of resistance. Notice, be present, and amplify the elements of your life that are bringing that spark while holding space for the reality that living within these systems is hard! On a more day-to-day level, when struggling with depression and/or the crippling weight of living through a pandemic, find any ability you may have to change up your routine ever so slightly. Our brains appreciate novelty and the shift can help clear a path for some joy.
Jacquelyn Tenaglia: The demands of life are enormous right now and have in many ways multiplied since the pandemic began. Our minds and our bodies are often on “high alert” as we attempt to navigate new terrain and manage multiple life stressors. We’re also exposed to a plethora of information and content on a regular basis, which can add to the feeling of being overwhelmed. It can be difficult to field this input with a clear, calm mind and body. Remember that we are all always doing the best that we can with the tools, resources, and information that we have at that time. In the meantime: simplify. Set boundaries around time and energy if needed; say no to that event you didn’t want to go to anyway; outsource tasks that can be outsourced; cut corners appropriately.
Osilia Trigueros The start of a new year may be an opportunity to reset, recharge and refresh. Start by being intentional, this may require you to carve some time out to do an internal check-in. With curiosity, explore and ask self-reflective questions. Start with, What things would I like to do differently? Where do I find meaningful connection and purpose? How do I revitalize or fill my cup? Remember to allow space to honor your needs.
Kira Vaughan: This is a marathon, not a sprint: The impact of the pandemic on our lives is going to be chronic, with effects lingering for months or even years. This will be true emotionally, mentally, physically, and even spiritually. For all of these reasons, it is so important to pace ourselves the best way that we can moving forward into 2022. This is already a time of resolutions, goals, and ideas for the future. Try creating a combination of short and long-term goals that you can work on, and remember that they don’t have to be worked on all at the same time! Nor do all of your goals have to be complicated and lavish: sometimes smaller goals, like remembering to drink water every day, can be just as important as the big ones. Another tip: make your goals realistic based on your individual circumstances, and remember that it’s OK if they don’t all work out.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.