3 Suggestions for Getting Through 2020
At the risk of sounding like 99% of the world right now, 2020 has been a nightmare year in one way or another for most of us. We find ourselves suffering through a pandemic, lockdowns, and bitterly divided. Between Covid-19, economic, societal, and all non-pandemic health concerns it can feel like we’re drowning. Writing on this topic is daunting because as someone close to me likes to point out, “What’s really frustrating is nobody is playing by the same rules or in the same situation, but they all have advice for me.” Well said. The intention of this post is to make the reader consider their unique situation not give a precise “road map” that doesn’t look like your journey… I promise.
I suggest we start by looking at this year and asking ourselves “What can it teach me about myself?” and “How can I apply that?” For example, if you are struggling now with a feeling of isolation, you can ask yourself what you do in a stressful period of your life. If you tend to withdraw from relationships this period might be showing just how critical it is for your selfcare to maintain these connections during the rough times. This is especially true given the holiday season. Depending on your situation you may have missed or might soon be missing a holiday celebration. If you are, consider the importance of these traditions to you. If you are feeling a loss over broken holiday plans, start by grieving your loss because this was something meaningful to you, then consider how important these celebrations are and how important it is for you to preserve them in the future. You may even decide you’d like to add more traditions going forward. This could even be a push for you to start doing that holiday thing you’ve always wanted but never got around to… you know the one. Unfortunately it won’t fix this year’s troubles but it will give you a path forward.
Another example that seems to come up often is the gym. It comes up when someone who casually went to the gym can’t anymore and now realizes how essential exercise was to their life. Maybe you never really got into exercise, but still had a somewhat active life and during this year you’ve found yourself restless because you’re working from home or just not able to do as much. That would be a good indication that being active is important to your well-being, and likely beyond just your physical body. It might mean it’s time for a gym membership, to take up hiking, or even just getting a Fitbit (or a Fitbit competitor, no endorsements here) to make sure you’re staying active in your day to day life. What are your specific struggles this year? Do they help you understand your needs more clearly?
The next consideration involves gratitude. One thing this year has undoubtedly shown us is the importance of being grateful for what we have. It can be easy to be swept up into negativity with the hurdles that we encounter in normal life, which leads us to take things for granted. In fact there is even a concept in the field Positive Psychology known as “the hedonic treadmill” that touches on the subject. Research shows that the novelty of positive things in our lives makes us happy, but as we become used to them our happiness decreases, and we begin seeking out the next thing to “make us happy.” For example, someone might be truly excited about their new car, only to find that in a couple months it is no more special to them than any other car. This cycle goes beyond showing the danger or relying on materialism or thrill seeking to give us meaning however, it also reveals how it is in our nature to learn to take things for granted over time. This also ties back to the introspection suggested in the previous step. Not all of the “lessons” about ourselves have to do with loss in this chaotic year. For example, I have a family member who is now working from home which has presented a host of unique challenges to him; However it also means he has been able to spend more time with his children. He recently remarked about seeing his youngest learn to walk, “it’s a blessing that I get to be here. I’ve had to miss milestones in the past because I was at work.” Are there positive changes to be found in your own experience this year? Perks that show you, or just reaffirm to you, what really matters in your life? New opportunities? Anything in your life you’ve taken for granted, that you now can appreciate again?
Finally, I’d like to suggest some potential new patterns for self care, coping, and skill building. If you wind up with significant amounts of free time consider learning about something you’re passionate about, or developing a skill. For most of us we’ve been telling ourselves for years, “If I only had the time, I’d….” For some, that time is here. It’s a funny thing, how often I hear people these days saying that they both have “nothing to do” and “no time/they can’t believe it’s already December.” I’ve noticed the culprit to be many things from Netflix to Instagram, but the common thread seems to be that they are “just killing time.” In that sense this isn’t to dismiss the use of something like Netflix as selfcare entirely, merely to ask if this describes you, “are you balancing your life with something more productive too?” The reason it is important is it can form a self destructive cycle. Too often people find themselves with nothing to do (often after being furloughed or having hours cut) who then find their options to embrace their support systems and hobbies diminished in the current environment, which then leads to killing time. It’s something to fill the day, and too many something to numb their frustrations with the state of things. The issue is this begins to feed on them, making them feel less productive, then more frustrated, then more prone to numbing. If this sounds familiar, I’d encourage you to start devoting a little time each day to something meaningful to you. Anything from painting, to learning to cook or experimenting with new recipes. What are the skills you’d like to cultivate? You may not be able to develop the skill you’d like right now. If you have a passion for woodworking but you’re in an apartment and don’t have the tools, you won’t have an outlet. That’s where learning about a subject you’re passionate about can take its place. Whatever that is for you, you can read books or listen to lectures on YouTube. It doesn’t have to be anything huge right away, it should just be a new challenge or something to expand your mind. Start with just 20 minutes to an hour a day, and you’ll be surprised how much more meaning you’ll find during this period.
If nothing else, remember that you have made it through this year. This uncertain, anxiety provoking, horror show of a year, was something you survived. Whatever your unique combination of obstacles was, you persevered, and you should be proud of yourself for that.
What Seeking Treatment for the First Time is Like
Getting started can be a scary task, and one I still remember years after I started my own counseling journey. I had always respected therapy, I believed it would help me, and there were days I even looked forward to starting counseling… and yet for a long time I could not bring myself to begin. There was anxiety about it. I was worried about the investment, I was worried about confronting vulnerable and wounded parts of me, mostly I think I was worried about trusting someone with the vulnerable and wounded parts of me. Nonetheless, after years of contemplation and seeing what resources were available to me, I took the plunge. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
Now as a clinician I’ve been on both sides of that first step, and I’ve heard many clients discuss what lead to them taking that initial step, and how much it mirrored my own. My intention in writing this is to normalize the anxieties you may be experiencing if you’re contemplating treatment. One of the most common thoughts I’ve encountered could be summed up “I’d gotten through my life so far without treatment, why would I need it now?” Eventually of course they ended up in counseling otherwise they couldn’t have explained it. Still the hesitation in this thought makes sense. It can feel that way because when all you have ever known is carrying a burden with you usually stop noticing it. In an unexpected twist, our traumas can become mundane to us. Something we do everyday, like getting dressed or brushing our teeth. For some the injuries they have suffered have become so “ordinary” to them that they assume everyone must be fighting the same battles as they are. In my experience, this is especially true of early and childhood trauma and wounding.
Others feel alienated because of their trauma. They know their experience is not typical, but they have taken to heart that it is because they “aren’t typical.” Their normal is that they “aren’t normal” and they have come to the conclusion that their identity is based largely (if not primarily) on their wounds. As a result they often do not see how that could change. Some in this group can stubbornly avoid treatment on principle (I know because I was one of them) because change seems somehow “inauthentic” to their reality. The truth is of course that by facing our demons, and working to heal our injuries we become more ourselves.
What normally breaks through these constraints is the realization that there is a goal they would like to achieve and something from their past, or some new and unprecedented obstacle is holding them back. The origin of the goal varies, but it’s typically something that has been on the client’s mind for a while. If you are reading, and are considering therapy, then the good news is, you probably already know some goals you would like to work toward.
Next is often a rush of anxiety. Unsurprisingly this is especially common if one of your principle struggles is anxiety. Fortunately most clinics have the process streamlined to the point that if you can push yourself to reach out, it will be downhill from there. Although there may also be another spike immediately before you start, based on my experiences that one is much smaller and doesn’t last through the first session.
I suspect these concerns to be more surface level however, and I believe the root cause is more commonly based in whatever it is that’s bringing you to consider therapy in the first place. For instance, if you have trouble forming relationships and you want help overcoming that, it’s only natural that you’d also have some concerns around starting a therapeutic relationship. That anxiety might enter your head as sending that first email or making that initial phone call, but it’s normally based on something deeper. The reason I’m writing this is, if this describes you, to give you a sense of hope. What you’re feeling is normal and others have been there before. The fears around facing deeply held anxieties, being vulnerable with insecurities, beginning to heal from trauma, etc. are all perfectly normal. You already aren’t as alone in this as you may feel. You can move forward, you can discover hidden potential, you can grow, and you can heal, but it takes a little risk.
Author: Sean Kuhns, LPCC
Learn more about Sean here!”