By Aliza Shapiro, LCSW
The last few weeks of 2020 are officially upon us, and as we mark off the remaining calendar days we may notice ourselves starting to recount and reflect on what we’ve made of this completely unprecedented year. 2020 has not been what anyone expected! Many of us were forced to put personal, familial, and professional aspirations on the sidelines as we struggled to stay connected, healthy, protected, and sane. As a result things we had hoped to achieve fell by the wayside, and some are lamenting the lost opportunities. As the year winds to an end, we can “bring 2020 home” by focusing once more on the goals that we originally had, and realizing in hindsight that we may have accomplished more than we think. Here are a few life skills that many of us have picked up this year:
1. Improve the Moment
One advantage of 2020 is that we’ve have plenty of opportunity to practice Distress Tolerance. Tolerating distress is the capacity to be experience an ongoing (check), unexpected (check), crisis (check) that is out of one’s control (check) and cannot be dealt with immediately (check!). The key to tolerating this distress is to do so in a way that does not make the situation worse, but actually makes the situation better. Indeed, as we struggled this past year we turned to relaxation, prayer, focusing on one thing in the moment, self-encouragement, and rethinking situations (for example saying “this may be hard, but I can get through it,” instead of “this is hard, and I have no hope.”) Improving the moment during crisis is challenging, but we’ve now had plenty of practice which leaves us with an invaluable tool we can turn to long after the clock strikes 2021.
2. Chain Analysis
Our life events, bodies, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected. That’s why one of the greatest therapeutic skills we can learn is how to create a “chain analysis”, which involves identifying how these seemingly disparate aspects of life are linked together. This year, many links in our personal “chains” were continually impacted and even depleted. For example, at times we weren’t able to be as physically active as usual, which which may have impacted our mood, and subsequently our behaviors. Having gone through 2020, we have learned to pay more attention to these “chains.” We are also more aware of what is lacking in our own systems, which can help us make the changes necessary to find greater equilibrium, and live happy, healthy lives.
3. Making Meaning
When we go through a struggle, it feels hard. But, when we cannot see the purpose of that struggle, it feels impossible. Of course, none of us can truly know the reasons why struggled this past year, but many of us practiced finding meaning with difficult situations and managed to find greater motivation and strength to get through it in a new way. One of the most powerful ways we’ve found meaning is by thinking about our values, our choices, and our opportunities for growth. Many of us took the time to contemplate, journal about, and discuss the meaning and lessons learned in the challenges we have faced. This skill could leave us with a greater sense of accomplishment than any series of achievements.
4. Acceptance & Change
Finally, there were many moments this past year when we simply could stop painful emotions and events from coming our way. In many instances, we chose to accept our reality instead of fighting it, so that we could make the most of our circumstances. When we accepted the facts of the present, we did not choose to be passive or “giving up,” rather, we accepted reality so that we could then focus on change. When we look back at the year and accept the ways things did turn out, we can also look forward and commit ourselves to the goals and ideals that we can achieve in the valuable time that we still have left.
As we approach the last few weeks, let’s make the most of the time that we still have, and recognize the skill, growth, and accomplishment that we’ve already attained – even if things did not turn out as we expected. And of course, let’s keep in mind that although this year wasn’t what we asked for we can certainly come out stronger. After all, the best hindsight is 2020.