With the close of 2020, many may be thinking about their New Year Resolutions. I wanted to share mine and offer that you may want to adopt it too.
My resolution is just to try to get through 2021, and to show more loving kindness to myself.
Let’s be honest, we are still in the grips of a deadly pandemic. It will be months yet before the vaccine is widely available. New mutations of the virus are emerging, which may require tweaking the current vaccine and it will certainly be months before we feel safer from this. Meanwhile, we constantly hit new records in numbers of dead, thousands face long-term complications from this virus, millions face the devastation of economic uncertainty including hunger and homelessness. Mental health is, unsurprisingly, at an all-time low, and suicides from illness & mourning, economic despair, and social isolation will continue to climb. Politically and socially there has been additional upheaval and uproar that has sapped what little strength we’ve had left. Our lives and society have been thrown into chaos, and we will be feeling the effects of this for decades, not just months.
In the midst of this insanity, we are all trying to navigate as best we can, compounded by work and school schedules that are so on-again-off-again, it makes planning impossible. If you have done nothing else this past year but hang in as best you can, you are a rockstar. Despite this, I have been shocked to see how hard people have been on themselves – straight A students are upset at getting a B+ or A-, parents angsting that their household is full of snippy, cranky, anxious people – little and big – and are not ‘model homes’, workers upset that their productivity is down, or that they bought supplies for a hobby project that never happened, and on and on. All of which are COMPLETELY unsurprising in the middle of a pandemic that has forced us into unprecedented adaptations on the fly (now we’re learning from home! and remote working! and figure out all the technology, and buy more devices, and upgrade your internet, and money is tight now? too bad!) and a daily uncertainty about everything. The worst part is that people seem to feel there is a competition. If my life is not the absolute worst, I have no right to complain.
This is not only not true, but incredibly toxic & unhealthy. Your feelings are real and valid. This is not a competition. Just because someone has it worse (spoiler, there will ALWAYS be someone who has it ‘worse’) does not mean that you cannot be upset at whatever is bothering you. You do not need to be the poster child for a charity before you can feel sad/angry/upset/frustrated/annoyed/irked/distraught/ anxious/scared/overwhelmed/traumatized or anything else! Aside from how unhealthy it is for us to try to force aside our emotions because we are not “sufficiently oppressed”, think about the message this sends our friends, family, and especially our children: Until you are at the bottom of the barrel, your negative feelings don’t matter and are inappropriate. Is that really the message you want to send?! Does this hold true for happy feelings too? Is our happiness invalid because someone else has it better?? Do you see how silly this line of thought it?
When we say, “I’m really anxious and cranky lately”, and a well-meaning person replies, “At least you still have a job!”, they may be trying to help and have no idea how else to comfort you (I’m fairly sure I’ve been guilty of such glib responses in the past). However, they cannot shame or dismiss you without your cooperation. It is up to you to accept that your feelings are valid – even if you do still have a job – and let yourself experience and work through the emotions you are having. Please embrace where you are – wherever that is – and stop feeling the need to defensively, shamefacedly, preface things with, “I know others have it so much worse right now, and I feel really guilty for saying this, but….”.
Like everyone else, I have been guilty of expecting too much of myself. I am demanding pre-law school, pre-pandemic, levels of performance from myself, with little or any acknowledgement that I was severely burned out going into this year (so burned out I actually fell asleep in the middle of the bar exam and couldn’t process the text I was reading!), and that being in self-lockdown for the year is very stressful and NOT restful and I have not fully recharged or recovered. It is ok that things didn’t get accomplished. It is ok that I have been doing the BARE minimum.
We must accept that uncertainty and stress – which nearly all of us are dealing with at abnormal levels – can cause disease and is having a massive and serious impact on our productivity and energy. We MUST therefore cut ourselves some slack and recognize that this is not a ‘normal’ time and that this will not be normal for a long time. Even if you are still working, healthy, have a roof over your head and some food on the table, things are not normal. If any of those things are missing, the load is significantly worse. By placing unreasonable expectations on yourself, you are exacerbating the stress load and setting yourself up for failure by creating this vicious loop: I am not getting enough done -> I feel like a failure -> Feeling like a failure compounds my exhaustion which makes it impossible to get enough done -> So I am failure…. Worse, this loop tends to transition us from being a ‘person who gets things done and succeeds in your life but who didn’t get something done this time’ to a ‘failure’. This loops transitions us from our accomplishments to our fundamental identity (which in turn depletes us further, and exacerbates the loop).
So, please, join me in declaring that your New Year’s Resolution is to be kinder and more forgiving of yourself, and to lower the bar this year on your accomplishments. Just focus on surviving the year, anything else you achieve is a bonus. Wishing you all peace and a good year.