Going into 2021 while mourning 2020
There’s no denying that 2020 has been tough. Wearing facemasks, staying 1.5m away from everyone, and terms like “contract tracing”, “flattening the curve”, and “viral load” became commonplace even while feeling like a bad dream. This became our reality.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had drastic negatives impact on societies across the world in myriad ways, including psychological distress and hospitalisations. In Australia alone, it’s estimated that mental health service costs will be $874 million above normal amounts in the next five years. Across the country, school and university leavers have had to go without graduation ceremonies and celebrations, weddings have been postponed, funerals under-attended, and daily life disrupted. It’s understandable, even reasonable, to feel a sense of loss as 2020 comes to an end.
So how can we enter the new year feeling renewed and excited when 2020 has been so difficult for so many?
Take time to grieve
Grief isn’t linear; you’re not going to automatically feel better as the clock strikes midnight on December 31st. It might be difficult because most of us have never experienced loss on this scale before, but it’s important to take the time to reflect on the things that we’ve missed, no matter how small they might be.
The pandemic didn’t just lead to loss of life, health, or jobs — it fundamentally disrupted our sense of stability and attachments. Whether you’re grieving being able to go to your favourite café or bookshop, visit your grandma, or the ways your 2020 haven’t met your goals and expectations, it’s ok to sit with this discomfort — that’s how you heal.
More than that, the pandemic has forced us to reckon with ambiguous losses. David Kessler, a renowned grief expert, has said in a Harvard Business Review interview:
As the pandemic has evolved, people have had to confront a series of losses: The loss of a sense of safety, of social connections and personal freedoms, of jobs and financial security. Going forward, people will experience new losses we can’t yet predict. “We’re talking about grieving a living loss — one that keeps going and going,” he says. [x]
Confronting these losses and understanding the different stages of grief could help you come to terms with all the changes that we’ve experienced this year, and all those still to come.
Embrace the “new normal”
There’s a prevailing sense that as soon as 2020 finishes up, we’ll be heading right back to life as we know it, but that probably won’t be the case. Some of the changes implemented due to the coronavirus outbreak are temporary, but some might be sticking around for longer than we initially expected.
It’s thought to take anywhere from 2 weeks to a whole year for someone to form a habit, and about two months until that habit becomes automatic. With that in mind, it’s reasonable to assume some of the behaviours we have had to adopt during the pandemic will soon become totally normal, if they haven’t already.
That being said, make sure you’re embracing the good new normal as much as you are embracing the difficult. This means that automatically bumping elbows instead of hugging and applying hand sanitiser before entering a room should be on par with the positive habits many of us adopted during lockdown. The new normal could mean making an effort to connect virtually with friends, checking in and being more open with colleagues, focusing on hobbies, or getting creative with looking after your physical and mental health.
Remember that the new normal might not feel normal for a while. David Kessler calls this “anticipatory grief”: the feeling of loss for an imagined future. He says:
“We’re feeling [a] loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.” [x]
The new normal might take a while to feel normal, but if we focus on the positives while accepting the negatives, we’ll be one step closer to normality.
Stockpile (no, not toilet paper!)
The first few months of 2020 were spent obsessively hoarding dried goods and toilet paper, but in 2021 we need to be focusing on different kinds of stockpiling.
Everyone has a different way of handling the stress and anxiety that comes with a changing world. If one of your loved ones or colleagues is reacting differently to how they normally would, or you find yourself getting frustrated with them, remember that these are extraordinary circumstances that change the way people behave. Be kind, compassionate, and gentle, and they’ll be sure to thank you for it.
Staying calm and collected in the face of uncertainty is hard, but not impossible. You might consider adopting a meditation or mindfulness practice, taking regular breaks when working or studying, and setting intentions for your day in order to have patience for yourself and others.
Although everyone might not be experiencing the same losses as you, they are experiencing some kind of difficulty due to coronavirus. That’s why it’s so important to maintain meaningful connections right now, and reach out to your network. Make plans to do something fun and relaxing with your network — it might be exactly what you both need right now.
Set goals and remember your accomplishments
Every year, we recommend you set some New Year’s resolutions. Many of your resolutions for 2020 might have been impossible to achieve after the pandemic broke out, but don’t let that discourage you.
There are sure to be plenty of achievements you were able to accomplish even in the unprecedented circumstances of COVID-19; maybe you applied for jobs that seemed out of your comfort zone, planned a Zoom catchup with a new fellow student, or picked up a new hobby. Big or small, these accomplishments are still accomplishments!
When you’re planning your goals for 2021, keep in mind all the things you managed to achieve in 2020, and set realistic targets for the new year.
2021 is just around the corner, a prospect that is both exciting and daunting. It’s ok to mourn the losses you experienced in the past year, and all the losses yet to come, while still looking forward to the future. Happy New Year — may this one be better to us.
Featured image courtesy of Pexels
Lily Cameron is a writer and editor based in Sydney. She is a UTS Communications (Creative Writing) graduate, and current Communications Assistant at UTS Careers. She is passionate about telling stories, both hers and others’, and the way digital and social media is changing the literary landscape. Her writing has appeared in Voiceworks, The Brag, and elsewhere.