As we move beyond the blur of the past two years – first bush fires, then a pandemic – a new year is already off and racing. We may be curious, concerned or even both about what kind of year 2022 will be. How will those of us who’ve lived in (and out of) lockdown for two years transition to working and socialising alongside our peers? How will we adapt?
We’re currently living in a near constant state of adjustment. Each of us navigating daily changes and new contexts in our own way. It’s important to acknowledge the multitude of experiences we are all having and the impact these will continue to have as 2022 unfolds, as some of rush into a new year and others move more slowly.
If you’re wondering how best to prepare for the year ahead, it can help to take stock of your own experience. You might like to write down all the ways you’ve been resilient in these past two years – to honour that within you. And you might also like to write down how you’re feeling now, whether that’s tired, relieved, ambivalent, excited or hopeful.
Showing self-compassion to yourself can be a helpful way to manage and acknowledge our own expectations, particularly in times of uncertainty. What might you like the year ahead to look like? Can you articulate these wishes, even though we don’t yet know what will be possible in 2022?
In Australia, many of us may still be recovering from the busy-ness of coming out of a lockdown into the pre-Christmas countdown, with perhaps an over-abundance of social demands and obligations to other people. Some of us may still feel strange socialising or out of practice, which can bring up some anxiety. All of which is a very normal response.
Socialising is something that we learn to do over time. It’s not something we’re born knowing how to do. And it takes practice. We tend to forget that socialising as adults has become a relatively automatic behaviour. So when we’re living in a lockdown our opportunities for in person socialising diminish and so does our practice.
How can we practice patience for ourselves as we relearn the things we didn’t always have a chance to do in lockdown? How can we give ourselves permission to be a bit rusty when it comes to being around people again? How can we extend that self-awareness to others so they feel more at ease around us?
Preparing for 2022 will be different for each of us. But globally we’re still in the same soup of responding to and managing an ongoing pandemic. One that has and continues to change shape which then sets off a domino effect of other changes that impact us more closely, through border closures and new legislation, perhaps even new work practices.
Facing an uncertain future can be taxing on anyone. We may feel anxious or confused, find it difficult to make big decisions or financial commitments when so much is unclear. What can help us adapt to living in uncertain times? Fortunately, there are many resources we can turn to for reassurance at this time and as the year progresses.
In a free online guide from the UK’s Psychology Tools, Living with worry and anxiety amidst global uncertainty (2020), the authors, Dr. Matthew Whalley and Dr. Handeep Kaur make the distinction between work that’s proportionate to a difficult situation outside of our control and anxiety that is focused on a worse-case scenario unfolding.
When we worry in a way that’s proportionate to a situation outside of our control we tend to problem solve and look at what we can do as individuals. In the case of the pandemic, that might look like wearing a mask or being mindful of hand hygiene. Whereas, worse-case thinking tends to fixate on the issue so much so that problem-solving becomes difficult.
If we can acknowledge the difference between these two states within us, we can then start to understand our thought patterns and begin to realise when they’re realistic or far from it. By containing our worry, we can become more empowered to determine what our course of action will be in relation to a stressful situation.
In Australia, the Australian Red Cross’ Wellbeing Toolkit offers clear and helpful definitions of stress as well as checklists to measure how we’re responding, particularly in the context of avoiding burnout. The toolkit also focuses on self-care and, in an excellent rhyming phrase, sets out that “the best way to combat stress is pleasure and leisure”.
Some of their self-care tips include:
Self-care can look different to each of us, just like the way we’ve experienced the past two years. But if we can look after our minds, bodies and hearts, we’re more like to feel replenished and able to manage the stresses that a new year or even an ongoing pandemic is likely to bring up.
Working out what self-care looks like to you can take a little trial and error. For some people it’s socialising and exercising, for others, it may be more restful, watching a film or reading. But even finding one or two activities that help you to feel calmer or more at ease, can make a huge difference in how we approach the year ahead.