BUCKHANNON — After a challenging and stressful 2020, many experts are recommending giving yourself a break in 2021. The beginning of a new year is typically the time for fresh starts and improvement in specific areas of our lives. However, making those big New Year’s resolutions after a stressful and chaotic year could be counterproductive, according to one of Ohio State University - Wexner Medical Center’s (OSU-WMC) mental health experts, Dr. Sophie Lazarus, PhD. Instead, she suggests clearing your head and moving forward with a more positive outlook on the new year. Dr. Lazarus is a clinical psychologist in the department of psychiatry and behavioral health at the Wexner Medical Center.
Most people had to make several adjustments during 2020, such as helping kids navigate virtual learning, working from home, keeping the family safe and healthy, and coping with economic hardships due to COVID-19, creating our “new normal.” According to Dr. Lazarus, “In normal times, a little bit of stress can help us find solutions and be productive. But when it is prolonged for months on end and that stress becomes chronic, our bodies never get the message that the stress response can calm down, which can be detrimental to our physical and mental health.”
She explained to The Record Delta, “When setting resolutions, it’s important to look at your actual resources for making these changes and you want those resolutions to be commensurate with that capability. Resolutions that are really huge and require a big change, like losing a huge amount of weight in some way or making another big change in your daily routine that’s going to require a lot of effort, may be counterproductive.”
Rather than making some wide-ranging changes, Dr. Lazarus recommends making minor adjustments that involve bringing joy into your daily life. One of the best ways to accomplish that, is by “practicing mindfulness,” she suggests. Practicing mindfulness is as simple as acknowledging what you are grateful for, scheduling some time for self-reflection, or simply stopping to take a few deep breaths.
“There’s lots of benefits for the practice of mindfulness, such as increased well-being, reduced stress, even certain biological indices of stress are improved with regular mindfulness meditation practice. What we are talking about here is less about having to sit down and meditate but pay more balanced attention to what’s happening. And it is just perspective—seeing the positive alongside what’s stressful and notice how things are impacting us,” she explained.
Dr. Lazarus elaborated, “Mindfulness is really stepping out of autopilot and being aware of what’s happening in the present moment. When we do that, we really have a better sense of how what we do impacts us. Identifying sources of stress and making small, incremental changes to boost our happiness is going to be a lot more helpful than setting a really high bar, not meeting that bar, and feeling discouraged.”
Clearing your head and moving forward with a more positive outlook for 2021 also involves shifting your perspective, unplugging from social media, and being kind to yourself. Getting caught up in what is wrong and missing the positive things is easy to do. Therefore, Dr. Lazarus explains that starting your day by reminding yourself of the good things in your life, can help you keep a more balanced outlook in the face of challenges. In the age of technology, mindlessly scrolling on social media can increase stress and anxiety. Instead, Dr. Lazarus recommends putting the phones and computers away and take a walk, cook a meal, or ask your family about their day. It is also easy to be critical of ourselves, which can increase stress and worsen the situation. “Pause to take a deep breath, a bubble bath, a nap, whatever you need that day to help you remember that you’re important too. Just take care of yourself,” she suggests.
Dr. Lazarus concluded, “The big changes that require us to make a huge difference in our daily routine do not tend to be successful anyway, and especially this year, we don’t want one more reason to beat ourselves up.”
The unusual circumstances of 2020 have created more chronic stress and anxiety than ever, according to Dr. Lazarus. When bringing in this New Year, remember to shift your perspective, unplug, and be kind to yourself.