Taking the Lessons from 2020 for  A Better 2021

new year and mental health

We can all look back on our lives and identify the tougher moments, the challenging stages, and specific years or periods in time we were glad to put behind us. Life transpires in this way; it is the natural ebb and flow of the human experience. There are good times—the highs—when we enjoy success or major leaps either professionally, financially, or personally. The lows are characterized by those instances of loss, failure, sadness, or defeat. Then there are the in-between periods where nothing particularly different or exciting is happening; when we are simply focused on work, reaching our goals, and just getting through daily life.

It’s natural and human to dread the lows and do whatever we can to avoid them. We have become accustomed to wanting to seek comfort and avoid struggle, but the reality is that there is no such thing as sailing through life and avoiding the low times and the challenges these stages bring. Tough times and difficulties will come no matter what and they often come unexpectedly. Last year is a perfect example of this reality.

The year 2020—the year we will never forget—showed us repeatedly and in so many ways that the lows in life are inevitable. Last year also demonstrated to so many of us that these periods are also extremely important for our personal and collective betterment. The year 2020 showed us that there is much learning and growth we can experience during the low periods. These times serve to uncover what we’re made of; what we’re capable of enduring and overcoming; and how adept we are to applying the self-development lessons we have gained thus far. If you think about it, when can you really show your resilience? When can you actually use it, practice it, and see for yourself how much grit you really have?

Let’s consider that living through 2020 has shown us that maybe we should get rid of the notion that we must seek comfort all the time—that we must strive for a smooth-sailing ride through life. Instead, maybe what we should really be actively and continuously seeking are life lessons, opportunities for growth and achievement, and then reflect on and use the experiences we gain to become better, stronger, more prepared, and more resilient. This year—2021—can be your chance to take the experiences from 2020 and turn them into lessons for future action. Consider the changes you can make and the goals you can set for yourself based on what you went through last year. Below we will discuss a few ideas for potential areas of goal-setting, change, and personal progress.

  • Financial issues were a significant area of concern for many people. In 2021, think about how you can plan ahead, prepare, and create a financial buffer for yourself and your family.

  • Unemployment, the closing of businesses, and reduced working hours were a widespread issue in 2020—a concern that no one would have anticipated and that created a serious economic domino effect that we are still dealing with to date. We have certainly seen isolated industries experiencing job cuts or mass layoffs in the past, but the pandemic affected virtually everyone’s ability to work (or at least, it seriously affected those who relied on working outside of their homes). In 2021, think about how you can develop a side hustle or second source of income. Online businesses, although still affected by the economic downturn of 2020, were often able to survive and allow people to generate some revenue. Consider exploring one or more work or income-producing options that allows you flexibility in terms of being able to work from anywhere with an Internet connection and not have to rely on face-to-face interaction with the public. This year is the time to get thinking and get creative with your options because we cannot be completely sure that a quarantine can happen again in the future.
  • Stress management abilities and coping skills proved to be critical competencies in 2020. Many people were isolated, found themselves alone for long periods of time, or were confined to their homes with one or more family members or loved ones for months. In 2021, commit to learning and practicing relaxation skills, mindfulness, or meditation—methods you can use to help you emotionally cope when things happen that are out of your control and that can potentially impact your mental health.

We all hope that a repeat of 2020 will never happen. At the very least, we know that witnessing the events that transpired worldwide last year will help us to prepare. However, whether or not we will live through future pandemics is unknown. We can use the memories of 2020 to ensure that we are ready—not to avoid or hide from hardships, but to face them head on with our utmost energy, courage, and preparation.

Arnold Gillo, MSW, LCSW is a Licensed Therapist, a Behavioral Health Consultant, and the Clinical Program Planner for State of Nevada ICF Program