By Leah Harris
New Year’s has always symbolized so much: a fresh start, a clean slate, a chance to recommit ourselves to what matters most. But with another pandemic winter and all the layers of uncertainty added by a new variant, the start of this new year may be lacking in its traditional celebratory, anticipatory vibe. If you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone: according to a recent American Psychiatric Association poll, 1 in 5 respondents said they were more stressed about the approach of 2022 than they were about 2021. If it feels extra hard to make plans, let alone set goals this year, here are some simple skills for navigating the uncertainty.
Know the neuroscience of uncertainty. Uncertainty has always been part of the human condition. But prolonged uncertainty, of the various kinds we have all been facing, is very difficult for human brains to manage. Most humans crave a sense of control and predictability. Neuroscience research shows that when faced with an ongoing threat, we tend to default to anxiety and depression. But it’s possible to train our brains to be able to better hold the uncertain moment, with practices like mindfulness and meditative movement.
Acknowledge your grief. Grief is now a prominent feature of our collective landscape. Even if you haven’t lost a loved one to Covid, everyone has experienced some kind of loss, usually multiple losses, over the past two years. Just acknowledging these losses and creating the space to mourn them can help to build more capacity to hold what’s here and what’s ahead.
Get into “the zone.” When so much feels so out of control, it can be soothing to take up or re-commit to a creative or meditative, rhythmic or tactile practice or hobby that we can lose ourselves in for a little while. Activities like jigsaw puzzles, adult coloring books, gaming, cooking, knitting, dancing, and freewriting are all ways to tap into creative flow.
Connect with simple ways to find meaning. As psychologist Jenny Wang told Vox: “What can we do to even just be aware and notice and cherish the very simplistic moments of our days? How can I make this life one that is meaningful, that offers slices of joy, and that provides a sense of relief in the midst of how heavy it’s been to live within the pandemic?”
Look back at how far you’ve come. It’s not about whether you met a goal or even set a goal for 2021, but reflecting on the moments you are most proud of. While you may celebrate traditional achievements like a new job, you may also consider the ways you surprised yourself, the things you survived, times you reached out, set a boundary or advocated for change.
Resolve to show up for others. As expressed in a beautifully illustrated column in Time entitled “The News Year’s Resolution to Make When Everything Feels Out of Control:” “If you don’t feel equipped to improve your own life as we head into this new year, maybe you can find a way to improve someone else’s.” Let’s face it: no self-care practice has the power to change the scary and uncertain realities we face heading into this new year. As always, peer support, connection, community, and mutual aid will get us through 2022 and beyond, one day at a time.
Sources and resources for further exploration:
- With Omicron Comes Uncertainty. Here’s How to Handle It. (The New York Times)
- The New Year’s Resolution to Make When Everything Feels Out of Your Control (Time)
- Our brains don’t like uncertainty, but research offers clues for how to cope (The Globe and Mail)
- How to deal with (even more) Covid uncertainty (Vox)
- Re-think your resolutions for the new year by making intentions instead (USA Today)
Leah Harris is a non-binary, queer, neurodivergent, disabled Jewish writer, facilitator, and organizer working in the service of truth-telling, justice-doing, and liberation. They’ve had work published in the New York Times, CNN, and Pacific Standard. You can learn more about their work at their website and follow them on Instagram.