Reflections on 2020 and the Road Ahead

None of us will forget 2020 anytime soon.  And, many of us wonder when we might get back to a sense of normalcy.  Even if we have adjusted to wearing masks, social distancing, and having our temperatures taken, the marks on our society from the pandemic are still with us.  And, for those of us who have lost a loved one to COVID, we will always carry that grief.  Despite the devastation of the last year, we have also heard stories of strength and resilience.  The people behind these stories help us all hold onto hope for the future.  

In recent months, mental health has been more widely addressed in the media than any of our team can remember.  On the one hand, this shift has been refreshing since mental health has often not been given the platform that it truly deserves.  On the other hand, the reason it has gotten so much press is disheartening.  Feelings of isolation and depression are at an all-time high, higher levels of anxiety are the norm, and suicide rates are on the rise.  

Walking alongside our clients during the pandemic and a year fraught with social unrest has been one of our greatest privileges.  None of us can remember a time where we were experiencing the exact same cultural and health-oriented shifts as our clients for a such a significant amount of time.  Going through the same stressors at the same time as many of our clients required high levels of authenticity and a reliance on our own social support systems and coping strategies.  We all have many stories of brainstorming new coping strategies and self-care plans with clients and with ourselves after so many things had been taken away.  It became common for us to say, “Yes, we agree and understand.  We didn’t know the importance of certain activities until we lost them either!”  So much of the year was full of pivots, understanding that what we used to do was no longer available to us and having to turn a different direction to get fuel in our emotional and relational tanks.  Families also had to adjust to children being home from school, parents working from home or losing work, and the communication breakdowns that came with those significant changes.  

In the midst of this large-scale challenge, we noticed that when we could remember the following suggestions, our levels of resilience and hope increased.  We are hopeful that these same strategies will also help us on the road ahead.

1.Understand that stress from the last year is NORMAL, and you are not ALONE.

Everyone, without exception, who we have spoken to over the last year has experienced a higher level of stress than normal.  Even for people who have had robust coping strategies, many of those strategies had to change due to health protocols.  It is beneficial to recognize that everyone has struggled and feel the camaraderie in that fact.  However, it is also helpful to feel compassion towards those that have been more vulnerable and have struggled even more intensely.  

2.Identify emotions and needs.  Then, express them to the safe people in your life.  

Identifying and expressing our emotions and needs becomes even more important when we have lost healthy coping strategies. We have all had to get curious about our emotions.  When we get stuck, even therapists like to look at a feeling chart.  Here is our favorite. 

Journeys Emoji Feelings Chart

Once we know what we are feeling, we might find it easier to identify what we are needing.   If you are like us, it is easy to get into thought spirals that keep you stuck.  Common themes for us include, “I’m not creative enough to have a new idea.  Nothing is going to change.  Nothing I do matters.  I’ve never really been good at coping.  No one understands me.  I’m alone in this.”  When we notice that our thought process has become negative and self-defeating, a question designed to get us unstuck is, “What can I do?”  The truth is that what we do with our emotions and our needs really does matter, and we can work toward meeting those needs ourselves and with the support of our friends and/or family.  Once we identify our emotions, it can be fruitful to express them to safe family members and friends.  We recommend using the following format for healthy communication, “I feel (insert feeling) when you (insert behavior), and in the future I would like (insert request).”  

3.Our bodies can tell us what we need to know.

Sometimes despite our best intentions to identify our emotions and needs, we draw a blank.  Therefore, a common and essential theme in therapy is getting curious about our physical reactions.  When we struggle to identify emotions or needs, sometimes getting back to the basics of identifying what is going on in our bodies helps shed some light.  For example, if my heart has been racing several times throughout the day and my muscle tension is worse than usual, I might gently recognize what is going on in my body, slow down, and try to take a few deep breaths.  Then, I can remind myself that I am going through a stressful time, identify that my cortisol and adrenaline levels are likely too high, and recognize that I might benefit from either getting rid of that extra anxiety through physical movement or calm the anxiety down through relaxation activities.  

Our team wants to express to all of you that we are right there with you through your challenges and difficulties.  We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we do know the power of having someone walk alongside you, helping you to come up with your own personalized plan for recovery and resilience.  And, we will never ask you to do things that we don’t ask of ourselves.  We hope that a few of these strategies for dealing with emotions and relationships provides hope for the road ahead.  To that end, we are introducing blog posts from our talented team of therapists.  We love the idea of writing about the most common things we share with everyone, so that you have a reference point and can review what you are learning in therapy.  We will also be sharing with you the strategies and topics that encourage our team.  Thank you for joining us.  We look forward to being on the journey with you!

This Post Written By:
Roxane Thorstad, PsyD – Journeys Counseling Center
6516 S. Rural Road, Suite 101
Tempe, Arizona 85283
Phone: (480) 656-0500