Here we are, at the end of another pandemic year. If you’re wondering how we’re already done with another year, you’re not alone! Just like last year, this year was hard in lots of unprecedented ways. We’re still in the pandemic, and life still isn’t back to normal. Burnout is widespread right now because we’ve all been under a constant state of stress for almost two full years. You might also be feeling the grief of what could have been if things were different.
The end of the year is often a time where we reflect on the last 12 months and make plans for the next 12. When the last 12 months have been tough though, it can seem like a pointless exercise to reflect on the year. That’s not always the case, though! Spending some time in the last few weeks of the year thinking about what you went through this year and where you want to go can be a nice way to drum up some excitement and hope for the future.
Remember, life won’t always be like this. If you’re struggling right now, please ask for help. You don’t have to do this all alone, and if the last few years have taught us anything it’s that life is easier when we work together.
So how do you get started making peace with a tough year? Here are 4 ways to say goodbye to the year 2021:
Take part in a year end ritual
A “ritual” sounds really fancy, but all it means is to do something with intention. Often we’re so busy that it’s easy to kind of run on autopilot and tune out mentally. Doing things with intention means bringing your brain back online and being in the present moment.
A ritual can be as simple as writing a journal entry about your year. You could write out a list of good things that happened and not so good things that happened, and burn the list of not so good things when you’re done (while practicing fire safety!) as a way to visualize them burning away. You could plant some bulbs for next spring and imagine planting good thoughts and intentions along with them. Anything that feels good to you is right!
Make some art that represents your year
Sometimes it’s hard to express what you’re feeling and thinking in words. That’s where art can come in! Art therapy is a modality that encourages you to express yourself through art, which can help you communicate what you’re feeling. You don’t have to be “good” at art to benefit from art therapy, either. The magic is in the making!
As you reflect on your year, see what comes to mind. Do any of your feelings make you think of a certain color? Or do they feel like a big swirl of confusion? There’s no wrong way to use art to express yourself, so whatever comes up for you is perfect. Some ideas for art projects that could help you express how you’re feeling about the year are finger painting, watercolors, blind contour drawing, photography, collage, photo editing, working with textiles like sewing or knitting, or even coloring in a coloring book. Taking some time to make something that represents your year can help you come to terms with it.
Remind yourself of the highlights of the past year
Sometimes at the end of the year it can be easy to think of all the tough things that happened, but harder to remember the good times. Way back when, it was helpful to remember dangerous or scary things vividly. That’s how people remembered to avoid those things in the future! However, it can get frustrating in the modern day. We don’t have to be watching out for evolutionary dangers, like predators, but our brains haven’t quite caught up with that.
Take some time to reflect on all the good parts of your year. One way to do this is to keep a jar where you put memories you want to remember throughout the year. This takes some planning in advance, but you can write down your happy memories on little slips of paper, and then read them all at the end of the year. Another way to remember what went well in your year is to go through your photos or social media archives from the year. What was important enough to be captured on camera?
Visualize what you want to bring with you into 2022 and what you want to leave behind this year
Visualization is a powerful tool. Have you ever rehearsed how something will go to calm yourself down? Or maybe you’ve experienced trauma and know all too well how hard it can be to distinguish between a traumatic memory being triggered and what’s happening in the present. Studies have shown that our brains can’t tell the difference between something happening in the present and something that we’re thinking about.
That’s why traumatic flashbacks are so scary – it feels like you’re back in that traumatic moment, and even if you rationally know you’re not, your brain hasn’t caught up yet. However, this little quirk of your brain doesn’t always have to work against you.
When you visualize something, you play it in your head like you’re watching a movie unfold. You can use visualization to give yourself a nice boost of confidence or to reassure yourself that you can handle what’s coming. Since your brain thinks that it’s already done it once, you’ll feel more confident doing it again.
To use visualization to reflect on your year, you can imagine what you want to bring with you into 2022 and what you want to leave behind in 2021. Things you might want to take with you include new lessons learned, new information about yourself, happy memories, or mutually beneficial relationships. Things you may want to leave behind could include negative self-talk, relationships that no longer serve you, or beliefs about yourself that are no longer true.