I think we can all say 2020 has been a year like no other. From a global pandemic to riots to a heated and divisive political election (just to name a few), 2020 has been a year full of stressors in the world around us. Years like this, with so much out of our control and unknown, lead to people reacting in many different ways. Some people might feel fearful or anxious, some angry, and some excited for the changes. The reality is, we have much more control in how we feel about 2020 than we might think.
Let me provide a thought experiment to demonstrate my point.
Imagine you are driving on the highway and someone cuts you off. You are fine, but it was pretty close. What would your immediate thought be? Take a moment to think about this. And then, what would your emotional reaction that you felt be? (Think of a one-word answer here: an emotion word such as happy, sad, angry, scared, or relieved).
Different people will answer these two questions differently depending on the life experiences they have had up until this point. Without going into too much detail, automatic thoughts are developed generally based on what you have been exposed to in your life prior to this moment.
Now let’s explore how four different people can have four different emotional experiences in the same situation.
Person A thinks : “OMG what a stupid A**. What is wrong with people!?”
Now how do you think this person feels emotionally? If you guessed angry you are likely correct.
Person B thinks: “Holy crap, I just almost died, OMG, what if he hit me and I died right there and never said goodbye to Roger today?!? OMG, I almost died!”
How do you think this person is feeling? Likely anxious and scared.
Person C thinks: “Well, of course this would happen to me, crap always happens to me and never to anyone else. I don’t know why I think I would ever have an easy ride in to work, it’s always something.”
This person is likely feeling sorry for themselves, has a victim mentality, and maybe is feeling depressed, hopeless, and helpless.
Person D thinks: “Wow, that was scary. I’m so glad no one got hurt or any property damaged. I’m going to send some positive energy towards them hoping that they make it safely wherever they are going, and that they don’t have anyone they love in danger right now whom they might be rushing to see.”
This person likely felt scared for a short period of time, then grateful, and was likely able to calm their emotions back down by assuming the best of another human rather than the worst, and sending them love and well wishes.
(Bonus pro tip: whenever you are emotionally triggered, if you repeatedly breathe gently through your nose in for 5 seconds and out for 6 seconds slowly, you can calm your heart rate down and speed up the process of emotionally regulating).
So four people had very different emotional experiences during the same situation based on their interpretations.
The same can be said of 2020. If you focus on what you are missing out on, and/or on the bad behaviors of others, then you will feel bad. Partly because these things are out of your control. Instead, you can choose to focus on the strengths and growth that have come out of 2020. For each person this will be different. For most, an increase in resiliency will be a result of the year’s hardship. Humans are surprisingly adaptive and can handle a lot more than we think we can, and 2020 has shown that. After this year many people will realize how strong and resilient they really are. And if we focus on that, it could mean 2020 ends up being one of the best growth years yet.
So, in conclusion: is 2020 a blessing or a curse? It depends. It depends on what you focus on, what your interpretation of it all is, and what meaning you give to your experiences during it. The important thing is that you are in control of what meaning you give to the year, as well as what thoughts you want to attach to, hold onto, and foster. The human brain is remarkable, and thanks to neuroplasticity it can change and will strengthen whatever pathways you practice using. Thus, if you practice focusing on the negatives, you will strengthen negative thinking pathways and things will feel worse. If you practice focusing on positives (like what you do have to be grateful for), then you will strengthen positive thinking pathways and feel better.
Will you be a victim of 2020, or a survivor of 2020? The choice is yours.
~ Lindsay Simon is a marriage and family therapist with over 12 years of clinical experience and is now the clinical director and owner of A Balanced Life: Individual, Family and Child Therapy, a private practice with ten clinicians based in South Lake Tahoe. Lindsay will be relaunching her monthly column in Moonshine Ink starting in 2021!