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How to Be Kinder to Yourself as You Reflect on the Past Year

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I used to dread the end of the year. As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, I’d always have so much regret as I lamented over this imaginary deadline for ambitious goals I could never meet. This time around, however, I’m sure I share the sentiments of many people when I say that I’m just ready for this — [insert whatever expletive you want to use] — year to be finally over. Of course, no one gets a do-over, and nothing will magically improve once the clock strikes 12, but I take comfort in the opportunity to continue evolving in a new year.

I didn’t have this mindset until more recently, though. In fact, just over a week ago, I broke down to a close friend. I admitted that all the hardships from the year have taken their toll on me, and I haven’t been doing as well as I’ve let on. He responded, “Really? You don’t feel like you’ve changed from all that?” A little taken aback by this question, I paused, and then mumbled something like, “Well, I mean, I guess I’ve improved in some ways…”

That was the moment I realized I hadn’t been giving myself enough credit for what I did accomplish — the personal growth I had undergone despite (and often as a result of) the emotional turmoil I had faced. There I was, sinking into the depths of self-pity and teetering on the border of self-destruction, completely forgetting what I was capable of. I knew I had to flip the script and turn the self-pity into self-compassion.

Before making your New Year’s resolutions, I encourage you to be kinder to yourself in your end of the year reflections. Below are a few ways to do that, based on my own musings from the past year:

Practice Self-Affirmations

If you prefer affirmations from others over self-affirmations, I get it. Just the thought of praising myself, or talking to myself in general, can make me cringe. When I experienced a breakup over the summer — one that my anxiety had anticipated — instead of spiraling into the usual feelings of self-doubt and low self-worth, I reminded myself several times that I had the ability to get through it. I literally repeated to myself, “You’re going to be OK.” And this time around, I managed to heal from it faster than I had in the past. I’m not going to pretend it’s an easy thing to do, but I’m convinced that the more you affirm yourself, the more you’ll start to believe what you’re saying. Remind yourself that you have the strength and the ability to move forward.

Give Yourself Grace

A few months ago, my therapist told me I was being too hard on myself as I beat myself up for not being productive enough. When I apologized to classmates and colleagues for not being able to produce my best work, I quickly learned that none of them had even noticed, and most of them were in the same boat as me. I could dive deeper into my childhood trauma and unpack this a bit more, but I won’t do that here. We all have the power to reframe the narratives in our minds and not let the criticism we received as children govern the way we judge ourselves as adults. Try to cut yourself some slack. You did the best you could this year, and that was more than enough. Avoid holding yourself to an impossible standard or comparing yourself against others. None of us were ever at 100% battery life in the past year, and we didn’t expect others to be either.

Turn Challenges Into Learning Opportunities

Every year has its ups and downs, but the past year has challenged us in more ways than we had expected. As I look back on the experiences that gave me discomfort, I’ve started to put myself on the path of self-awareness and discovery by asking myself questions. Think about the moments that challenged you. When things didn’t go according to plan, how did you react? When you had an issue with a friend, family member or significant other, did you have an open and honest conversation about it, or did you sweep the problem under the rug? What worked and what didn’t work for you? Hold yourself accountable, give yourself grace and aim for improvements over regrets.

Give Yourself Permission to Sit With Any Grief

I experienced several losses this past year, but the death of my maternal grandmother in September put me in the darkest mental headspace I’ve ever been in. Months later, my emotions continue to evolve and manifest in new and terrifying ways. Whether you’re grieving a death, a breakup, a canceled milestone, infertility or unemployment, allow yourself the time and space to feel whatever you’re feeling. It doesn’t matter how long ago you experienced the loss either. There will always be triggers, especially as you look back on the year. Healing takes time, and grief — in its varying stages — is a lifelong journey.

Acknowledge Your Impact on Others

When you’re in a dark place, it’s easy to question or forget your worth and value to others. While I’m not trying to go all “It’s A Wonderful Life” on you (great movie, though), I do want to remind you that you make a positive impact on more people than you realize. Even the small things you’ve done, like sending a simple “thank you” email to a coworker, complimenting a family member on their cooking, responding to an old friend’s Instagram story or opening a door for a stranger, could’ve made a big difference in the other person’s life. Think about the times you made someone smile in the past year, the times you smiled back, and know that your existence matters.

Celebrate How Far You’ve Come

Usually, when a year comes to a close, I have this tendency to ruminate on the resolutions that failed to stick, and the larger goals I never accomplished. But this year, I’ve decided to think about success a little differently, holding onto all the ways I’ve continued to make progress despite the challenges. Reflect on how you’ve already begun laying down the foundation for your goals. (If all you’ve done is research or brainstorm, that still counts as progress!) Just because another year is over, doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road. Like I mentioned earlier, you can continue evolving in the new year.

In those moments, when your mind tries to tell you that you’re a failure, remember that just getting through the year was a success in itself. You’re here. You survived. And that’s the greatest accomplishment you could’ve ever made.

Getty image via simonapilolla

Originally published: December 28, 2020
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