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5 Ways to Start the New Year Off Right

Reflection and intention can help you reach your goals.

One more year is almost in the rearview, and the countdown to the new year is on. Can you believe it? If you’re like me, you may already be thinking about new opportunities and goals to help you start the new year right.

If you’re rolling your eyes at the thought of “New Year’s Resolutions,” let me just state the obvious: There’s nothing significant about January 1 when it comes to goals. There is nothing magical about new year’s resolutions. In fact, research has found that only about 45% of people even make resolutions. (And 35% of those who do quit them before the end of January.)

So, are they even worth it? While resolutions may not be the most successful, there is a lot of benefit in setting goals for yourself. Goals can help you become who you want to be, provide stability and drive you. January 1 gives you a good starting point. The calendar flips to another year, and it’s often seen as a fresh start. 

But, how do we start the new year off right?

1. Reflect on the previous year. 

Healthy things grow. Healthy people are no different, but to grow, we have to see where we are. Start by looking back at the previous year and ask yourself:

What went well last year?

What did I accomplish?

How did my life improve?

What goals did I abandon? Why?

What hurdles did I overcome?

What do I wish I had spent more time doing?

2. Ask yourself, “What do I want to improve upon and why?”

You have the best opportunity to achieve the goals you set for yourself. Be careful not to set your goals based on what another person or our culture says. Your goals are about your health, finances, career, relationships, or whatever you choose. No matter how good a goal is, the success rate is diminished if it’s set for the wrong reasons. Side note: There is no magical number of goals either. Maybe you just need to start with one and focus on it until you achieve it.

3. Set SMART goals.

Ever heard of a SMART goal? SMART is an acronym coined in the Management Review Journal in 1981. It means specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. It’s a business model for setting goals, but it translates well to other types. Here’s a brief explanation of a SMART goal:

  • Specific: Your resolution should be absolutely clear. Instead of “I want to get in better shape,” say, “I want to run a 5k in 3 months.”
  • Measurable: You need a way to measure your progress. Depending on your goal, you may have to search, but look for a tool to measure your progress. Choose a method that you’ll stick with.
  • Achievable: If it’s not attainable, you’ll probably give up too soon. Don’t try to jump too big, too fast. If there’s a big, lofty goal you want to achieve in the future, that’s great. Break it down into smaller goals and take those on. It’s a lot less daunting to say you want to lose 5 pounds in 2 months than to say you want to lose 50 pounds.
  • Relevant: Does the goal matter to you? Is this something you want, not anyone else?
  • Time-bound: Every goal needs a timeframe. The timeline must be realistic. Set a target achievement date and set benchmarks along the way. 

4. Build a support system.

Achieving goals is a lot easier when you surround yourself with people cheering you on. Come alongside friends or family, and all agree to share your goals and support each other. Accountability will push you to keep at it. If you need to, find an online group with similar goals and journey together.

5. Write it down.

This seems simple, but there’s power in writing your goals, perhaps in your planner or on a sticky note in a prominent place. Make sure they are somewhere highly visible so you can read them over and over. And you can check off that goal once you achieve it. 

Go ahead and set those goals for the new year. But take the time to make a plan. As Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” 

Other resources:

Gratitude Challenge

How Failed New Year’s Resolutions Can Affect Marriages – First Things First

Relationship Resolutions – First Things First

10 Resolutions for a Healthy Marriage – First Things First

Can Self-Care Become Selfish?

Learn more about the difference between self-care and self-comfort.

Personally, I’m all about a good, professional massage. Karen, my massage therapist, magically melts away the stress that makes its home in my muscles. Oh my, your shoulders are angry! Yes, they are, Karen. Yes. They. Are

Self-care is all the rage. Extra attention to mind, body, and spirit has become a treasured commodity in a stressful, anxious world. But is there a point where self-care becomes just plain selfish? Does visiting Karen for my angry shoulders make me self-centered and egotistical? Or, does self-care go beyond the self? 

Consider the clichéd parable of the oxygen mask on an airplane. When the masks drop, put yours on before helping someone else with theirs. (Because, as you know, you can’t help others if you’re passed out in the aisle.) 

Self-care works in the same way. 

Keep yourself healthy, and you’re more effective at caring for those around you and being an all-around better person. 

And the research backs this up. We know that when parents are stressed and anxious, it impacts the parenting relationship and the kids’ mental health.1 Marriages are more prone to communication problems and infidelity when spouses experience mental health issues.2,3 And self-care is shown to prevent these kinds of problems and more.4

But, believe it or not, self-care can become selfish if you’re not careful. I think it’s helpful to distinguish some terms here. 

True self-care is anything you do regularly to maintain physical, mental, and emotional well-being.5 And the three big pillars of regular self-care (memorize these!) are sleep, diet, and activity. 

The key here is consistency. Eating veggies does a body (and mind) good, but not if it’s only on Tuesday. With this in mind, it’s hard to self-care too much. 

But then there is the idea of self-comfort. (Some folks call this self-soothing.

These are isolated activities we do to de-stress, decompress, and detox from the stress of life. 

Crazy week? Relax tonight with a chocolate chip cookie and a good Netflix show. 

Is your brain mush from your work project? Walk a couple of laps around the block. 

Stress got your shoulder muscles all jammed up? Go visit Karen – she’s great! 

Self-comfort isn’t a bad thing, either. Often, it’s just what you need to take the edge off the day. 

But… (and there’s always a but, isn’t there?) … self-comfort can become too much of a good thing. 

A cookie and Netflix can be great for your well-being… unless it turns into a dozen cookies and 14 hours of binge-watching. An occasional visit to Karen can do wonders for stress. But a massage Every. Single. Day. (as wonderful as it sounds) would have a terrible impact on my family and work responsibilities (not to mention my bank account). 

So how do you know when self-comfort is creeping into the realm of selfishness? 

Here are some clues:

  1. You’re using self-comfort to avoid situations rather than temporarily de-stressing from them.
  2. Self-comfort hinders family or work responsibilities.
  3. What you do for self-comfort is harmful to yourself or others.
  4. Self-comfort activities become an addiction.
  5. Self-comfort is done at the extreme detriment of the three pillars: sleep, diet, or activity.

Inherent in all good things is an element of moderation. So don’t fret about enjoying a bowl of ice cream or buying yourself a new outfit because it’s been that kind of week. That’s not selfish. Simply keep yourself in check so that your self-comfort doesn’t work against your self-care. 

One last thing to note: I would add to the three pillars a fourth – a healthy support system. Supportive family and friends are essential to your well-being and help keep you accountable. Plus, there’s nothing like sharing a time of self-comfort with a confidant. 

Be sure to take care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep. Confide in a friend. Take a regular walk. And if Karen has any openings in her client schedule, pay her a visit. Your angry muscles will thank you for it.  

Sources

1Burstein, M., Ginsburg, G. S., & Tein, J. Y. (2010). Parental anxiety and child symptomatology: an examination of additive and interactive effects of parent psychopathology. [corrected]. Journal of abnormal child psychology, 38(7), 897–909. 

2McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T. (1997). Personality Trait Structure as a Human Universal. The American Psychologist, 52(5), 509–516. 

3Altgelt, E. E., Reyes, M. A., French, J. E., Meltzer, A. L., & McNulty, J. K. (2018). Who is sexually faithful? Own and partner personality traits as predictors of infidelity. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 35(4), 600–614. 

4Ayala, E. E., Winseman, J. S., Johnsen, R. D., & Mason, H. (2018). U.S. medical students who engage in self-care report less stress and higher quality of life. BMC medical education, 18(1), 189. 

5Mills, J., Wand, T., & Fraser, J. A. (2018). Exploring the meaning and practice of self-care among palliative care nurses and doctors: a qualitative study. BMC palliative care, 17(1), 63. 

Other blogs:

8 Ways To Care for Your Spouse’s Mental Health

Why Spending Time Alone Is Good for Your Marriage

How to Stay Positive When Everything Seems to Be Falling Apart

5 Benefits of Being Thankful

Gratitude can be a great thing.

Have you ever wondered how to make life better? How can you be happier, healthier, or more fulfilled? Having an attitude of gratitude could be one answer. You may have heard this little catchphrase before. It’s possible you just rolled your eyes, too.

But does being thankful work?

What is gratitude anyway? 

Gratitude is the state of being thankful. It’s showing appreciation for what you have or receive. 

Dr. Robert Emmons, the gratitude guru, takes the definition further. He describes it using two key components:

  1. Gratitude is “an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts, and benefits we’ve received.”
  2. Gratitude is our recognition “that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves.”

So, how can being thankful benefit your life? I’m so glad you asked. 

Here are 5 benefits of gratitude:

1. Gratitude can help relieve stress.

We all deal with stress daily. Research has found that being grateful might keep our minds from getting so worked up worrying about things. When you’re in the middle of a stressful situation, refocusing on what you’re grateful for can calm the body and mind. This reduces the symptoms of stress.

When you choose gratitude over negativity, you also feel less emotionally charged. A sense of gratitude allows you to respond rather than react in the moment.

2. Gratitude can make you more positive.

According to psychologist Dr. Catherine Jackson, gratitude causes the brain to increase the production of dopamine and serotonin. 

Dopamine is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. It’s associated with pleasure and reward. It contributes to focus, motivation, and happiness. 

Serotonin is a chemical that is considered a natural mood stabilizer. It helps reduce depression, regulate anxiety, heal wounds, and maintain bone health.

So, a grateful mind allows you to feel more positive emotions.


THE GRATITUDE CHALLENGE

EASY ACTIVITIES FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY TO CULTIVATE A MINDSET OF THANKFULNESS

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE MAGIC OF THIS SEASON?

It’s easy to find yourself smack dab in the middle of the holiday season feeling frantic and totally unprepared for the flurry of meals, school programs, family get-togethers, and gift exchanges. It’s really hard to feel grateful when you’re STRESSED to the max. (Shocker, right?)

And you better believe your kids are picking up what you’re putting down. So if you want them to have a little gratitude for all that they have, a good place to start is intentionally expressing gratitude yourself.

This guide will help you and your whole family do just that. Download these free activities for all ages and start cultivating some gratitude magic!


3. Gratitude strengthens your relationships.

Relationships, whether romantic, family, or friends, can be full of disappointments. As we grow closer to others, we see their flaws. It can be easy to dwell on these. But an attitude of gratitude allows us to focus more on the good qualities. The more we focus on the good, the more positive attributes we’ll find. 

A series of 2012 studies found that gratitude also increases empathy and reduces aggression. Gratitude motivates people to express sensitivity and concern for others. Aggression, however, is just the opposite and is reduced among grateful people.

4. Gratitude can make you healthier.

The more grateful you are, the healthier you feel. Research supports that, too. Those who practice gratitude tend to have better psychological health. Grateful people also involve themselves in healthy activities and are more willing to seek help for health concerns. Additionally, grateful people are more likely to take care of themselves.

5. Gratitude reduces your risk of depression.

Regularly expressing gratitude can lead to fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. Being grateful reminds us that not everything is bad. There are positives that we can focus on. Gratitude can make you feel more motivated, which pushes you toward your goals and dreams. A sense of hope helps to protect against depression.

Approaching life with thankfulness can have positive effects across all aspects of life. It’s good for you, and it’s good for your relationships. Choosing to be thankful and expressing gratitude for what you have can be a wonderful thing. And in case you didn’t know, gratitude is contagious. Your attitude of gratitude can create a ripple effect throughout your friends and family.

Other resources:

5 Keys to Being Thankful in Marriage

DOWNLOAD: 30 Days of Gratitude and Love

Sources:

Why Gratitude Is Good | Greater Good

A Grateful Heart is a Nonviolent Heart: Cross-Sectional, Experience Sampling, Longitudinal, and Experimental Evidence – C. Nathan DeWall, Nathaniel M. Lambert, Richard S. Pond, Todd B. Kashdan, Frank D. Fincham, 2012

Examining the Pathways between Gratitude and Self-Rated Physical Health across Adulthood

The impact of gratitude on depression and anxiety: the mediating role of criticizing, attacking, and reassuring the self

Can Empathy Be Learned?

Being empathetic may come naturally for some, but that doesn't mean all hope is lost.

If you clicked on this blog, you’re either: 

A.) Wondering if that person you have a hard time with has a chance of growing into an empathetic individual or if they’re stuck as they are forever, or 

B.) Trying to figure this out for yourself. 

For the sake of clarity, I’m going to talk to you. But you can also apply this information to that sister, or friend, or mother-in-law that you feel doesn’t feel (or however you want to define your perception of them). 

For the sake of your time: YES. Empathy can be learned. (Phew!)

Research suggests that genetics determine about 50 percent of how empathetic a person is. The other 50-ish percent can be learned. 

Here’s how Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines empathy: 

“The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” 

Basically, an empathetic person can understand and share another’s feelings. But it doesn’t come naturally for everyone, right?

Here are some things you can do if you need to learn empathy because it doesn’t come naturally:

1. Understand that you are biased. Everyone is. 

Every moment you’ve experienced has formed itself into the larger story of you, your life, who you are, and why. Think about the moments that have influenced you. Whatever comes to mind has shaped who you are right now. Your moments have been just as impactful as those that have shaped your sister, husband, father-in-law, or co-worker. Their moments have molded them differently. Their moments impact every decision they make, just as your moments have for you. This leads to my next point…

2. Ask questions.

The next time you speak with someone, let your primary goal be to learn more about them. Jodi Halpern, psychiatrist and bioethics professor at the University of California, says that the core of empathy is curiosity. As you ask and learn about the experiences that have shaped the person you’re engaging with, you may empathize with them more. It will also help you understand that who they are is a result of what they’ve experienced.  

3. Read stories.

Dr. Helen Riess (author of The Empathy Effect) says this about reading: “You enter the thoughts, heart and mind of another person who’s not like you, and it really does break down barriers.” What an amazing excuse to curl up with a good story – yes, fiction applies to this.” 

4. Join in.

The thing about empathy is that it’s not passive. In A Way of Being, clinical psychologist professor Carl Rogers put it this way: “Empathy involves being sensitive, moment to moment, to the changing felt meanings which flow in this other person, to the fear or rage or tenderness or confusion or whatever, that [they] are experiencing. It means temporarily living in [their] life…” 

What Rogers describes is what it looks like to engage in another person’s life and experience. A great way to engage with people is to volunteer in your community. It’s one thing to witness brokenness (i.e., the homeless man who frequents the same bench on your commute to work). It’s entirely another thing to serve within the brokenness (i.e., feeding the man). The former is passive, and the latter is active. 

You’re normal if empathy is not something that comes naturally to you. 

You are not a hopeless case (and I hope no one has ever made you feel like you are because that’s just not true). 

Take a breather. You can learn. I urge you to remember that everyone has things that don’t come naturally to them. Yours just happens to be empathy. You have everything you need to care deeply for others, but you don’t have to do this alone. Let someone you trust know about your plan for working on empathy so they can come alongside you in your journey and offer assistance/accountability when needed. You can do this!

Sources:

Counseling and Therapy Skills by David Martin

Can Empathy Be Taught?

How to Be More Empathetic

Other blogs:

How To Build Empathy In Marriage

How to Teach Your Child to Be Empathetic

What To Do When Your Spouse Lacks Empathy

3 Ways Empathy Can Strengthen Your Marriage

My wife and I have been together since high school, and she was just offered a new position at work. Yay!! We’re so excited. But there was only one catch: the offer required that she take and pass a standardized test. Three things trigger her anxiety more than anything else: doctors, spiders, and tests. When any of these three is a possibility, she can’t sleep and loses her appetite. We’ve always known this was an issue for her, but we work through it. One step at a time.

Her anxiety before these events made me curious. Is this normal or is it a sign of something more? Is she ok? I mean, I get anxious about some things, but not to that extent. So, I did a little digging. In the process, I came across some interesting articles and research regarding something called “anticipatory anxiety.”

What is anticipatory anxiety?

It sounds clinical, but anticipatory anxiety comes from fear or worries about things that could happen — situations, events, or experiences that may lie ahead. It can stem from past experiences, but it doesn’t always. My wife’s anxiety with tests or spiders doesn’t stem from past trauma. The anxiety with doctors? Now that’s a different story. 

Some symptoms may include things like hyperventilating, chest pain, difficulty concentrating and feeling apprehensive. It can also show up as sleep issues, loss of appetite, emotional numbness, and trouble managing emotions. 

Aren’t we all a little anxious about the future?

Sure! It’s normal for all of us to feel anxious about the future from time to time. Tests, moving, big trips, new jobs, and major medical procedures are just a few examples of things that cause anxiety. It’s not unusual to worry over these things, but there’s a BIG difference between being worried and having anticipatory anxiety.

Let’s take a look at some differences. A 2015 study looked at “phasic fear” (fear that precedes a threat you can predict) and anticipatory anxiety. Phasic fear lasts for a short time. On the other hand, anticipatory anxiety lasts longer and is a reaction to an unpredictable threat. Each fear activates different parts of the brain. The researchers found that we all experience different levels of anticipatory anxiety. BUT if a person suffers from an anxiety disorder, anticipatory anxiety can go well beyond what most people experience. Anticipatory anxiety can be life-limiting for those who suffer from panic disorder, PTSD, or a phobia.

An American Psychological Association survey in March 2021 found that 50% of participants reported anxiety in the current reentry phase of the pandemic. We’re probably all a little anxious right now as the world reopens and kids return to school (in some areas of the country for the first time since March 2020). We might even worry about a COVID recurrence or future pandemics.

So, how do we cope with anticipatory anxiety?

Anticipatory anxiety can put stress on personal relationships because you’re distracted by what-ifs. It can be life-limiting as you try to avoid things you’re afraid of. But you can cope with anticipatory anxiety and work to overcome it. 

We can also help others cope by paying attention to their actions and emotions. Maybe you have a loved one with anticipatory anxiety. If so, you can encourage them to use the coping mechanisms listed below. A strong support system that offers love, grace, and encouragement can make a world of difference.

Here are some methods to help you cope:

Practicing a relaxation response: Deep breathing, guided imagery, or meditation are a few examples. Find something that calms you.

Self-talk: Talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend who’s having a similar experience. Self-compassion can make you more mindful. It can also motivate you to recognize and face your fears.

Healthy distractions: Take a walk, listen to music, engage in your favorite hobby, or exercise.

Challenge your anxious thoughts: Ask yourself if you’re being realistic. If you aren’t, challenge those thoughts with realistic ones.

Take action: Sometimes, the best solution is to confront whatever makes you anxious. This may mean taking small steps toward conquering your fears. You don’t have to tackle it all at once.

So, my wife faced her test anxiety. She studied diligently. The kids and I cheered her on and offered words of support and encouragement. We created an environment at home to lessen her anxiety as the time to take her test got closer. And she passed her test. With that, the fear is gone… until the next test. But, when it comes to spiders, we’ve got a long road ahead. [Read How To Help Your Spouse Deal With Anxiety]

Overcoming anticipatory anxiety takes work. But, reining in your fears will be helpful for you and your family. If you think your anticipatory anxiety could be a sign of something more, consult with a therapist or counselor for guidance. 

Sources:

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/behavioural-and-cognitive-psychotherapy/article/abs/anticipatory-anxiety-as-a-function-of-panic-attacks-and-panicrelated-selfefficacy-an-ambulatory-assessment-study-in-panic-disorder/F74B866DB57404E82BAB423D9F48689F

https://www.nature.com/articles/nrn3524

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/da.22382

https://www.jneurosci.org/content/33/26/10607

https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2021/one-year-pandemic-stress

“Why am I so bad at this?” 

“I don’t know if I can do this.” 

“Why don’t I feel that overwhelming loving feeling toward her? Is there something wrong with me?”

These are the thoughts that raced through my mind as I was sobbing at 2 a.m., trying to rock my 4-week-old baby girl back to sleep.

I’ve always wanted to be a mom. As a kid, if you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered, “a mom.” In friend groups, I’ve always been the “mom” to everyone. When I thought about motherhood, I felt totally confident and prepared to become a mother. 

But the day she was born, all those things I thought would come naturally never came. And even now, 3 months into it, I’m still struggling with those late-night thoughts.

Let me clarify something before you get any further — I’m not here to give you any advice. I can’t share a list of steps to help you out of these feelings because I’m still in it myself. And I don’t have it figured out (not even close), but I can offer you this: You’re not alone. I see you. 

And I see you questioning yourself and your baby, wondering if you’ll make it through this in one piece, struggling to understand how different motherhood is than how you thought it would be. And I’ve realized, for me at least, that these feelings aren’t just rooted in sadness or sleep deprivation, but grief.

Grieving What Used to Be and Accepting the New

After my husband, my daughter, and I survived those first 3 weeks of postpartum and the fog *somewhat* lifted, I had this unshakeable feeling that the Caroline I had known 3 weeks earlier was gone. The super type-A, confident, reliable person I had been was just upheaved, and a new life — a new person — had just begun. And while I was told to enjoy it, to celebrate having “mother” as my number one descriptor, and to lean into this person I was becoming, I couldn’t do it. I liked the person I used to be and the life I had before motherhood. I didn’t want anything to change. But it had to.

I’ve grieved things as they used to be. I can no longer be on-call for everyone’s every need. I can’t go out with friends at the drop of a hat. No more snuggling on the couch every night with my husband and our dog. Heck, even the clothes I wore no longer fit, and they probably never will. Now, everything revolves around a feeding and sleeping schedule. I have to look for childcare, turn down calls and visits, and set firm boundaries with friends and family. 

Maybe you’ve changed careers, or maybe you’ve given up your job to stay home with your baby. And maybe you’ve felt ostracized by family and friends because of this transition into motherhood. Regardless of what your life as a mom looks like, we all have to mourn the life we had before our little ones came into our lives. For good and not so good, things will never be the same.

Grieving Who I Thought I Would Be

There is this second aspect of grief that has taken me nearly 3 months to understand. It’s this feeling that I’m not the kind of mom I always thought I would be. My whole life, I envisioned this fun, adventurous mom dancing in the kitchen with her kids. But when my daughter was born and struggled to eat and refused to sleep, I thought I would lose my mind. That vision of the energetic mom quickly disappeared, and what felt like a shell of a person took her place.

For over two months, there was rarely a day without a breakdown from me, my husband, and our baby. It has been hard to bond with and love on my daughter and nearly impossible to feel close to my husband. At times I’ve felt like I just can’t do it anymore.

*I want to take a second here to say something that needs to be said. Since the very beginning, I’ve been in conversations with my doctor to monitor Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety symptoms. Since 1 in 7 women experience PPD, I was very aware that this was a possibility for me. It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms or have any concerns. For more resources on Postpartum Mental Health, check out: Postpartum Support International. You can also call the PSI Helpline at 1-800-944-4773 (#1 En Español or #2 English) or TEXT: 503-894-9453 (English) or 971-420-0294 (Español).*

I’ve felt stuck in a never-ending cycle of trying to force myself into who I am “supposed to be,” then breaking down when that pressure is too much for me to handle. After the first 10 weeks of this, I gave up. I stopped trying to force that image on myself and started trying to accept the mother I am right now. This doesn’t mean I can’t learn and grow as my baby girl learns and grows — that will always be my goal. 

But I want you to hear this: It’s ok to rest in who you are right now. Take the pressure off yourself to be the mom you feel like you’re supposed to be. Ignore the people who tell you to enjoy every moment, because not every moment is enjoyable. If no one else has, I want to tell you that it’s ok to need a break, to ask for help before you get desperate, and to be honest when people ask, “Don’t you just love being a mom??”

I know it gets better. But until it does, I don’t want to pretend that I’m loving this stage. People give new moms an unrealistic expectation to immediately bond with their baby, to be joyful about the many challenges of motherhood, and to appreciate all the fleeting stages their child will go through. 

But what happens when none of that feels possible? Most new moms are left to wonder if there’s something wrong with them. But I firmly believe that these feelings of grief are ok to process through. I’m content with where I am right now. But I’m also looking forward to growing into the mother I know I can be. And I’m ready to take this journey one baby step at a time.

Other Resources:

What They Don’t Tell You About Postpartum Depression

6 Ways A Husband Can Support His Wife Through Postpartum Depression

How To Feel Confident As A New Mom

What You Need to Know About Post-Pandemic Anxiety

Just like COVID affects us in different ways, so can the aftermath.

Summer is in full swing, and things seem to be getting back to normal. Fifteen months ago, the world was full of questions and uncertainty. Today, businesses are reopening, large-scale events and social gatherings are returning, and school resumes in the fall. While some people are relieved by these things, not everyone is. 

Some may feel anxious about the post-pandemic world. 

Many people shifted how they lived during the height of the pandemic. We had to adjust to life as we knew it, and now we see a slow return to a pre-pandemic normal. It’s common to feel anxiety and uncertainty due to change.

2020 brought a drastic shift in life around the globe, affecting us all in different ways. You may have been affected to a greater degree than those around you. You may have felt a little out of place because of that. Maybe you still do. It’s okay. Anxiety during the post-pandemic period is normal, and we all deal with things in our own way. Over the last 12 months, several studies have examined the pandemic’s impact on mental and physical health. As you would expect, researchers have found increased stress levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several studies call this stress post-pandemic anxiety.

So, what is post-pandemic anxiety?

We all experienced a global pandemic over the last 15 months. But we didn’t all have the same experience. Many factors may have affected your experience: job loss, being classified as an essential worker, parenting and dealing with school from home, being in closer proximity to those infected with the virus, contracting the virus, or being quarantined are just a few examples. 

According to Canadian researchers, “several studies have reported high levels of fear of infection and a pandemic-specific adjustment disorder called the COVID Stress Syndrome.

The COVID Stress Syndrome has five features.

1. danger and contamination fears

2. socioeconomic concerns

3. Xenophobia (the fear or hatred of that which is perceived as foreign)

4. traumatic stress symptoms

5. compulsive checking and reassurance seeking.

There is emerging evidence that some people have developed post-traumatic stress disorder in response to COVID-19 related events.”

An Italian study conducted in 2020 found a similarity between anxiety induced by the COVID-19 pandemic and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Since previous studies have identified PTSD in the months following epidemics or medical emergencies, this isn’t uncommon. Survivors, healthcare workers, people in direct contact with those infected, those subject to restrictive measures (quarantine and shutdowns), and those overly exposed to media information are at high risk for developing PTSD. 

Of course, not everyone who experiences anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic suffers from PTSD. Anxiety can be seen as more of a sliding scale. People might experience varying levels of stress and anxiety as the world reopens.

Did I experience stress or trauma?

A Canadian study found that 15-25% of the general worldwide population experienced clinically significant levels of anxiety or stress-related symptoms in response to COVID-19. It’s likely that even more people experienced general distress due to the pandemic. Understandably, we all experienced varying levels of stress or even trauma. 

What signs should I be aware of?

You may want to dismiss what you’ve experienced over the past year, but reflecting on how the pandemic has affected you might be good for your mental health. Pay attention to your emotions because self-awareness is the first step in getting help if you need it. Here are some signs of anxiety according to the American Psychological Association:

  1. Persistent worry or feeling overwhelmed by emotions
  2. Excessive worry about a number of concerns
  3. Restlessness and irritability
  4. Difficulty concentrating
  5. Sleep problems
  6. Generally feeling on edge

While anxiety is normal with lots of situations, including post-pandemic, it’s whether the anxious feelings decrease over time that really determines if someone might need to seek professional help. If these symptoms don’t improve, reach out to a counselor or therapist. If you see a loved one struggling with anxiety, encourage them to seek help as well.

Sources:

Post-traumatic stress disorder and psychological distress in Chinese youths following the COVID-19 emergency. Journal of Health Psychology, August 2020.

COVID-19 Pandemic in the Italian Population: Validation of a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Questionnaire and Prevalence of PTSD Symptomatology. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, June 2020.

Real versus illusory personal growth in response to COVID-19 pandemic stressors. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, May 2021.

Stress in America 2021 Survey Report. American Psychological Association.

Psychological Impact of COVID-19. American Psychological Association