A 26-year-old male client tells me, “I have a complicated relationship with January. It’s the month where my mood begins to dip, the holiday envy, pictures of people socialising in big groups despite high covid numbers scares me. Now with the threat of Omicron, it’s hard to be hopeful and the world feels uncertain again. A part of me wants to look forward and yet I am not sure what to focus on.”
January is a time when people across gender and age reach out, finding themselves feeling low, anxious or fragile. The hype and glamourisation of new beginnings can be intimidating. Very often it’s a reminder for people that while the calendar year has changed, they are still stuck in relationships and jobs they are unhappy with; they are reminded of the void in their lives, whether it’s in relation to wealth, friendships, love or purpose. So December-end and January is the time when clients who have been in therapy earlier or potential new clients begin to reach out for appointments.
While New Year is associated with resolutions, plans about moving forward, it’s hard to work on these when there is such ambivalence and fear owing to covid-19. During the pandemic, I have been asking clients, “What’s a quality or strength that helped you last year and you want to deepen this year?” My larger belief is that while the external world feels unstable, we as human beings have an immense capacity to rely on our inner strength.
The question is an attempt to help clients build a better relationship with themselves and remind them of their own strengths. In a world where planning for the future seems anxiety-driven, we can find hope and reassurance by reminding ourselves of the very strengths that lie within us.
People choose to answer this question in different ways. Some tell me how focusing on past accolades or strengths may come in the way of moving forward. We as human beings can sometimes come in our own way, refusing to savour or stay with the goodness because we may get too used to it or become arrogant. We forget that pausing and deepening our inner strengths can help us when times are tough.
Others ask for time to reflect. I generally ask people to look at their key experiences or examine their journey month by month, writing it down. If you have ever tried this, you will know we are all guilty of underestimating the work we did in the initial months of the year, even forgetting it by the end of the year or the start of a new one.
Yet others begin to look at their hardships and recognise how, amidst the challenges, they really discovered themselves. Like the 33-year-old female client who said, “Losing my father during the second wave in May was a reminder of the community and generosity I am surrounded with. While my life and house feel empty, in my heart I do know I am not alone. It’s strange how during grief I realised the community that my dad built for himself and me, also how mistrustful I had been all my life.”
Identifying our strengths and being mindful of them can also serve as a cue in identifying burnout, hopelessness or even deteriorating mental health. When the very qualities that nourish and rejuvenate us, or even keep us going, begin to fade away or diminish, we need to pay attention. Like the 26-year-old male client who told me: “Moderation is a strength I boast of. When I begin to spend large portions of time on the phone, social media, or binge-eating, it’s a reminder that low mood is going to surface soon.”
Maybe learning to honour the strengths we carry within is the soothing balm we all need as we step into 2022.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.