Opinion | As 2020 comes to an end, give yourself grace

This year has challenged us, as a society, in ways we never could have imagined. I don’t say that as a finality — we are still in the thick of it, and the consequences of the global pandemic will outlive 2020. As a social worker, I’ve observed a swell of anxiety and depression throughout the pandemic, as well as an increase in substance use for many individuals. As a society, we are feeling an underlying burnout and have officially reached a point of collective weariness after all that this year has thrown at us. 

So, this holiday season, I am asking you to give yourself grace and do what you need to take care of yourself. Get creative with engaging with family and friends, lean into available resources and reflect on — and celebrate — just how far you’ve come.

Duane Breijak is director of member services and development for the National Association of Social Workers–Michigan Chapter. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Social Work with a concentration in policy and evaluation in community/social systems.

Many Michiganders are making difficult decisions about staying distant for the holiday season. Traditions are being put aside this year for the safety of our loved ones and in turn, some new traditions may be started. Take this opportunity to get creative with your virtual plans by incorporating a game or secret gift exchange via mail. Christmas is THE holiday in my family, so not being able to be physically together will be tough. Instead, this year we are planning several trunk gift drop-offs and then will hold a large Zoom party on Christmas so that we can all still spend some of this magical time of year with one another. 

Another idea families (biological or chosen) can try this year is to incorporate a virtual Advent calendar into their communication plans. Instead of unwrapping chocolate or candy each day, check-in with a new person and share some of the best parts of your year. This is a great opportunity to reach out to a distant relative or friend you haven’t seen in a while. Reframe your perspective to remember we’re not just social distancing, we're distancing while social. 

Mental health services established at the beginning of the pandemic are still available, and many of them are virtual. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer partnered with Headspace, a science-backed meditation platform, to create exclusive access to guided meditations for Michiganders. The Michigan StayWell Hotline additionally was created to provide free counseling services to those in need during the pandemic. It’s still active, and it’s a great resource for those seeking mental health support. 

It takes a strong person to adapt to isolation. Consider the skills and mental strength you’ve developed to keep yourself moving, however fast or slow, through it all. I challenge you to list and reflect on three growth areas or successes you’ve experienced in 2020. You may be more comfortable using technology or have built a stronger relationship with the people you live with, reconnected with old friends, and enjoyed the opportunity to work remotely. Or, it may simply be that you have gotten up each day and chosen to survive. 

I want to acknowledge that this year has been hard, but we have gotten through it together. As we transition into a new year, take solace in knowing we are moving toward the end of this pandemic. Take care of yourself and know you are not alone. We should empower ourselves and our neighbors to get through what 2021 has to bring as safely as possible.

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