Dr Rachael Hunter offers some useful exercises which can be helpful when facing challenges, or periods of chronic stress. You may find one, or both of them a helpful way to reflect on the year and step into the year ahead.

When I was asked to write the previous blog on ‘Gratitude in uncertain times’ I don’t think any of us would have expected to be still be living with the restrictions and challenges of COVID19 almost one year later. But millions of us in the UK, Europe, US and around the world are still facing huge disruptions to our lives. And while in lots of respects some of the initial shock and panic of the beginnings of this global pandemic may have subsided, it is probably fair to say many of us are exhausted by the ongoing uncertainty, restrictions and sadly, for some, the loss experienced at the hands of this virus. And so, as we enter a new year it’s a time in which many of us have to ‘double down’. But with the new year and a vaccine, comes some (cautious!) hope - it may be a good time for reflection.  

If we’d have been told a year ago that many of us would be living a year, in and out of ‘lockdown’ we would surely have shook our head in disbelief. But this shows how quickly the world can change.  It would have been hard to imagine that many of us would live our whole life at home; work, school and leisure. It would have been heart-breaking to have known the true extent of the loss of life thus far. And let’s not under-estimate that for some, this pandemic has been harder. Many of you may be experiencing what has been described as ‘alert fatigue’ and its important to know that this is an entirely normal reaction to living through such restrictions, uncertainty and stress. It is now clearer than ever that this not a sprint, but a marathon for which we need our strength. Finding ways to restore and sustain ourselves, physically and emotionally has never been more important.  

I think we are all now very mindful that not everyone is having the same experience in this pandemic. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to stay home, or to have comfortable houses in which to do so. Some of you may be working in risky environments, and some people may even feel resentful that the load you are carrying seems greater than some of those around you. Others may have faced long periods of isolation and be feeling lonely or hopeless. Certainly, coping with the challenges and worries that can be associated with living with a chronic condition like MS is not made any easier by a global pandemic! And as I am sure you have heard said elsewhere, we may all be in the same storm but we are certainly not all in the same boat.  

And so, as we said goodbye to 2020, the year many of us would like to forget about, I began to wonder what exactly would we say to ourselves if we could travel back a year? What would we tell the pre-COVID19 self about 2020? Exploring some of these questions can be helpful way for us to reflect and regroup as we head in to 2021. Below are some useful exercises which can be helpful when facing challenges, or periods of chronic stress. You may find one, or both of them a helpful way to reflect on the year and step into the year ahead.  

Listing what you want to keep in your life:  

This pandemic has created so much change in our lives, and it’s not all necessarily bad. Many of us are now working from home more – eliminating lengthy stressful commutes, for example. We may have had chance to spend more time with close family, and that may have been a positive (or a negative!). there may equally be people we have not been able to see; helping us develop a stronger sense of appreciation for those relationships.  There may even be some people, or responsibilities we have been glad to have a break from. We may have started new routines or habits we are keen to continue. Take some time to consider:   

What has changed in your life over the last year?  

How is your life different?  

What are the changes and new routines you would like to try and keep in place?  

What are the things which have changed which you are pleased about?  

What can you do now to help you with this?  

How has your perspective, or ideas about how you want to live changed?  

Write a letter from your future self:

Imagine it is now 2025 and you are writing a supportive letter to the 2021 you! What would you say? What advice would you give to yourself to help you through the next few months? What and how would you advise yourself to focus on, or let go? In the letter you might explain what and how you managed. What things helped you get through the Winter months? What encouragement and compassion would you show yourself?   

Writing a letter like this encourages us to take a step back and create some perspective. It can help us acknowledge and process tricky situations and difficult feelings. By doing this we are able to explore things we may be thinking or feeling, and even identify opportunities or different possibilities. W can also show ourselves empathy and kindness.  

Finally, however you decide to move into this ‘strange ‘new year it is more important than ever to stay connected. The new year and passing on of new year wishes provides a good reason to reach out to family and friends, and the wider MS community and provides opportunity to start 2021 feeling connected, supported and to support others. Taking time to think about what aspects of 2020 we want to take with us helps us manifest gratitude for at least some parts of what has been a challenging and unforgettable year.

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Debra carlyon (not verified)

I am going to write that letter especially after reading your article