‘2021 Can Be About Undoing Expectations’: Build Mental Resilience

2020 has been tough. Here’s a roadmap for a better, more mentally healthy 2021.

Mind It
6 min read
2020 has been tough. Here’s a roadmap for a better, more mentally healthy 2021.

This year has been like no other. 2020, we can all agree, was tough in unimaginable and dare I say, unprecedented, ways. Our collective mental health was in trouble, and we finally recognised its value for our overall well-being.

Still, new year, new us. Right? With the vaccine news out, many believe that 2021 will be a magic year where everything goes back to normal. January 1, 2021, has a lot of pressure.

But sadly, we know that just won’t happen. A vaccine will take time, there are new COVID variants and till then, this is our new normal for some more time to come. So how do we deal? One of the ways is by building mental health resilience.

‘2021 Can Be About Undoing Expectations’: Build Mental Resilience
(Photo: iStockphoto)

Explaining Resilience in Mental Health

Try this exercise: Journal free form about what you want your life to be about.

Are there a lot of ‘should’s’ coming up? ‘I should lose weight, I should be more confident?’ Sadaf Vidha, a therapist and researcher from Mumbai tells me that this could indicate we are carrying a lot of burden. “We need to recognise this, and find a balance between living in the future and appreciating the present.” We can begin by correcting the language we use towards ourselves.

“Resilience is the ability to bounce back from trauma. The ability to find healthy ways to process it.”
Sadaf Vidha, therapist and researcher

Resilience is an important life skill in any year, but we’ve all seen the collective need for it in 2020 and as we move towards 2021. It’s a coping mechanism that can help you deal with the trauma we’ve endured and the uncertainty going forward.

Dr Ruksheda Syeda, a psychiatrist from Mumbai concurs and adds that resilience is an active and adaptive quality - it aims to lift us out of the fog of helplessness and create positive change.

Sadaf tells me resilience is an individual, and not collective quality, and there are certain “risk vs protective factors” that can help you build resilience. For example, people with a secure relationship with their parents often are more resilient because of certain psychological and/or financial securities they have grown up with. On the flip side, hardship often makes us resilient as well.

“Resilience looks different on different people, and it’s important to find strategies that suit you,” asserts Sadaf.

Building Resilience 101

  • Find Your Values

A lot of our trauma can be traced back to societal and cultural expectations that often become a burden. “We can start questioning ideas that don’t work for us and start undoing some internalised expectations and thoughts.”

One of the ways to begin is by finding out our values and what’s important to us - and letting the rest of the expectations slide away.

Sadaf suggestions the following questions to help realise your values:

  • How do you want to be remembered by others?
  • What words would you like your loved ones to use when describing you?
  • What were your childhood dreams?
  • What are the three qualities that are most important to you?
  • What brings you the most joy in the world?
  • Set Boundaries
‘2021 Can Be About Undoing Expectations’: Build Mental Resilience
(Photo: FIT)

2020 has seen many of us transition to work from home environments with blurring professional and personal time. Ruksheda says that we “need to set boundaries in professional and personal, which sounds deceptively simple in our collectivist society.”

“We have so much guilt, so we voice our need for boundaries very tentatively, very unsurely and that doesn’t work. We need to understand that boundaries are a part of self-care and we need to respect ourselves more to demand boundaries.”
Dr Ruksheda Syeda, a clinical psychiatrist
  • Find a Purpose
‘2021 Can Be About Undoing Expectations’: Build Mental Resilience
(Photo: FIT)

There’s the old story about when you find yourself lost you should help other people to find peace. When people were hurt and lost earlier this year during the anti-CAA and NRC protests, many felt helpless. But from there sprang many aid groups, solidarity circles and free counselling lists.

The point was the same. Sadaf says that when we feel particularly hopeless and helpless, the best thing is to find a purpose. At the beginning of the lockdown during the migrant crisis, many people were scared but figured a way to help people in need - and found a purpose.

But it doesn't always have to be that grand. 2020 saw a rise in amateur bakers and gardening enthusiasts, many revived their reading habits and picked up instruments.

  • Seek Help
‘2021 Can Be About Undoing Expectations’: Build Mental Resilience
(Photo: FIT)

The silver lining of this year was an appreciation for mental health services. Going forward in 2021, Ruksheda hopes many people go beyond recognising the need for mental healthcare to taking the step and booking an appointment with a mental health practitioner. “It’s important to prioritise ourselves and go when things are good as well, not just when we feel a low coming on,” says Ruksheda.

“There are important structural issues of affordability and access to be addressed - and it’s important to remember that resilience is tough and different for different people. Still, the goal can remain the same. For example, many underserved communities invest in mental healthcare by community support spaces.”
Sadaf Vidha, therapist and researcher

In a country like India, there simply arent enough qualified mental health practitioners in all areas to provide 1-on-1 counselling but Sadaf says, “If you see the need, start something! Get it checked by a trained mental health specialist but you can start a support group of and for people with mental health issues.”

As mental health is decolonising across the globe, the definition of an expert is changing from only doctors, researchers and specialists to anyone with lived experience as well.

  • Train Your Body & Brain
‘2021 Can Be About Undoing Expectations’: Build Mental Resilience
(Photo: FIT)

Mental health and physcial health are completely intertwined.

“We need to give permission to ourselves to take care of us. Self-care and prioritising our needs is extremely important. One of the prime ways is looking after our i physical and mental well-being because they don’t work in isolation.”
Dr Ruksheda Syeda, clinical psychiatrist
  • Social Interactions
‘2021 Can Be About Undoing Expectations’: Build Mental Resilience
(Photo: FIT)

We’re social animals and social contact - even for the introverts - is essential for our well-being and development. 2020 robbed us of a lot, but hugs were perhaps one of the saddest.

Still, safety first - and we need to find ways to create new routines for social interactions. “It’s tough, many clients of mine are in school or college and finding it hard to make friends without the physical presence. But we have to adapt and find ways to connect online - maybe by video calls, or playing games online or joining virtual classes together,” says Ruksheda.

“Resilience teaches us that there is no light at the end of the tunnel - there is light everywhere. We just need to see it.”
Dr Ruksheda Syeda, clinical psychiatrist

Podcast Suggestions For Resilience Building Tools:

Building resilience can seem easy, but we still need a roadmap. Here are two podcasts suggestions by Sadaf to help you along the way:

  1. Embracing Uncertainty
  2. This Jungian Life on Procrastion

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