Stability, Connection, Vitality: Have More This Coming Year
I typically look forward to the start of a new year. I love the sense of renewal. And after the holidays, I’m refreshed from the break and eager to plunge back into a routine.
Facing this upcoming year feels a bit different. <insert nervous laugh> I’m not sure what to expect and I feel a little gun shy about making goals and plans. Based on what I’m hearing from others, I know I’m not the only one who is hoping for better things in 2021, but not quite sure what that looks like. One thing does seem sure, however: Almost everyone wants a little more stability, connection, and vitality in their lives. Due to the pandemic, 2020 created a weird and unpleasant mix of upheaval and monotony, plus heaps of isolation. It’s taken a toll on our mental health. The number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression skyrocketed this year—up 93% in the first nine months of 2020 compared to all of 2019.
The pandemic isn’t over and here in the northern hemisphere we’re facing the darkest and dreariest part of the year. Lovely!! So, what to do? Here are some helpful habits and simple communication tips that will lead to greater stability, connection, and vitality in your life. You’ll gradually improve your communication, mental health, and relationships.
When your world is turned upside-down, you find yourself wondering, “Where do I fit? Where do I land?”
Some people seem to always know. Regardless of how tempestuous the world around them becomes—in business, in community, in family—they’re like a cat that always lands on its feet. Do you know how cats (and squirrels, check out this hilarious video if you haven’t seen it yet) do that?
1. Flexibility. A cat’s flexible spine allows it to bend and twist in midair to get right side up quickly. Flexibility is not my strong suit, but I’m working on it. The more you can bend and shift when the need arises, the more likely you will find your place again. Quickly!
2. Slow down. A cat relaxes and spreads out as it falls, like a parachute. If you’re feeling upended, it’s easy to panic. Instead, relax, breathe deeply, and take your time figuring out where you are and where you need to be. You’ll end up in a much more secure position on the other side if you slow down a little.
3. Foresight. As it falls, a cat never takes its eyes off the ground. If you’re thrown for a loop, you’re disoriented because you’ve lost sight of what keeps you grounded. The ground is always there. Look to what you always know to be true, unchanging, and ever-present in your life to reorient yourself. Communicate to yourself and others the grounding values that keep you steady.
You may feel like you’re flailing right now—at work, at home, in relationships or your health or life in general—but you can land on your feet. Learn to bend, slow down, and keep your eyes on your bedrock values.
You need interaction with other human beings like you need air. With restrictions on gatherings and travel, meeting that need can be a challenge. Video conferencing has been a huge life saver in this regard, but it’s not a panacea. Studies show that it takes much more mental work to process a video chat than an in-person chat, and for a diminished perceived reward.
The key is to balance your needs and your energy. You need interaction AND you need time to replenish your energy stores. Only you know, on any given day, what you need most. Some days, it may be vital that you reach out to a friend or coworker. Others, it might be equally as necessary to postpone a chat. Listen to the signals your mind and body and telling you, and when at all possible, fill those needs.
Equally as important, go for quality over quantity. Make your interactions count. Weed out any meetings or relationships that aren’t serving you when possible. (I know it can be hard, but it’s SO worth it.) When you are with others, physically or virtually, bring your full presence. This invites others to be fully present with you, too. Make eye contact—long enough to notice the color of the other person’s eyes. Listen.
When appropriate (and available—hard this year!), hugs go a long way toward filling the connection well. I’ve made it a policy to let my kids be the one to end a hug. The other morning, I had a giant To Do List and one of my daughters clung to me in a hug. I took a breath, looked at the clock, and figured if necessary, I could spare ten minutes. Of course, the hug only lasted about 40 seconds—long for a hug, but much shorter than ten minutes. Take the time. It’s good for you, too.
One other thing I’ve found delight in this year: snail mail. Find a pen and a piece of paper and send an actual specimen of your handwriting to a friend, family member, client, or coworker. It’s a little way to share a bit more of yourself and your personality and show up for people. And often, people write back! It is always a joyful surprise to find a letter in the mailbox.
As I mentioned, it’s been a tough year for mental health. Incorporating one or more of these habits into your daily life will improve your emotional and mental state so that you feel more alive, hopeful, and in control of your world.
1. Be creative. Everyone is creative. Creativity is simply the ability to create. For example, I created this sentence you’re reading. You created the outfit you’re currently wearing. And today’s lunch order. And your Netflix cue. You don’t have to get out watercolors or a kazoo (though you’re welcome to, by all means!) to be “creative.” You are creative every day, but mostly in mindless ways.
Mindfully inject creativity into your communication and your daily habits. It’s fun! It’s also good for your brain, your critical thinking skills, your relationships, and your ability to express yourself. A dash of humor, a brainstorming session, telling or listening to a story are just a few ways you can be creative in your communication. And of course, you can create your own ideas!
2. Speak kindly. How you talk to yourself matters. It colors your perception of every circumstance, every interaction, and the world itself. And it is entirely within your control.
- Scare yourself with worst-case scenarios and doomsday predictions.
- Berate yourself.
- Relive painful memories—either of ways others have hurt you or ways you’ve failed yourself.
- Ignore your needs and desires.
- Be honest about your faults AND strengths.
- Encourage yourself.
- Forgive yourself.
- Listen to your own inner wisdom.
- Be generous to yourself and others, with praise, grace, and appreciation.
3. Develop rituals. A ritual is simply a routine that’s infused with meaning. In times of uncertainty or loss, rituals can connect you to others, to your values, and to the bigger picture. Any routine can be turned into a ritual if you bring awareness and intention to it. I have a friend who, every morning, takes three deep breaths and inhales the rich scent of her black tea. I have rituals around self-care (like saying affirmations in the mirror), time with family (prayer at dinnertime), and preparing for a presentation (taking in the four corners of the room), just to name a few. And of course, you can develop communication rituals, too, such as how you begin your meetings, how you greet your employees, how you tell your kids good-night…
These are just three ways you can add a little life to your, um, life. After all, shouldn’t we be living life? Not just existing? Not just enduring? Add creativity, kindness, and rituals to you day and enjoy your life.
I am looking forward to 2021, not because I necessarily expect it to be wildly better than 2020, but because I’ve spent time considering how to take care of myself. I plan to invest in relationships and my mental health, and land on my feet. What about you? What are your hopes for this upcoming year? I hope they come true. Cheers to you!