Therapist Lori Gottlieb Shares Her Tips for a Mentally Healthy 2021
With a new year comes new possibility, but for many of us 2021 (so far) hasn’t yet delivered the kind of changes we had hoped for. COVID-19 is still running rampant, the vaccine rollout is more of a trickle-out, and the stress of our nation’s politics has reached a new fever pitch.
So, while much of the country faces freezing temperatures and continued isolation, taking care of our collective and individual mental health is more important than ever. That’s why we turned to therapist Lori Gottlieb for her advice on how to navigate the moment we’re in.
One of her top tips? Stop putting so much pressure on 2021 to be perfect. “Just because the date has changed on the calendar, doesn’t mean that internally you’ve recalibrated,” Gottlieb says. A good reminder for all of us to meet ourselves—and others—right where we are.
How should we enter the new year in a realistic, but healthy head space?
First of all, we need to give ourselves credit for how we did in 2020. Given what was going on, I think we were all incredibly resilient and adaptable and flexible, even if we struggled. I think we have to really ask ourselves, “what are my strengths? What are the things that helped me through? And how do I build on those things in 2021? What are some of these things that I can take with me that showed me how I can care for myself and others? How do I know what my boundaries are?” Those are things that we all learned this year.
How do we best turn a new page and move forward with a healthier personal narrative?
People sometimes misinterpret what it means to rewrite your story. It doesn’t mean to pretend that the plot that has happened didn’t happen. It means that the story is going in a different direction, so how do you pivot with the story? Sometimes the story that we tell ourselves keeps us stuck because the story is “this is never going to end” or “I’m not going to survive this” or “I’ll never recover financially” or “I’ll never get past my sadness” or “I’ll never smile again because I’m so sad.” It’s hard to see the larger story when you’re stuck in the pain. I really want to say to people that rewriting your story doesn’t mean you have to do it now, it means being open to the possibility that there’s more to the story, even if you haven’t gotten to the next chapter yet.
How should we approach goal making in 2021 with realistic expectations?
I think we have to be flexible and realistic. Look to not what you should do, but what you want to do. One of the things that COVID-19 has taught us is the importance of getting in touch with what our priorities really are. Sometimes we spend so much energy or so much time with all of these tasks, but they’re not things you actually want to put your energy toward. Just do the best you can. Doing the best you can should be the expectation.
What should we keep in mind about our ongoing collective grief in the new year?
We tend to talk ourselves out of our losses, because we compare them to other things, and say, “well, mine isn’t as bad as someone else’s.” And we really do ourselves a disservice when we do that because you really have to go through that grieving process. Everybody experienced some kind of loss in 2020 and it might look different, but it’s still a loss.
I think people need to realize there are so many layers to the kinds of loss that people are experiencing, whether it’s actual death, or whether it’s illness. The financial loss that so many people are experiencing and all of the anxiety that comes with that. The loss of goals and plans and events and get-togethers and life milestones – all of those things. It’s really important for people to say “it’s okay that I’m feeling sad about this, it’s okay that I’m grieving this,” instead of trying to pretend, “well, it’s not that bad because I’m still alive.”
Any tips for avoiding the winter blues?
It’s helpful when you wake up every day to have a schedule. In winter, it’s cloudy every day and everything looks the same, and I think we can get into this mode of “well, I’m home anyway, do I need to put on clothes?” I think it’s important to write down a rough schedule the night before so when you wake up you feel motivated and have something to look forward to—whether that’s crossing something off your to do list or something else—it helps to have some structure and purpose to your day.
Lori Gottlieb is a therapist, journalist, speaker, and author of the best-selling book (Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed) and psychotherapist, who writes the weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column for The Atlantic.
This interview was featured in the January 10, 2021 edition of The Sunday Paper and has been edited and condensed for clarity. The Sunday Paper publishes News and Views that Rise Above the Noise and Inspire Hearts and Minds. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.