Yes, 2020 was a historically hellish year. Now for the good news | TheHill – The Hill

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The story is all around us that 2020 was a disaster. It started in the early days of the pandemic, saying it was ahorrificyear, maybe it was theworst year ever, worst in adecade,we need toleave it behind. Even social media sites are advertisingT-shirtsthat say 2020 is the worst year. And lets not forget the Times Square annualgood riddance day2020.

In fact, it has been horrendous unprecedented and unimaginable. Unimaginable losses from COVID-19. This week, the U.S. hit record highs for coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths. Over the last nine months weve heard heartbreaking stories of nurses quarantining from their own families, living in fear of being sick or shedding the virus to elderly family members. And the heartbreak is present tense. ICUs are bursting with ill patients while doctors and nurses are becoming increasingly depressed from observing multiple deaths each week.

2020 also saw upheaval and interruption in educating our children, replete with ongoing tension between risking COVID-19 contagion while in school or risking mental health issues and unbearable lack of social involvement with virtual learning. And, in the indomitable way that reality is more unbelievable than fiction, while millions were dying in beds, thousands of families were losing their homesand many, their lives to wildfires or hurricanes linked to the escalating global impact of climate change that ravaged states.Coinciding with the pandemic, the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, followed by tense nationwide protests, awakened a longstanding need to support racial justice and dismantle structural racism. Andeconomic disparities have grown wider this year. In this last week of 2020, the stock market has reached record highs while millions of Americans were anxiously waiting for the Senate to pass a bill authorizing stimulus checks.

We are all frayed, exhausted and still numb from the multiple pandemics of 2020.

Could there somehow be a silver lining to all this? Even for some of the most distraught there can be a positive frame amidst the horror and sadness of the past year. And we need to give ourselves permission to have a counternarrative.

Why? Becausenarratives arepowerful. For example, our mindset about stress can influence health outcomes, from weight loss to insomnia. In onestudy, participants at a finance company were randomly assigned to watch two different three-minute videos about stress. Half of the participants watched a video that reinforced the negative aspects of stress; the others watched a similar video, but the messaging reinforced the positive side. After four weeks, the employees were surveyed: the stress is bad group experienced more negative health symptoms than those in the stress is good group.

To be sure, our mindsets do not preclude history books from saying 2020 was one of the most terribleyears in world history. For most of us, it wasnt the year we would have chosen the losses and inequities that resulted from COVID-19 are tragic. But maybe looking back theres an additional way we can look at this year.

Because even in the worst of times wonderful things can happen, or even formative things, things you can find meaning in, things that become part of your story. We know from research about people who have experienced a traumatic event that the story we tell ourselves about that event can have a significant impact on how we heal. A positive narrative strengthensresilience, a negative framing may keep you stuck. As we tell our personal stories of 2020 we are writing our history. Maybe our story doesnt have to be as "dark" as the "good riddance" articles say.

There is strength born of trauma and amazing generosity shining even more brightly against the dark backdrop of pain. The audible memory of applauding the hospital workers at the 7 p.m. changing of shifts people hanging out of their windows, clanging pots in awe and recognition of the extreme bravery of facing disease in the service of healing, every day. We applaud the everyday acts of people showing up for work behind the grocery store counter, driving the trucks that brought PPE to hospitals, grassroots organizations creating brave spaces for conversation, food services that sprung up to feed the homeless and the elderly who couldnt get around. The choruses who brought music through Zoom to lift our spirits when we could barely muster the energy to turn on the computer. And the miraculous vaccines that are here now harbingers of a healthier and brighter tomorrow.

And, the grace of the small moments in our personal lives too.

Once the pandemic is over and we are all out of houses, many of us will miss making a cup of coffee in our kitchen and "going to work" at the same table. Well miss the time we stole back from hours of commuting, whether that means extra sleep or the opportunity to be face-to-face on Zoom with old friends, or reading to our children at bedtime. We wouldnt want to delete that part.

As challenging as forced family time was, we were able to enjoy breakfasts and dinners we dont usually have together. The opportunity to "meet" for lunch in the kitchen, or to work with our children on their schoolwork. The opportunity to rummage through an old closet or do an art project with our children, or a pick-up game of chess inspired by hours of watching "The Queens Gambit."

Many of us appreciate the pause this time gave us. So our story of 2020 can also include gratitude for what we do have, for the opportunity the year gave us for a different perspective and time to reevaluate our work-life balance, our attitudes and actions.

One of the benefits of developing this positive frame is that it acknowledges we cant delete our history but we can make it a complete history. Telling only part of the story of 2020 is like throwing out a part of ourselves. It forgoes the opportunity to learn from what we went through.It helps us internalize and learn something from the "silver lining" of 2020 things like the upside of more frequent communication with colleagues despite fewer in-person meetings;the bonding that comes from shared vulnerabilities that previously were secrets among communities of peers; the relief of letting go of expectations; the warm glow of reaching out to let people know we care about them; the strength that comes with staying positive in the face of ongoing adversity.

None of this is to minimize the tragic losses and challenges that came with 2020. But its become so popular to be so negative about this past year that we deny ourselves the opportunity to feel gratitude for what we do have. Instead, we can give ourselves the permission to embrace the counternarrative and give ourselves the permission to feel grateful for the people on the front lines, permission to feel grateful for all people who support our lives; give ourselves permission to feel close to our loved ones, permission to miss all those endless hours of any Netflix series that kept us sane, permission to feel compassion for ourselves and others when we are less than our best selves.

Maybe 2020 happened at least in part to ensure we remember how wonderful playdates are for our children, the fulfillment that comes from quality in-person time with our best friend, and the joy of hugging our relatives over the holidays. And moving forward we might just find that some of the hardest things about this year will make us more deeply appreciative of everything that is yet to come in the new year.

Robin Stern, Ph.D., is a psychoanalyst in private practice, co-founder and associate director of theYale Center for Emotional IntelligenceatYale University and author of "The Gaslight Effect."

Marc Brackett, Ph.D., is the founding director of theYale Center for Emotional Intelligence, a professor in the Child Study Center at Yale University and author of "Permission to Feel."

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Yes, 2020 was a historically hellish year. Now for the good news | TheHill - The Hill

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