Nobody saw 2020 coming. It has been a tumultuous year of challenges, changes and disappointment. However, the countdown to the end is here and the start of 2021 – a new beginning – is in sight. There is a choice to be made: succumb or stand up and finish strong.

“It is the goal of any athlete to finish a race strong. We are at the end of a very tough race, how would you like to finish it?” asks psychologist, Ilse de Beer. 

For many people, 2020 has been fraught with hardship. Social isolation, job insecurity, loss of financial stability and the tragic loss of life has characterised the year for a lot of people. Without detracting from these challenges and the personal or professional losses that many have faced, Ilse says it is possible, with an accepting, strong and positive mind-set, to move from a sense of hopelessness to a place of appreciation and hope.

“It is time to choose between focusing on how 2020 has wronged us or acknowledging the journey and what we have learned from it. If this year has taught us anything, it is resilience. We can all tap ourselves on the shoulder and say ‘well done, you have made it’. Stop looking back. Instead look forward. You can finish mentally strong,” she says. 

People are constantly looking outside, for someone or something else to support their wellbeing, all the while forgetting their tremendous internal resource, their mind-set. But, “Just be positive” is easier said than done. A positive mind-set, resilience and mental toughness take practice – every day.  

Citing from Peter Clough and Dough Strycharczyk’s book Developing Mental Toughness, Ilse says there are five techniques for developing mental toughness. These are: 

  • Positive thinking – Strive to nurture optimism every day by focusing on the good and what you can control while stopping negative energy and thoughts to overcome you.
  • Anxiety control – Recognise and acknowledge when you are anxious but don’t allow it to overwhelm you.  Take time out, talk to someone, practice relaxation techniques and incorporate exercise to relieve stress and anxiety.
  • Visualisation – Focus on what you have and what you would like to have or achieve rather than focusing on what you have lost. 
  • Goal setting – Set attainable goals that you would like to achieve at home and at work. Write them down and work towards them. This brings a sense of purpose during the process as well as accomplishment as you begin to achieve them. 
  • Attentional control – Choose carefully what you devote your energy and attention to. Once again focus on what you can control and on the positive aspects in your life. If that means staying off social media or not watching the news over the holidays, do it. 

Ilse concludes with some tips for finishing the year mentally strong. 

At work:

  • If your workplace has changed because of the pandemic, focus on the positives of still having a job and an income to overcome feelings of despondency, exhaustion, burn-out etc. 
  • Set up a schedule and do one task at a time.  Even small accomplishments at work will help you to feel capable and in control.
  • Try to keep informal conversations light rather than homing in on the troubles.
  • One of the impacts of COVID-19 was the isolation from colleagues and a loss of the sense of belonging. Plan activities to promote interaction. Even if these are small, the camaraderie of colleagues will help to re-instil a sense of belonging. 
  • Don’t fall into “the work never ends” trap. Decide what is still realistically achievable in 2020. In collaboration with your employer, HR and colleagues, set realistic attainable goals for year-end instead of trying to finish everything. Ending off the year by accomplishing these goals will contribute to creating a positive start to the New Year.
  • Plan and be prepared. There is strength in preparedness. Initiate group discussions/brainstorm sessions to get new ideas flowing on improving systems and processes to create a better, happier work environment. Get everyone focused on the vision and goals for 2021.

At home:

  • As far as possible try to return to the routines and habits you had before the pandemic. If walking the dogs in the afternoons or going hiking on Saturdays were routine before COVID-19, start doing them again. 
  • Have a good structure and routine at home for activities, meal times, playtime and sleep. 
  • Make the most of the time with family and friends, especially over the festive season. Plan outings, bake, play games and take walks together.  Find joy in these activities. 
  • Focus on building reassurance and comfort in knowing that “We still have each other” and “We are in this together”. It is very important to verbalise this to children. 
  • Practice gratitude. It changes how you see the world and how you live within and react to it. It is a key component of a healthy mental state. Teach your children the quality of gratitude by focusing their attention on the small things that they must be thankful for.
  • Remember that your energy has a powerful effect on your children, whether it is a verbal or non-verbal. If children see that their parents retain a sense of positivity despite everything that happened this year, they are bolstered and hopeful. This promotes self-confidence and optimism.
  • Make sure that children complete their age-appropriate responsibilities. For example, they should still make their beds, pick up their toys or feed the pets during the holidays. Do not use 2020 as an excuse to let things slip either. This is detrimental to a child in the long run. Children can learn many positive qualities such as task completion, determination and adaptability. The more normally the family functions, the healthier it is for children – and you. 

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