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How to set goals, make resolutions for the new year during a pandemic

Seven-foot-tall New Year's Eve numerals on display in Times Square on Dec. 21, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

As a new year arrives, most people around the world are hoping to put 2020 — and all the struggles that came with it — behind them. However, even though the calendar says 2021, Dr. Kira Mauseth, co-lead of the Behavioral Health Strike Team at the Washington State Department of Health, warns that some things from the past year will remain.

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“Just because the calendar is turning, doesn’t mean the general circumstances are different,” Dr. Mauseth said in a Wednesday update from the state DOH.

That said, there can definitely be a renewed sense of hope for the new year.

“Hope plays a very important role in the experience of the next several months,” she added.

Along with hope, purpose, connection, flexibility and adaptability are the other ingredients of resilience, which Dr. Mauseth says we can work on developing intentionally.

She also pointed out that purpose has been difficult for people to find and maintain during the pandemic. She said as you set new year’s resolutions, it’s important to keep scope in mind. If your goals for the year aren’t achievable, that’s when things can go sideways.

“Easily one of the biggest mistakes people make when they’re setting goals is that they’re too big,” she said.

Then, depression can set in if you’re not able to achieve those unrealistic goals.

“Try to set smaller, more attainable goals in the short term,” Mauseth suggested.

A big push in 2021 as the COVID pandemic continues will be finding ways to connect. Connection is anything that prevents us from feeling isolated, Mauseth explained. Tactics include spending time with friends and family (creatively and safely), or anything that connects us to something bigger than ourselves. Be it your cuddly pets or a social cause or issue — there’s no wrong way to experience connection.

“Continue to prioritize connections with other people, as hard as that might be, especially during these dark winter months when we’re not getting out and doing as much as we usually do,” Dr. Mauseth said.

The last ingredient of resilience is flexibility or adaptability, which go hand in hand with goal setting.

“That’s often the hardest one for people,” Mauseth said.

She says it’s important to be willing to adjust your expectations around performance and success. That means adapting and being somewhat flexible with your goals.

“For example, if you have a fitness goal, try avoiding making it too large scale,” she said. “Instead, give yourself a menu of options or list of things that are smaller scale.”

This ingredient also includes having patience and being able to roll with stuff as it changes. Have patience with yourself, your family members, and strangers, too.

Dr. Mauseth says practicing resiliency now and developing these skills will serve you even when the pandemic ends.

State hopeful vaccinations will ramp up in the new year

Find mental health resources from the CDC here. Washington State DOH has behavioral health resources available here, including a 24-hour crisis line. Read more about developing resiliency here.

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