How The Hell To Start Processing The Year That's Just Been

Here are some therapists' tips to end the year as best you can.

December is usually full of booze, food, parties and festive cheer. But this year there’s an added layer of introspection – reflecting on the year we’ve endured, the year that has, for many of us, pushed us to our absolute limits.

As 2020 comes to a close, we’ve started to ask ourselves: how the hell can we process what we’ve been through? Whether it’s job losses, financial struggles, grief, or simply the constant feeling of uncertainty – it’s a lot to take in.

“People have had to cope with both the collective sense of change and loss as well as their own personal version of that, in whatever degree it has shown up for them,” says therapist Jennifer Park, who is registered with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

Park has seen an increase in symptoms of anxiety in her clients, as well as people putting their relationships under the microscope. “The pandemic has, in some instances, caused a total reassessment of lifestyles and the ongoing commitment to the relationships people are in, with some realising they need to end long-term partnerships and others finding a renewed passion for it.”

Philip Karahassan, registered BACP therapist, and founder of therapyin.london, agrees. For many people, he says, our hopes and dreams for the year had to be put on hold. “We didn’t have the same happiness, sense of success and self-esteem we were hoping for,” he says. “We had to go back and create a whole new identity. This was hard, as we often spend so much time hoping and planning and working towards something – then suddenly, our freedom went.”

Rather than simply saying good riddance to 2020 as the year draws to a close, it’s a good idea to reflect and process what you’ve been through. But how do you even begin to do that?

Give yourself head space

The busy nature of the festive season often means we don’t have a second to ourselves, but it’s important to give your mind a break to reflect and just let your mind take in the year that’s just been. And for those stranded away from loved ones this year, this could be a kind approach to looking after yourself right now.

Going for a walk outside is probably a good idea. “Although it’s winter and the days are short, make sure you get outside to connect with nature every day,” says Park.

Acknowledge how the pandemic has impacted your life

This is important to do on multiple levels, says Park. There’s the macro level of the changing world we live in, such as the move to a more digital-led life. And then there’s the micro level – what this has meant for you as an individual.

“By acknowledging both levels it gives permission to feel everything, not brush off one’s own experience because others may have had it worse, by allowing all that’s happened a right to be reflected on and felt, the loss, change and grief can be processed appropriately,” she says.

We should take in that it’s a grieving process, says Park. “The post-Covid world is not one we have lived in before and this requires a letting go of the past and a reconciliation that a new world needs to find its feet. Have a cry! It sounds simple but giving into the grief and allowing the tears to flow if they want to will be extremely healing and cathartic.”

Wellbeing psychologist Wendy Shooter agrees. “In processing this year we need to acknowledge what we’ve been through and the emotions we’ve experienced,” she says. “We have a tendency to suppress uncomfortable emotions in the hope they will disappear – unfortunately they never do. They just go deeper into our energetic system, often resulting is a slightly altered approach to how we meet the world and engage with it.”

Credit the goals you have achieved (not the ones you haven’t)

Karahassan says to think about what you have learned, as this may help you refocus your goals – rather than focusing on what you didn’t achieve. “What’s important to you now?” he asks. “What has this new identity shown you?”

Your plans and aspirations may have changed as you’ve had more time to reflect on what truly matters. Karahassan says it’s likely we have gained a deeper understanding of ourselves – and it’s important to connect with, and articulate, that.

Ask yourself questions

Shooter suggests spending some time thinking about what has happened to us this year – and how it’s been for us. It might be helpful, she suggests, to work through the questions below and try answering them yourself.

What did you learn this year? What have you enjoyed about this year? What improvements have you made to your life? How has your perspective changed?

What are you really proud of about yourself this year? What scared you this year? What have you missed? Who have you missed? What experiences have you missed? What places have you missed? How did you cope?

“Give yourself an hour to jot down some answers to these questions and allow yourself to be present with the emotions they bring up,” she says. “Cry, laugh and even scream if you need to – let those emotions out. You may even arrange to do it at the same time as a friend and then share what you have written.”

Write down your feelings – and see what comes out

“If you find yourself alone or overwhelmed by feelings a really good way is to write them down,” says Park. “The act of writing them out will help the mind process and make sense of them, in a way that just keeping them running around in your mind won’t.”

One way to do this could be through a habit known as “morning pages”. Spend each morning writing down in a notebook how you feel that day – and about the year – and write down whatever comes in your head. If you don’t know what to write for a moment, simply write: “I don’t know what to write” and wait for something else to pop in your head. By the end of it, you’ll likely feel refreshed.

Think about what you want from 2021

Using the reflecting you’ve done and your deepened understanding of the year, Shooter suggests thinking about what you want from 2021 and how you will meet the new year. “Make a plan for without restrictions, and with restrictions so you are prepared for different eventualities,” she says.

“Look at your lists and remember the joy of some of the experiences you have missed this year. It is important we don’t forget how it ‘used to be’ and how much people and experiences fed our souls. Humans are incredibly adaptable, and there is a danger that we become too accustomed to the current way of living, and forget that freedom and choice is part of being human.”

Seek help if it gets too much

If things get overwhelming, find someone to talk to such as the Samaritans or a BACP counsellor. There are further contacts at the bottom of this article.

Covid-19 is more than a news story – it has changed every aspect of life in the UK. We are following how Britain is experiencing this crisis, the different stages of collective emotion, reaction and resilience. You can tell us how you are feeling and find further advice and resources here.

Useful websites and helplines

Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.

Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).

CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.

The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email help@themix.org.uk

Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.