WRITTEN BY ALICIA KOCH, FOUNDER OF THE LEGAL BELLETRIST
As we “come down” from our “festive high” – filled with presents, hope for 2022, rich food and laughter of family – we find ourselves gradually settling back into the daily norm and the reality of “taking the year seriously” once again comes to the fore.
And, if you’re anything like me, as with the start of every year, you’ll find that you have already put pressure on yourself to overhaul your life – to become a better, more shinier version of yourself and excel before you have even found yourself (properly) at the starting block.
But this year, things are a little different.
“Janu-worry” at the start of 2022 has never been more “worryful”.
Not only is the world still reeling from the Omicron variant, but we are also dealing with so many other issues, like a reduced household income (due to job loss or resignation), our normal “New Year worries” and an ever present anxiety around – what now, what next or where to from here?
Everything kind of feels “up in the air”.
It’s enough to make your head spin. And we are all kind of feeling a little dizzy right about now – can we please get off this “joy ride”?
The cause of the stress spiral for 2022
1. Financial Stress
As we all know – Janu-worry is 54 days long! There it is again – that familiar realisation that all the money that we spent on gifts, travel or expensive festive meals should have covered us for the rest of the month. With no happy distractions to take our minds off the matter, coming down off of a relaxing holiday and having to delve into our finances knowing that we are coming up short, is an excruciating exercise. Stress levels increase and the stress spiral begins.
2. The “it’s not fair” stress
Some of us did not take leave. Some of us could not spend time with our families (who are living abroad) with travel restrictions being what they are. Perhaps we had planned a big family reunion only to have the “stuffing pulled out of the turkey” – so to speak. Travel plans were cancelled, teary calls to family members (once again) with news that we wouldn’t be coming home this year. Tearful Video Chats on Christmas day or on New Year’s – “maybe next year”.
Quite frankly, it sucked!
And for those of us that still worked throughout December and found ourselves, yet again, alone during our Christmas lunches, we too are feeling the rather resentful twitch that is – Christmas (and our holiday cheer) was stolen from us. The Grinch being rather successful this year.
All in all we are feeling it – that worry, anxiety and stress sprinkled with a dash of regret, resentment and anger.
It kind of feels like the three bears – one bowl of porridge was too hot (the over spenders), one bowl of porridge was too cold (we didn’t get a Christmas at all) and on reflection, there does not seem to be many with a bowl that was just right.
Know what we mean?
3. The covid stress
Some of us were again infected with Covid (Omicron being extremely transmissible. Not necessarily worse, just catchier). And after a couple of run-ins with Covid during 2021, some of us are dealing with abject fear, uncertainty of what to do to prevent transmission and an overall state of subjective PTSD.
Wanting to lock ourselves away from the world. Yet again. Putting ourselves under a self-inflicted lockdown. Sanitising everythaaaang (even considering whether we should sanitise our sanitizer bottles) and becoming complete loons at the thought of another outbreak.
It feels like we have been fighting a war.
We know, it sounds extreme, but ever since the beginning of this horrible ordeal, we have all been “under threat”. Never knowing what is going to happen next. Where the next “attack” will come from.
It has felt almost war-like with measures taken by countries to mitigate the spread of the virus feeling like we are fighting an invisible enemy. The same one around the world. Which we are.
But in this pursuit, it has affected livelihoods, confidence in our governments and our own sanity. And it’s made worse by the feeling that there is no real baseline for understanding what we are all going through right now and how to best cope.
Stress, anxiety and fear are real this year
As a result, we have (once again) picked up less healthy habits as a coping mechanism for our spiraling emotions. We have searched for “quick fix” comforts like eating poorly (mostly potato chips), binge-watching Netflix or Amazon Prime (Have you watched The Boys yet??) and isolating ourselves from friends and family.
The very definition of an act of self-preservation which creates a feeling of distance and an over-whelming isolation from others. And this, in turn (ironically) results in feeling even more anxious.
And you have to ask yourself, is this really living?
Strategies to combat the stress spiral
When going through turmoil, it’s hard to know which way to turn. We understand that.
But if there is anyone that can give us advice on how best to cope during this pandemic, it’s those that have themselves already experienced horrors and loss beyond most of our own comprehension. It’s people that survived the Holocaust that came out the other side with lessons learnt, experiences gained and psychology degrees that are perfectly poised to guide us. They survived because they found meaning and purpose despite the atrocities they faced.
And we would venture to say that if they can survive the Holocaust, we can get through anything….
Reducing stress – Man’s Search for Meaning
Victor Emil Frankl (1905 – 1997) was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. He devoted his life to studying, understanding and promoting “meaning”, techniques he himself used during his horrific time in the concentration camps.
In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl described how he survived the Holocaust by finding personal meaning in the experience, giving him the will to live through it. He bases this on the following five premises:
We always retain the ability to choose our attitude – “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts, comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.“ No matter what life throws at us, we will always retain our own inner-freedom to decide our own attitude, to remain true to our character and to our duties.
There will be suffering but it’s how we react to the suffering that counts – one finds meaning in life in three ways. Through work (especially when that work is both creative in nature and aligned with a purpose greater than ourselves), through love (which often manifests itself in the service of others) and through suffering (which is fundamental to the human experience). The test then for all of us is how we respond to the suffering in our lives.
The power of purpose – Frankl observed that those prisoners who survived, who found a way to endure, always had a greater purpose that carried them onward through difficult conditions. “The prisoner who had lost faith in the future – his future – was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and become subject to mental and physical decay”. Frankl refers several times to the words of Friedrich Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how. It is finding our meaning, our greater purpose in life -despite the atrocities we face – that keep us alive and keep us going.
The true test of our character is revealed in how we act – Frankl came to the conclusion that there is no general answer to the meaning of life. Each person must answer the question for themselves. We find our own unique meaning based on our circumstances, our relationships and our experiences. Life is essentially testing us, and the answer is revealed in how we respond.
Human Kindness can be found in the most surprising places – In his book, Frankl recalls a time when a guard, at great risk to himself, secretly gave him a piece of bread. “It was far more than the small piece of bread which moved me to tears at the time. It was the human “something” that this man gave to me – the word and look which accompanied the gift. The mere knowledge that a man was either a camp guard or a prisoner tells us almost nothing. Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn”. Frankl claims there are really only two types of people in the world – decent human beings and indecent human beings. Both can be found everywhere. They penetrate every group and every society.
Frankl’s book and what he experienced emphasise the importance of finding and cultivating meaning in our daily lives, something that is core to (what Socrates called) “a life well-lived.” Frankl’s insights teach us that, not only is there value in our search for meaning, but it’s the duty of each and every one of us to find that meaning for ourselves and pursue it.
Reducing stress – Aiming to see the positive in everything
Dr. Edith Eger, a Hungarian teenager in 1944 found herself in Auschwitz. Though her parents died in the gas chamber, her outlook kept both her sister and herself alive. After her liberation from the death camp, she went on to get her degree in psychology, mentored by Viktor Frankl.
She lived through war, horror and abject fear. She saw the absolute worst side of man. As did Frankl. But she came out the other side not only with a degree but life lessons we can all take to heart, especially as we learn to cope with our everyday stress and anxiety:
Live in the present, remembering lessons learned from the past – aim to live your life as much as you can in the present moment and not in the past. Don’t risk remaining “a prisoner” in your own home, a prisoner to your own life and to your own mindset. Avoid the “should have” and “could have” mentality and focus on the things you can do right now.
We can’t change what’s happening around us, but we can change our internal attitude – create a world within yourself that no one can affect. Think of the dark times as being only temporary – “this too shall pass”. Shift expectations to realistic rather than idealistic i.e. “2022 will be my year” and instead find hope and positivity in the things that you can realistically accomplish.
Self-love is self-care – we are often nicer to our friends and family than we are to ourselves, seemingly believing that self-love and self-care is self-centered and selfish. But we believe (as does Eger) that self-love is critical to survival, especially during challenging times. Get up in the morning, look at yourself in the mirror with kindness and remind yourself that you love you too. Loving yourself is caring for yourself. So start your day with a positive affirmation and pursue your goals with a powerful purpose.
Everyone experiences grief differently – during this time, grief manifests in many ways. People are grieving the loss of school, planned events, sports, travel and general life experiences. Sure it may not be to the same extent as actual war or finding yourself in a death camp but with such a broad spectrum of loss, many experience guilt when they feel their grief is not equal to that of mourning the passing of a loved one or witnessing mass murder in gas chambers. Their grief does not deserve to be “grieved for” in the same way. But you cannot compare grief. You can’t compare situations either. Everyone grieves for their own personal losses in their own unique way. There is no right or wrong way to grieve or what you are allowed to grieve for. And the truth of the matter is this – everyone’s loss will be worse at that point in time for them than anyone else’s grief. It’s all relative. So grieve what you need to grieve in a way that is right for you.
Look for the good amongst the negative – as hard as it is to understand, there actually is good in everything. We need to learn to look at our current situation in this light. No matter how bad it may seem. We need to decide how we are going to approach our experiences. How we are going to use our time – complain and blame or rather recognise the good in the situation and regroup? Decide on “where to from here” and make a plan to get there. Hope is found within you and not something you look for outside of yourself. It is the events that we endure that make us stronger, and in the end, “it is not what happens, it is what we do with it.”
Reducing stress – The key take away
We need to continually search for and find meaning and purpose in our everyday lives. And we do this by looking within ourselves. Remembering that it is our attitude and how we react to the experiences around us that will help us endure.
Having optimism and looking for good in everything is key. We will all experience things differently (but our own experiences are still important) and we need to not only embrace our uniqueness but remember to practice self-love and self-care. Human kindness (and hope) can be found all around us. If only we look for it.
Sure, it may seem like a tall order and “easier said than done” but both Frankl and Eger survived actual death camps with their outlooks. They overcame tragedy, loss, suffering and trauma beyond our imaginations because of their attitudes and how they approached their situation. 6 million Jews and about 5 million non-Jews were not as lucky.
Our closing thoughts
In these uncertain times, it is important to talk about how you are feeling. In fact, we strongly encourage it. “Going it alone”, being self-sufficient and independent is not necessarily a virtue. Not at the present moment with the world, our lives and our “Janu-worry” stress spiral in upheaval.
Find a safe person or group of people that you can share your innermost feelings and concerns with—this could be a friend, a family member, a therapist (especially if you are not 100% certain where your anxiety stems from), a coach (like Braving Boundaries), or a safe online support group. Whoever or whatever it is, it’s crucial that you feel emotionally supported and encouraged. Not judged.
We also believe that it is vital for you to leave self-judgment at the door. Don’t beat yourself up for going through a “Janu-worry” stress spiral. It does not make you weak. And you are not a bad or selfish person for feeling your feels. It’s not only understandable but expected. Rather focus your energies on escaping the spiral and digging yourself out of the slump. Being able to challenge your negative thoughts while at the same time being compassionate to yourself about what is happening is a good place to start.
While it isn’t easy and often takes practice, you can put a stop to the “Janu-worry” stress spiral and start to look forward to the rest of the year, keeping Frankl and Eger’s words close to heart. They knew what they were talking about.
You got this! Trust us.
For further articles on stress management and the impact that stress has on your mental and physical health, check out the blog article: “Stressed out? Why holidays are a NECESSITY not a luxury”.
About the writer, Alicia Koch, Founder of The Legal Belletrist.
Alicia, an admitted attorney with over 10 years PQE, and now a legal writer and researcher, has established The Legal Belletrist to assist companies (in different sectors) to write well-researched articles that speak to each company’s core business, enabling growth and commercialism.
Click here to visit The Legal Belletrist website.