Los Angeles Chapter  California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists

Los Angeles Chapter — CAMFT

Guest Article

01/31/2021 2:30 PM | Mike Johnsen (Administrator)
Amy McManus

Amy McManus, LMFT

It’s Groundhog Day All Over Again . . . 

When the clock struck midnight on December 31, 2020, the streets where I live in Venice Beach resounded with joy! Despite (or perhaps because of!) months of collective situational depression, people were hooting and hollering at the advent of the new year.

Now it’s February, and, well, it’s going to be longer than we thought before we hit the “new normal.” Surprise.

It’s Groundhog Day.

It’s terribly disappointing to be knocked down once more by a virus that mutates to keep us in “pandemic mode.” 2021 was supposed to be different. Clients are falling back into the depression and anxiety that plagued them last year. (As are we!)

It can help to look back at 2020 and remind ourselves of some of the positive things that happened, too. Certainly, there are a few victories and some positive lessons we learned.

Remind your clients that things are not black and white, and even a terrible year has its bright points. (CBT anyone?)

Here Are 5 Things We Should Remember About 2020:
First of all, even in the middle of a Reign of Terror at the hands of Old White Guys, there has been a significant movement toward diversity in our government. This should be a reason for everyone to feel better! (As a therapist—and a human—I work hard to be tolerant of differences of opinion, but I do not feel obligated to be tolerant of intolerance.)

1. Leadership Becoming More Diverse, Just Like Americans Are
Our First Woman Vice President
Also, of course, the first African American Vice President and first Asian-American Vice President. A huge victory for women and diversity. Finally.

A Move Toward Gender Equality
The Supreme Court ruling that no one can be fired for being gay or transgender. Long overdue.

Our Government Starts to Look More Like Us
With record numbers of voters turning out this November, many new faces are beginning to reflect the cultural and racial diversity that is an important feature of our country. 2020 saw the greatest number of Native Americans ever elected to Congress. More trans people were elected to state legislatures, and there was a sizable increase in the number of women elected to Congress—Democrats and Republicans alike.

2. Americans Are Engaged and Aware
Politics and Social Reform Become Household Discussions
More people than ever voted this year! More people know what is going on, more people care, and more people want to help make positive changes. A clear move toward a government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people. Again, much overdue—it’s been a long time since The Gettysburg Address.

The BLM Movement Shook America
Protests after the murder of George Floyd led to discussions, understanding, and changes all across America. Many cities and state capitals instituted reforms that will hopefully bring some much-needed diversity to our businesses and institutions.

And on a More Personal Level . . .
For most of us, this year has hovered somewhere between extremely inconvenient and totally devastating, yet there are things that we have learned about ourselves in this unique situation.

3. Values Re-assessment
Over and over, I saw people learn new things about themselves—about what was actually important in their lives. People who were surrounded by their “things” all day long began to realize how important their relationships with others really are. That, and toilet paper.

The Importance of Friends
My clients frequently expressed sadness about not being able to spend time with friends. Pre-Covid-19, it was so easy to get caught up in the daily grind—commute, work, commute, gym, eat, crash—and forget to keep in touch with friends.

As time went on and we became more and more isolated, Zoom and Facetime with friends became a lifeline. Many people reconnected with old friends—across the street or around the world, it’s all the same on video—and realized how much they missed having time with those special people in their lives.

There are many studies that show the benefits of having a strong social network—not only for your mental health, but also for your physical health and longevity.

”Talking” to Strangers
Of course, mingling with strangers is the last thing anyone wants to do these days. But I did hear over and over, and experience for myself, how happy you could feel from seeing smiling eyes over a mask, or a wave, or a friendly nod from a stranger, when access to other humans IRL is so limited. This is knowledge I hope everyone carries with them into life-after-Covid-19.

4. Gratitude
Now, more than ever, we appreciate when we have the freedom to travel, to go to a restaurant, and to meet up with friends. Hell, we are grateful for finding toilet paper in stock at the grocery store!

We know that gratitude has a positive effect on mental health, so encourage your clients to keep gratitude journals this year, or even just practice feeling grateful for 3-5 minutes at the end of every day. It will make a difference!

5. Taking Care of Ourselves
Pre-2020, taking care of ourselves meant eating healthy, going to the gym, and getting enough sleep. That’s all changed.

This year we learned that one of the healthiest things we could do was cut ourselves some slack. In the middle of all the worry about jobs, Covid-19, politics, the economy, etc., sometimes the best we could do was climb into bed with beer and a pizza and watch Netflix. Never mind that it was 10 am on a Tuesday.

In 2020 it became obvious that self-compassion was the best kind of self-care. This is arguably one of the most important lessons of all for mental health.

Now, to be clear, I would never advocate this behavior on a regular basis, but some days it’s all we can manage just to order that pizza. And we need to know that it’s okay. Even if you’re the therapist.

Amy McManus, LMFT, helps anxious young adults build healthy new relationships with themselves and others after a breakup. Amy’s blog, “Life Hacks,” offers practical tips for thriving in today’s crazy plugged-in world. Learn more about Amy from her website www.thrivetherapyla.com.

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