New Year, more perspective; how meditation and journaling helped me calm my anxieties

By Rachel Codrington-Hopkins

New Year is traditionally a time for reflection and 2020 gave me more to reflect on than usual.  Watching the muted celebrations in London as we entered 2021 reminded me how much has changed in such a short period.  It’s strange that in a period that enforced a slower pace of living for so many of us the year positively ‘zoomed’ by! (Please forgive the pun!)

Whilst many of us may have been wishing for 2020 to end, the transition to 2021 brought more uncertainty at a time when we’re usually busy setting goals for the year ahead.  Last year challenged many of the things I thought I knew; in particular the idea that I could have any degree of certainty beyond things I can directly control.  This brought up a lot of resistance in my brain and body to what was going on around me, which in turn created a lot of fear and anxiety; it got pretty exhausting at times as I ruminated on what might lay ahead.  

In an effort to quell my anxiety I looked for ways to get out of my own head and began journaling and then meditating not long after. These tools gave me space to process my thoughts and feelings and regular practice has brought me to a place of balance.  I feel more in tune with ‘me’ and also more accepting of the things I can’t control.  I still have periods of anxiety and rumination, but they aren’t as long lived as previously and I’ve come to realise that the moments in life that teach us the most are often the ones we are powerless to change.  

From this place of acceptance I’m getting better at not trying to predict (and control) the future, which gives me permission to stop fretting and be present, open and appreciative of all the good things I see and experience, from a beautiful sunset to an unprompted kiss from one of my children.  These small moments, which if I’m honest with myself were probably overlooked more often than not in years gone by, have more of an impact on me now; they bring me more joy and they also seem more abundant, but it’s probably just that I’m taking the time to stop, notice and appreciate them.

Resolutions or goals are a New Year tradition, but whereas I once may have set myself fitness challenges or resolutions to give up cake (unlikely this will ever happen), I’ll be taking a slightly different approach this year.  The goals I’ll be setting will be ones I know I can easily achieve, such as continuing my meditation practice and exercising every week.  Whilst this may not be in the tradition of pushing myself towards new things, I believe times of uncertainty require more focus on the present.   

Small, achievable goals will bring me closer to my long term goals (such as maintaining fitness and mental health), but will also provide an anchor of routine and stability in these uncertain times.  Making the goals achievable isn’t cheating, it’s a strategy that wires our brains for success.  Whilst long term goals can seem insurmountable and lead to negative feelings if we fail (which primes your brain to believe you can’t), small, achievable goals prime your brain for success by helping you to see that you can.  Each small success increases your feelings of capability, which fuels motivation and this in turn fuels momentum.  I have my long term goals in mind, (such as completing a course in meditation and running a half marathon), but it’s not where I’m trying to be right now; right now I am where I am, working towards the next small step within my reach, be it ten minutes of meditation or a walk with the dog.  When I look back at the end of the year I think I’ll be amazed how far I’ve come, because the little things really do make a big difference.  

There’s no predicting the future, but I can have hope.  My hope is that 2021 will be the year we’re going to emerge from our lockdown cocoons with wings of optimism spread wide, their intricate patterns painted in an acceptance that we have no idea what the future will look like, but ready to embrace it anyway!

What are your hopes for this year?

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