A s the new year begins, would it be so radical to accept our imperfect and struggling selves, rather than setting goals to change? Some of us use Jan. 1 as a time to reset and refocus — to summon fresh motivation to get healthier or more productive. For some this strategy is working and need not be abandoned.

However, I have heard from mental health professionals and seasoned professors that we are in an unprecedented time of poor psychological health and extreme stress. These professionals, who have interacted with hundreds of clients or students over the past decades, observe increased fear, stress, worry, anxiety and depression. I know of multiple families who have lost loved ones to the tragedy of suicide.

I will always be a strong proponent for seeking out professional help and using the valuable resources we have available in our community for support.

On a smaller scale, what steps can we take on our own to improve our daily feelings of wellbeing? I would argue that resolutions to change our negative habits may not need to be first on the list. We may feel unhappy with our body’s shape right now, or disappointed in our lack of self-discipline about any number of habits.

Growth and healthy choices are indeed positive for both our physical and mental wellbeing, but acceptance of ourselves may need to be our priority in 2022. What if we honored our struggles, recognized what a difficult time we are going through and committed to simply moving forward, one day at a time?

My social media page reminds me daily of memories from years past. I often wonder how I got through such stressful times. My husband reminds me that one day I will look back at photos from this season and ask the same question. I see happy pictures from one child’s birthday party, and I remember acute pain underneath my smiles. It was so difficult hosting a room full of energetic kids while processing the recent knowledge that there was no heartbeat in the tiny new life which had been growing inside of me. I see laughing photos, and I remember that my chubby cheeked baby and I were not getting any sleep at night. I did not post photos of my tears or times I lost my temper.

During my years of being an online fitness coach, though one of my main goals was to be genuine about my struggles, I still rarely shared anything but the high points in the journey. We may turn to the camera and offer a smile, because there is joy to be expressed, but joy is not the only feeling present. Joy is simply the feeling we would like to remember.

As we look back on our memories and see past the camera smiles, we have an opportunity to honor the complexity of our own human experience. But we should also remember that the same complexity exists within every person around us.

We may see others in their beautiful family photos, with clothes in complementary colors, and forget a recent tragic loss they endured. Maybe we see a friend’s photo of a recent vacation, and it escapes our mind that they are dealing with chronic illness or the challenges of addiction. Marriages can end suddenly, days after smiling photos are posted. At some point, we accept how tragedy and trauma can be happening behind the scenes, to people whose lives we think we understand.

Once we have accepted this reality, we have an obligation to treat others more gently, more compassionately and with more kindness.

We also carry an obligation to assume everyone is struggling, hurting, grieving, searching or fighting in some way. COVID-19 has had a major impact on mental health in a variety of ways, and many of us are touched by it daily.

If we are in a strong and healthy place, those who are hurting need us. When we are struggling, we are not alone. Communities exist as systems of support, and we must do what we can to contribute positively to that system.

As the new year begins, may we honor our own struggles as we also express compassion for those around us.

Palmer is a mother of four and doctoral student at the University of Idaho. She has lived in Moscow since 2012, sharing joy and struggles with many friends and family on the Palouse. She can be reached at palm1634@vandals.uidaho.edu.

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