I was supposed to go to seven 40th birthday celebrations in 2020, one of them my own. I also had one wedding and two mini breaks in my diary by the time March rolled around and set fire to the idea of plans altogether. Comparatively speaking, I know that’s nothing, but after nine long months of cancellations, lowered expectations and being unable to hug my shielding father, the ongoing pandemic has had a psychological impact even on people like me who count themselves among the fortunate ones. 2020 was the year of thinking small, and remaining ready for restrictions to tighten while staying vigilant (read: stressed) even during the brief periods we’ve been allowed to socialise or move around the country.
But with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine already being rolled out and others on the way, the last few weeks of 2020 gave rise to an unfamiliar sensation: hope. After months of one step forward and two steps back, we were assured that change was genuinely coming.
So why don’t I feel, well, more joyous about it? Firstly, obviously because the news about rising cases and lockdown can make it feel like things are actually getting worse. But also because my overriding emotion is currently anxiety, the feeling that I shouldn’t be too optimistic lest I ‘jinx it’.
When in December I was invited to a birthday drink with a friend in February, what was my thought? Better not to make the plan because who knows what tier we’ll be in by then (turns out I was right). Recent research suggests 6 in 10 Brits were planning trips for 2021, but I can’t even imagine that. I’ve conditioned my brain not to get excited about the things I usually look forward to.
Maggie, a self-employed single mum in Bristol, feels the same. 'I struggled with feeling vulnerable through all of this, both financially and coping on my own with a young son,' she says. 'At first I got through it by thinking about it in chunks: 12 weeks of lockdown and then things will be better; get to September when the kids go back to school and I will have more availability to work again. We have got through each stage, but there’s always been something else to contend with, like the schools shutting at short notice when a bubble bursts. One of my clients is now considering placing everyone on furlough as their income remains depleted and I don’t know if they will keep me on. The sheer long-termed-ness of it mean I’m all about "head down and get through", which doesn’t allow for forward thinking or excitement.'
Get into the habit of telling your brain when things are OK
'Whenever our brain focuses on things that are not in our control, anxiety is a normal side effect,' says Dr Gabija Toleikyte, author of Why the F*ck Can’t I Change?: Insights from a neuroscientist to show that you can (out 21 January; BookOuture). 'For example, focusing on climate change or whether the vaccine is going to be effective.'
And of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with negative emotions, particularly when things are tough. The backlash against toxic positivity has taken the pressure off to emit ‘good vibes only’ because no amount of them can stop the spread of a highly contagious and deadly virus.
'Toxic positivity is basically denial,' agrees Dr Toleikyte. 'If we think too positively then we might not take the necessary precautions for how things are now. However, you can say "I hope I get to go to my friend’s birthday" while acknowledging we need to be careful. What’s not healthy is postponing your life until [you get] a vaccine, because that’s saying you’ll only be happy if this one thing happens. A better way around it is to focus on the steps you can control to keep yourself safe, adjust to change and be in the best position once the vaccine is [available to you] so you can take advantage of it.'
So what does that mean in practical terms? 'Getting into the habit of telling your brain when things are OK,' says Dr Toleikyte. 'A very simple way of doing this is asking yourself daily, "what went well today?" and writing it down. If yesterday you couldn’t get any work done because you were so anxious but today you sent two emails that’s a little reminder that actually things have improved, as opposed to "everything is shit".'
It’s also important to create 2021 goals that are not dependent on how the virus is going. 'It’s natural to ask for things we can’t have and to completely ignore the things we can, so we must reframe,' says Dr Toleikyte. She advises thinking creatively about how to fulfil our emotional needs without attaching it to a specific event.
So OK, that drink in future may well morph into a one-on-one walk or a phone call, but it could also, just maybe, become six friends meeting inside a restaurant. Either way, planning to make a connection with my friend of any sort on that date will provide a mental boost. And that’s definitely one for the ‘what went well today?’ list.
Best Self-Help Books For 2022
Bittersweet - How Sorrow And Longing Make Us Whole
Why are we obsessed with happiness? And what are the powers of a melancholic outlook? Bittersweet claims it's only when we embrace our darker emotions that we can discover our deepest meaning and connection: love and joy. Time to get angsty.
(Dis)connected - How To Stay Human In An Online World
In (Dis)connected, Emma Gannon argues that after years of lockdowns and Zoom meetings our focus on community and connection has been thrown off-kilter as she offers tangible tips and advice for those of us feeling a bit lost.
Every Family Has A Story - How We Inherit Love And Loss
Bestselling psychotherapist Julia Samuel dives into eight family case studies and analyses a range of common issues including separation, step-relationships, leaving home, trauma and loss, to reveal how deeply we are influenced by our relatives and how we can face challenges together.
Feel Great Lose Weight: Long term, simple habits for lasting and sustainable weight loss, by Dr Rangan Chatterjee
The host of the brilliant Feel Better Live More podcast brings his warm, sensible attitude and quietly revelatory advice to the thorny area of weight loss.
The Confidence Solution: Seven Steps to Confidence, by Chloe Brotheridge
Rebuild your self-esteem in 2022, with this simple, practical guide to beating anxiety and being brave, from the host of The Calmer You Podcast.
Shy: How Being Quiet Can Lead To Success, by Annie Ridout
A reassuringly relatable read from Annie Ridout, for any of us who have ever felt lacking in confidence, and a practical and galvanising guide to helping you harness the power of shyness, particularly in an increasingly digital world.
The Last Diet: Discover the Secret to Losing Weight – For Good, by Shahroo Izadi
The Kindness Method author Shahroo brings her professional experience of working in addiction, and her personal experience of struggling with her own weight and body image, together in this groundbreaking book, now out in paperback.
Power Hour: How to Focus on Your Goals and Create a Life You Love, by Adrienne Herbert
The inspirational powerhouse that is Adrienne Herbert shows you how to change your life, in just one hour a day.
No Such Thing as Normal: What my mental illness has taught me about mental wellness, by Bryony Gordon
Journalist, author and founder of Mental Health Mates, Bryony Gordon brings her familiar voice to this practical book, featuring all the tools she has learned to use along her mental health journey.
Speak Your Truth: Connecting with your inner truth and learning to find your voice, by Fearne Cotton
This bravely personal book may tell Fearne's own story of finding her voice, but it will be relatable to anyone who has ever kept quiet in order to please others – and will encourage you to speak out in your own unique, authentic way.
No One Can Change Your Life Except For You, by Laura Whitmore
TV presenter, radio broadcaster, actress, filmmaker and now author – is there anything Laura Whitmore can't do? This inspiring book is part-memoir and part-manifesto for finding success through optimism and self-belief.
Fears to Fierce: A Woman’s Guide to Owning Her Power, by Brita Fernandez Schmidt
With a foreword by Gillian Anderson, this empowering read from the co-founder of Women For Women International is all about finding your meaning, owning your power and transforming your world.
Cate Sevilla - How to Work Without Losing Your Mind: A Realistic Guide to the Hell of Modern Work, by Cate Sevilla
Work situation changed in 2020? Whether you're struggling with wfh, coping with the fallout from redundancy or simply reassessing your values and looking for a career change, this is the book for you.
Mindful Drinking: How Cutting Down Can Change Your Life, by Rosamund Dean
Be happier, healthier and more productive with Rosamund Dean's simple strategy to drink less and enjoy life more.
Make it Happen: How to be an Activist, by Amika George
Amika George was just a teenager when she launched a global campaign against period poverty from her bedroom. In this inspiring read, she talks to Caroline Criado-Perez, Deborah Frances-White, Adwoa Aboah and Scarlett Curtis about activism in 2021.
Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, by Gloria Steinem
A new edition of the classic confidence builder from legendary feminist activist Gloria Steinem.
Super Attractor: Methods for Manifesting a Life beyond Your Wildest Dreams, by Gabrielle Bernstein
Gabrielle Bernstein makes miracles happen, but don't just take our word for it. 'A brilliant book that helped me out during lockdown,' says Fearne Cotton. 'Oh my god, it's game-changing!'
If In Doubt, Wash Your Hair: A Manual for Life by Anya Hindmarch
Anya is a mother of five, stepmother and successful businesswoman. Through her words she shares everything she has learnt in her colourful life. From practical tips and quick fixes, to profound observations about confidence and creativity. This handbook will show you how to live a little better - and yes sometimes simply washing your hair is the answer.
Live Well Every Day: Your Plan For A Happy Body and Mind by Dr Alex George
The former Love Island Star and A&E doctor reflects on his experiences - from working on the wards during the pandemic to living in the spotlight to inform readers on mental health. This self help book empowers readers though advice on how people can power though tough moments and remain mentally strong.
365 Questions, One Page Per Day : A One Year Self-Discovery Journal by 21 Exercises
This journal allows you to have the power and create your own self- help guide. With plenty of lined pages and thoughtful writing prompts this journal will enable you to become more clear in your thinking, reduce stress and anxiety. This is ideal for anyone who wants to make personal growth a simple & successful daily habit.
No Worries by Bella Mente Press
No Worries is a 12- week anxiety and self care journal that will help you structure everything that is on your mind. This will help you thoughtfully manage your worries before they spiral out of control.
Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying,Relieve Anxiety and Eliminate Negative Thinking by S.J.Scott and Barrie Davenport
How To Declutter Your Mind teaches readers specific mindfulness techniques and habits, to create more "space" in your mind to enjoy peace and happiness. You will take away excercises that will have an immediate and lasting effect on your mental health and mindset.
How To Do The Work by Dr Nicole LePera
Clinical Psychologist, Dr Nicole LePera offers an essential guide to self healing and creating a more joyful life. Drawing from both scientific research and healing modalities, Dr LePera helps readers overcome trauma and destructive behaviours to reclaim their lives.
The Things You Can Only See When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim
In a fast moving world, The Things You Can Only See When You Slow Down provides a relief. In this timely guide to mindfulness, Haemin Sunim, a Buddhist monk dives into dealing with rest and relations and handling setbacks. A mixture of his teachings and calming illustrations remind us of the strength that comes from slowing down.
The Comfort Book by Matt Haig
The instant No.1 best seller is a collection of consolations learned in hard times, and suggestions for making the bad days better. This is a book for when we need a friend, a listening ear or just a reminder of hope.
How To Heal A Broken Heart by Rosie Green
How To Heal A Broken Heart gives a refreshingly honest take on heartbreak. When Rosie Green's husband leaves her after 26 years together she never thought she would get over it. But she did- and so can you. This bold, witty and insightful handbook dives into how you can heal faster, understand yourself better and move on.
Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance by Jessamyn Stanley
Yoke is about finding acceptance within yourself both on and off the Yoga mat. Jessamyn Stanley calls on a larger idea on the yoga of everyday life. In a series of deeply honest, funny autobiographical essays, Jessamyn explores everything from imposter syndrome to loving yourself, all through the lens of yoke.
Your Time to Thrive by Marina Khidekel
A guide to help readers build new habits that improve their lives for the better and allow them to thrive. Time to Thrive suggests exercises based on Microsteps - tiny, science-backed changes. By making them too-small-to fail, we can incorporate them into our daily lives right away, and begin building healthier ways of living and working.
The Fear-Fighter Manual: Professional Troublemaker by Luvvie Ajayi Jones
Luvvie is a Nigerian author, speaker and digital strategist. This New-York Times best seller is about how to live boldly in spite of all the reasons we have to cower. Prepare for humour, perpetual truth telling and warmth as Luvvie walks us through what we must get right within ourselves before we can do the things that scare us.
Set Boundaries, Find Peace : A Guide To Reclaiming Yourself by Nedra Glover Tawwab
Set Boundaries, Find Peace presents simple-yet-powerful ways to establish healthy boundaries in all aspects of life. Drawing on the latest research in Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques - this guide helps us to search for the root of problems within codependency, power struggles, anxiety, depression and burnout.
Working Hard, Hardly Working by Grace Beverley
This past year especially, there has been a particular emphasis on working 24/7 while simultaneously being told we should relax and take care of ourselves. In today's complex working wold this can be hard to differentiate. Working Hard, Hardly Working, entrepreneur and self-proclaimed 'lazy workaholic' Grace Beverley challenges this unrealistic and unnecessary split, and offers a fresh take on how to create your own balance, be more productive and feel fulfilled.
The Anatomy Of Anxiety: Understanding And Overcoming The Body's Fear Response
Psychiatrist Dr Ellen Vora challenges the conventional view of anxiety as a mental disorder, suggesting instead that much of what we call anxiety begins in the body. Rather than our troubled thoughts creating physical symptoms, she argues that many types of anxiety are the result of states of imbalance in our bodies, whether blood sugar crashes, caffeine highs or sleep deprivation.
The Way Of Nagomi: The Japanese Secret To A Harmonious Life
A popular concept in Japan, nagomi exemplifies a state of being where good and bad things live in balance with each other. Neuroscientist and bestselling writer Ken Mogi examines the philosophy of nagomi and how seeking to balance both happiness and sadness – instead of simply seeking the former – will help us achieve a sense of harmony, productivity and satisfaction in our lives both in the short and long-term.