Have you ever felt sad about the idea of a fresh start? Although a new beginning can be an exciting time, starting something new can also bring up complicated emotions, like grief. A fresh start can happen at any time, but it’s something that comes up often at the end of the year as people look to start fresh in January. Starting a new year can feel like the perfect opportunity to do things differently.
Any time you change a familiar pattern of behavior, grief can come up. This can happen even if you’re excited about the changes you’re making. It doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong or that you can’t handle what’s coming. Change is hard, and any time you experience change you have to figure out how to process it emotionally. That’s grief, in a nutshell. We commonly think that grief is reserved for death or other types of loss, but grief can be felt for any number of reasons, from the seemingly mundane to the extraordinary.
A new beginning could be something like:
- Starting to learn a new language
- Prioritizing your mental health
- Starting therapy
- Starting a new relationship
- Getting a new job
- Graduating from school
- Changing career paths
- Becoming a parent
- Ditching old habits and forming new ones
- Learning a new hobby
- Communicating your boundaries
The start of the year often represents a new beginning for people. New Year’s resolutions are somewhat of a tradition at this time of year, and starting a new month and a new year cycle can be the perfect opportunity to mix things up or try new things.
Think back to the last time you started something new. This could be a new job, a new course of study, a new relationship, or something else entirely. How did you feel leading up to that new start? Were you excited? Anxious? Unsure? Eager? Did any other feelings come up? How did you feel in your body during that time? Were your thoughts racing, your heart beating faster when you thought about this new start? Or did the idea leave you feeling more at ease? Maybe somewhere in the middle? There are no wrong answers. However you felt, it’s likely that you felt a range of emotions, and not just one, or felt different emotions at different times when thinking about your new beginning.
While a new beginning is often a fun time, there are some aspects to starting fresh that can bring up some complicated or layered feelings. It can be hard to process the fact that things won’t be the way they were before, even if you’re excited about it. Starting something new can be a big change in your day to day patterns, and big feelings may follow. Whatever you feel, it’s okay. There is no wrong way to have feelings.
The way you react to your emotions may change as you lead up to a new start. You may feel an increased level of tension, or you may feel relaxed and sure. That’s another aspect of a new start that can bring up grief – the idea of the unknown. It’s impossible to predict how things will go with 100% accuracy. You can use what you know about yourself from past experiences to try to predict how you’ll feel, but until you make that new start you won’t know what you’re in for. That can feel scary!
If you’re someone who feels a lot of distress around a new start, here are 5 ways to deal the grief of new beginnings:
Fighting with reality does nothing to change it, and it depletes your emotional resources. Imagine what you could do if you stopped struggling to change something you have no control over. Instead of getting stuck in regret or shame, you could recognize that what happened did happen, and move forward. For example, let’s think about the new beginning that 2022 offers. Even though 2021 didn’t go the way many of us had hoped or planned, there is nothing we can do to change that now. Going over and over the past year in your head to find where things could have been different will do nothing but bring you distress. Instead, we can accept that 2021 was quite a year, and it’s over now. It happened. We can’t undo what happened, but we can look forward to next year.
Remember the good times
It’s hard to come to terms with some phases of our lives ending. It can be painful to say goodbye to relationships or old coping mechanisms that no longer serve us. It’s hard to leave behind old coworkers or learn how to do something new. One way to make the transition smoother is to remember the good times and any lessons you learned from your old routines or relationships. Try starting a photo album on your phone to capture memories of the good times that you can refer to when you’re feeling unsure. Remind yourself that there are good times like this for you in the future too.
Think about the process, not the outcome
Sometimes it’s hard to focus on the process of doing something when you’re focused on the outcome. If you’re thinking about making a change in the new year, try to remember to enjoy the process as much or more than you enjoy the outcome. It can be so tempting to rush into something new, but taking the time to enjoy the process gives you the chance to enjoy the here and now, instead of a hypothetical future. All we have is the present moment, so try not to let too many of them slip by.
Have you ever beaten yourself up for a decision you made? A lot of the time, we’re harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else, and that pressure can get exhausting. Feeling anxious or upset at the idea of a new start isn’t something to be ashamed of, it’s deeply human. We fear what we don’t understand, so the idea of the unknown can be scary.
It’s also okay if you’re so excited for your new start that you’re eager to leave the past behind. You don’t have to apologize for being ready for something new, even if it means making some changes. What you had in the past isn’t necessarily better than what you’re working toward now, it’s just different and unknown, so it may feel frightening.
However you feel, offer yourself some compassion and some forgiveness.
Talk to a grief therapist
Even though everyone experiences grief, we’re still not great as a society at talking about it or dealing with it. Talking to a therapist who specializes in grief and grief recovery can give you a chance to talk about your feelings with someone who really gets it. Therapy not only gives you a space to process what you’re feeling, it’s also a place to learn new coping skills and techniques that work for your current life, not what you were going through in the past. A therapist can help you make sense of the changes you’re experiencing and guide you through the grief process. A new beginning can be the perfect time to prioritize your mental health.