New year, new you. We’ve all done that dance a time or two, right? It’s nearly become a societal contract and is certainly an expectation. But after the sucker punch that was 2020, many are a bit hesitant about setting the bar too high this go-round.

So, what to do? We decided to sit down with local counselor Allyn Robb, clinical director and supervisor at Emerald Isle Counseling in Brunswick, who offered a bit of perspective on starting fresh.

Q: As we begin a new year and many make resolutions for 2021, how would you recommend starting off on the right foot?

A: I have never liked the term ‘resolutions,’ because, as you know, we seldom keep them. In my opinion, it is more practical to think seriously about changes one is willing to make in his/her behaviors to improve his/her quality of life. Too often we try to embrace too many changes, when we would be better served to make a real commitment to two or three … or one for that matter. Additionally, it is imperative that we understand change needs to come across several dimensions to find better balance in our lives: Physical self-care, lifestyle, mental-emotional self-care, people support, and spiritual self-care. Therefore, each of us could put one or two of these areas under a microscope and say ‘hey … this part of my life really needs a tune-up.’ All great areas on which to work with a counselor.

Q: 2020 has been rough, for several reasons. The pandemic, economic stress, a presidential election, and more have left many feeling stressed and anxious for a long period of time. What are good ways to cope with this kind of stress and anxiety?

A: First and foremost, you must unplug from environmental stressors. My pet peeve is social media. Personally, my opinion is that these mediums are very toxic for individuals of all ages. Additionally, research tells us that they are highly addictive to certain populations. Second, turn off the boob tube. Third, become familiar with mindfulness, and the practice thereof.

Certainly, most of us have experienced stress in 2020 and we must deal in the reality of it. But deep down inside, accept the fact that we will be OK. Eliminate your wants and enhance your needs — there is a difference. Focus on getting a better quality of sleep. Fifty percent of physical ailments are exacerbated by lousy sleep habits.

And for goodness sake: Move. You have got to get some exercise. Learn to say ‘no’ rather than ‘yes.’ Put your own welfare first, because if you crash and burn, you will not be there for others. Treat yourself like you are in intensive care. Maybe it is time to be a little ‘self-ish.’ Check out support groups. Talk with your doctor.

Q: How can we support others, including family members, co-workers, and friends, who have also gone through a challenging time this past year?

A: The most profound step we can all take is to be available. Be there for your family, friends, in-laws, colleagues, faith family — you do not necessarily have to do anything, say anything, or fix anything, just show up. Donating your time for others is easily the most valuable asset you can offer. Volunteering is another profound positive step in helping those in distress.

Q: Back to those ‘resolutions.’ Many of us have made resolutions we have failed to keep. How do you recommend creating positive change in an effective, long-lasting way?

A: Often, the effective first step is to recognize that a change in your perception may be 95 percent of being successful. After that, making a firm commitment. Do not call it a resolution, but a commitment. Ask for support from your friends and family. This is also a good time to nurture relationships with nuclear and extended family. It is especially important that you be mindful of your own self narrative: How do you talk to yourself? Are you respectful? Are you loving? Get rid of all the inflammatory stuff like, ‘should, could, ought, never, always’ vacuous terms that mean nothing other than judgement or negativity. Last, put your own belief systems to the test? Maybe you need to change the way you look at things. Accept that you may have been wrong?

Litmus test: Do I want to be right all the time, or do I want to be happy?