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Having Realistic Expectations For 2021 Is Important, Doctors Warn

PROVO, Utah – Many of us are banking on 2021 being a better year. But the reality is we face many months before life starts getting back to normal, and experts said there are dangers in having unrealistic expectations.

In a year of loss for so many of us, Jessica Preece gained a COVID-19 puppy and that’s not all. She got COVID-19 chickens, too. “Rosebud is in charge,” Preece said. “They’ve just been a delight and it’s been fun to have the fresh eggs and to share them with neighbors. It’s a pretty great consolation prize.”

Preece, a professor in Provo, is keeping expectations low for the New Year. “People think the clock is going to strike at midnight, Dec. 31, and it will be 2021 and everything that’s been bad about 2020 will be gone. But that’s not how it works,” she said.

Dr. Kristin Francis at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute said a realistic approach is wise. “If you don’t set yourself up to have realistic expectations, you’re more likely to be discouraged or fall into despair if things don’t work out as you expect or hope,” Francis said.

Expecting too much too fast could be dangerous, experts said. Science tells us the risk to mental health may increase after a disaster is over. The suicide rate in the U.S. was 6.4% higher the year after the 2008 economic crisis, according to BMJ, the British Medical Journal.

Francis said that could be because the adrenaline has worn off at that point, and exhaustion set in. “When their expectations aren’t met, they just feel completely discouraged, and ready to throw in the towel,” she said.

It’s important to note suicides have not risen in Utah during the pandemic, and experts believe with the right resources, people can find help.

Finding a balance of hope and skepticism is important. “It’s going to be a slow dawn, and to be able to enjoy those small changes as they come and see those as triumphs, that will help I think lift your spirit,” Francis said.

For Preece, that starts with expressing her feelings. “To just go ahead and feel sad when I’m sad and angry when I’m angry,” she said. “But then also remember that the absence of some things, allows for the presence of other things.”

Noting the lessons learned in 2020 and how they’ll help us in 2021 is also helpful, experts said, while keeping it real. “I really am not planning on much of anything until, like, summertime. Just better to keep those expectations modest,” Preece said.

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