A new year usually involves new year resolutions. But some experts say skip the traditional January resolutions and make time for some New Year’s reflection instead. Although 2020 was not a year most people want to remember, experts say by reflecting on the lessons of the past year, we can stack and build on the good habits we started in 2020. One way to do that is building your gratitude habit, either in groups or solo acts. For instance, during the pandemic, many cities engaged in quarantine clapping as a way to thank public health workers. Joshua Brown, professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University Bloomington, says clapping for essential workers had the effect of unifying and energizing the group for action toward a common cause, such as persevering through the pandemic. Group expressions of gratitude can be empowering for both those expressing it and those receiving it, he says. Gratitude also can be done during everyday acts such as giving a heartfelt thanks to someone or taking time to remind yourself of the things you are grateful for. Brown suggests starting small like sending an appreciative email or text. A great way to develop more gratitude would be regular small steps, he says, like an extra email or note of appreciation to a colleague or an extra in-person thank-you, and a focus on how rewarding it is to brighten someone’s day with appreciation. Joel Wong, a professor in the department of counseling and educational psychology at IU Bloomington, says expressing your gratitude in writing can be a great way to shift your thoughts to more positive things. The full potential of gratitude is realized when people are able to express gratitude in words, he says. When we are able to say what we’re grateful for and explain why, it shifts our attention from what’s negative to what’s positive in our lives.
In other news, long before the pandemic, the United States was facing another crisis: opioid abuse. A new study by IU researchers finds that Americans filled roughly the same number of prescriptions for opioid use disorder medication before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and after, suggesting more flexible use of telemedicine through new federal buprenorphine guidelines played a vital role in keeping those suffering from opioid use disorder on their prescribed medication. The research, the first using national prescription data representing all payer sources, examined prescription data from a U.S. database that includes 92 percent of the country’s retail pharmacy claims. Researchers counted the number of individuals who filled prescriptions each week between May 1, 2019 and June 28, 2020 and compared the trends before and after the federal government’s move to relax longstanding guidelines on telemedicine, allowing authorized practitioners greater flexibility to prescribe medication for opioid use disorder during the COVID-19 crisis. Kosali Simon, a professor at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU, says the ability for practitioners to continue prescribing opioid use disorder medications via nontraditional ways may have helped retain patients who might have otherwise discontinued treatment. The relaxation of federal guidelines to allow practitioners to prescribe the medication through virtual visits or other digital methods most likely saved lives, she says.