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We asked a psychologist why 2016 was so bad so we can do better in 2017

Feelings about 2016 are subjective — everyone feels differently. 

But because of certain events, like the Tar Heels losing the national championship, the Panthers losing the Super Bowl and a long and vicious election season, 2016 has a lot of students collectively bummed out. 

And that is valid, according to Jonathan Abramowitz, associate chairperson of the UNC Department of Psychology and Neuroscience.

“Being a member of our campus and living in North Carolina, there were some things that were challenging during the year,”  Abramowitz said.

He said what matters going forward into 2017 is our perception of what happened last year.

“If somebody woke up the next morning and said, ‘Well, I can’t cope with this, our country is going to be terrible,’ and ‘I can’t live with this,’ they’re going to feel worse than if they say, ‘Well, this sucks but we’ll find a way to move forward, and I’ll find a way to survive, it won’t be as bad as I thought it will,’" Abramowitz said.

It circles around to the cliche “glass half empty/glass half full” argument. 

But Abramowitz said it is not exactly about remaining positive all the time.

“I think it’s about finding a way to look at things logically rather than than just being positive,” he said.

Abramowitz said it is more thinking about situations in terms of the human ability to manage and adapt, even if they do not like the current situation.

“There’s a difference between, ‘I can’t stand this, and I’m moving to Canada because this is just awful and I’ll never be happy,'" versus being able to say, ‘Well, I might not be happy with the result of this election, but I’ll manage, I’ll survive,’” he said.

Not only are we valid in being bummed, but he said we are also valid in feeling angry, upset and even depressed about events from 2016.

“Those are all very normal and adaptive things. We need anxiety to keep us alive; we need stress,” he said. “That’s our mind's way of telling us that we’re unhappy about something, and it motivates us to make some sort of change.”

But not all students are choosing to look at things in a negative light.

Tia Andrade, a senior psychology major, said she tries to focus on the things she learned and experienced in 2016.

“I accomplished a lot of things,” she said. “I learned a lot, and my perspective on the world was widened and expanded.”

She said she thinks the key to healing in 2017 is evaluating how our actions affect other people.

“I guess we can go with all that cliche bullshit about how we need to support each other and respect each others opinions, but I feel like everyone will say that,” she said. “But we should be conscious about how our actions affect others because it’s easier to change yourself than it is to change other people.”

Gray Rodgers, a senior psychology major said that good begets good, and we should start focusing on positive influences now. 

“When we experience good emotions it makes us want to do more good,” Rogers said. “I think we have to do more good early.”

We can only control so much, and Rogers said we need to focus on that.

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“It’s about finding the strengths in our own communities as they’re challenged,” he said. “And to focus on the positive and change we can control.”

Andrade also said she feels that the key is trust - as a campus, as a community and as a country.

“It’s hard to move forward as a community when your trust for one another is lost, especially because we didn’t expect some of the things to happen that did,” Andrade said. 

“I guess in 2017 we can work on building trust with others around us and working on our actions.”