New year, new hope: vaccines offer optimism for 2021

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Turning the calendar on a new year can be a symbolic experience for some, inviting reflection on the last 12 months and an opportunity to reset for the year ahead. But when the year you're leaving behind was mired in a global pandemic, that reflection process can be more unpleasant than usual.

We're entering January on a bleak note -- with COVID-19 transmission skyrocketing across the country -- but the month of December also brought news of two vaccine approvals, spawning hope that the end of the pandemic might be in sight.

While some may be wary of being too optimistic, psychology experts say feeling hopeful for 2021 is a welcome change. Public officials have even been inserting messages of hope into news conferences this holiday season.

Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said last week he was "filled with hope" for 2021 after seeing initial stages of Canada's vaccine rollout, while Yukon Premier Sandy Silver capped a media session by saying: "no pressure 2021, but we're all looking forward to a better year."

Dr. Taslim Alani-Verjee, a clinical psychologist in Toronto, says it's OK to "hold space for hope" as we close out 2020.

While the phrase "holding space" is generally linked to somber emotions -- sadness, grief, disappointment -- Alani-Verjee says it applies to positive feelings too, especially at a time when there's "a bit of stigma" associated with happiness.

"Even talking about hope right now is really hard," she said. @"But learning to not judge our emotions is important. Regardless of what we're feeling, we need space to make sense of those emotions, to process how we feel."

Alani-Verjee adds, however, that we may need to temper our expectations for what the post-vaccine world will look like.

She expects it will take time, for example, before we greet someone with a hug or share a drink with a friend without second thought.

"Life doesn't go backwards and those who want things to go back to that level will probably be disappointed," she said.

-- with files from CTV News --