For many, 2020 felt like the year that wouldn't end, but now that we're in 2021, it doesn't mean the challenges magically go away.

Mental health experts say there are ways to leave a difficult year behind while still moving forward.

Maritimers like Jeff Boyd are heading into the new year with a bit of hope.

"Trying to be really positive, getting some exercise, losing weight, and walking the granddogs," Boyd says.

Boyd is looking on the bright side after a difficult year -- something that many are doing, even as the pandemic continues.

"I think, like a lot of people, I'm taking a deep breath and trying to step calmly forward," said writer Tynette Deveaux.

Deveaux says she made it through 2020 by trying not to be too hard on herself as she tried to adapt to all the changes brought by the pandemic.

"When you're facing the kinds of challenges that we were up against, I think it's really important that we go easy on ourselves and on each other," she said.

Pamela Magee is the executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Nova Scotia Division.

"You know, COVID has continued much longer than most people ever perceived it would," Magee said.

A Statistics Canada study released just before Christmas found our "life satisfaction" has dropped to its lowest level in more than two decades.

Magee says that's why it's important to start the year on a positive note.

"Some of the typical behaviours that we would use to elevate our mental health and well-being and hopefulness are still very applicable," she said.

Going for walks, enjoying the outdoors, along with connecting virtually with family and friends and reaching out to help others are all ways to boost our mental well-being.

"This year gives us an even greater opportunity than other new years to press the reset button," said Jacqueline Roche, a clinical psychologist with Health P.E.I.

Roche says lessons learned last year can help you set goals for this one.

"So, whether it's recognizing that stepping back from work and working more from home allowed you to spend more time at home with your family, whether it's that shift in career that you're been contemplating, those are things that I think we can take away from 2020," she said.

For Deveaux, it's not about making resolutions.

"The focus, at least for me, will be more on how I want to be each day, and not just what I want to do," said Deveaux.

That's good advice, no matter what 2021 brings.

And, of course, there's another reason many feel a sense of optimism with vaccines being distributed slowly throughout the Maritimes. There is hope that the year could bring back some semblance of what life was like, before the pandemic.