23 October 2018Last updated


Has this year been worse than others?

With people saying that 2016 has been our annus horribilis we ask counselling expert Helen Williams for her take on it

28 Dec 2016 | 04:40 pm


Have you - or anyone you know – had a particularly bad year? There has been a lot of talk about how this year has been an awful one. Not for everyone, of course. Lots of people have got married, had babies, had great career success, found new love... All of those great things have still been happening. But for a large number of people, 2016 seems to have been more fraught with upsetting situations than previous years. And, as such, 2016 is being labelled as being this particularly bad year that people can’t wait to see the back of.

With this in mind, as the year draws to a close, we asked counselling expert Helen Williams for her thoughts on it.

Can it be that 2016 has been a tough year for lots of people or does it just seem that way?

“It feels that way doesn’t it? Like a watershed year filled with much change, and a sense of haste and unease. The truth is, though, that the experience of the year will sit in the happenings of each individual. For those who have had a wonderful year, 2016 will be looked back upon fondly. For those who have felt carved by pain and grief, this year will be marked by that.

“What has undoubtedly changed this year is the conversation on a global scale. Our sense of impact – emotionally, spiritually and mentally – is heightened as the world around us becomes increasingly polarised. Local conversations have become global, with access to information demanding an opinion on fear, war, elections, referendums, lifestyles and more.

“It is no longer OK to be apathetic. The result of this is the need to make a choice... we have been called upon to notice and live with awareness, which has been wonderful and positive. But as philosopher von Goethe, said, ‘Where there is much light the shade is deepest’.”

What could be causing negative energy, or a negative outlook?

“The responsibility to live with awareness can be daunting. We are being called to notice what’s happening around the world and participate in the solutions. This can be overwhelming and it can be tempting to fall into catastrophising the experience. However, I have seen more and more people seeking a way of owning their personal experiences – my mindfulness and meditation courses have grown from an average of five participants to 20 or 30. In the UAE, and in other countries, people are having conversations about happiness, intrinsic purpose and living mindfully.”

By thinking 2016 was just a bad year, are we victimising ourselves and giving our own sense of control away?

“For those for whom 2016 was filled with unpleasant or frightening events, their thinking may indeed be fearful and this will be their truth. By embracing this, befriending it and allowing it, their experience can then become self-compassionate and understanding, which will eventually lead to letting go of victimisation. For others who get caught up in the drama of unfolding events, it can become addictive to feed on the pain and fear.”

How people can deal with and analyse the events of 2016 – both personal and global – and start 2017 on a positive note?

“By taking the macro back to micro and choosing to consciously live with compassion and mindfulness, we come to see that, with suffering comes wonderful opportunities for growth and depth. By learning to let go of negative thinking and noticing when our thoughts dwell on worry and anxiety, we can learn the skills and practices that keep our feet in the present and live with what is happening now more fully.

“Phap Dung from Plum Village in France, teaches that we see the mind as a house. So, if your house is on fire, you need to take care of the fire, not look for the person who made the fire. By realising that we cannot control events as they unfold around us, but that we can influence change on a personal scale through wise and conscious choices, we learn to embrace choice. I believe it was Mother Theresa who said, ‘If everybody cleaned their own doorsteps, then all the doorsteps in the world would be clean”. 

Photo by Aiza Castillo-Domingo

Helen Williams has been one of the most popular and well-known counsellors in Dubai for years.To book an appointment with her, email