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Ease mental exhaustion with reflection.

The year is ending and we might be counting the days before we fly to to visit family and friends or start preparing for end of year celebrations. What are your rituals and traditions for December? Are you trying something new this year? Have you considered the sciene-based mindfulness practice of end of year reflective journaling?

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When I was a kid on long journeys my mother would write down the major cities we passed through on our way to the destination. She was creating waypoints or markers to make sure we were heading the right way. Nowadays, we often delegate the task of not getting lost to technology. But we should not forget to set markers for our mental well-being, ideally without relying on apps. Don’t make your well-being depending on a tool. Be in charge of it.

What is the difference between mental health, mental well-being, and burnout?

In short: They are related and differences can be blurry. Your mental well-being has an impact on your mental health. Dr Lina Gega defines mental well-being as having a sense of self and the ability to live your life as close as possible to the way you want to. On the other hand, mental health is more than this. It is a mental state which allows you to do several things: realize your potential, cope with everyday stressors of life, work productively, and contribute to your community (Strengthening mental health promotion, Fact sheet No 220, WHO, 2001). To sum it up: Your mental well-being can positively or negatively impact your mental health.

Burnout is again something different. The WHO defines burnout as an occupational phenomenon and not a disease or illness. Burnout has three dimensions:

• Exhaustion
• Increased mental distance from your job (e.g., negatively, cynicism)
• Reduced professional efficacy

Only when these three aspects are present are you burning out. If you only feel exhausted, you are overextended; if you are cynical about your job you are disengaged. If you are professionally not performing adequately, you are ineffective. The complete lack of exhaustion and cynicism, in combination with high levels of professional efficacy, is signalling engagement.

For the rest of the issue, we’ll focus on exhaustion as a dimension of mental well-being as it most easily applies to all areas of your life.

End-of-year review: What made 2021 exhausting for you?

The main reason for feeling exhausted is your workload, and that should not be a surprise. Other contributing factors are your resources and the social context. You feel drained because on one side, you have all these things to do (workload). But you don’t have the resources to do them adequately (resources) or the social support to deal with the stress (social context). Your social context can also make everything worse. Here are some examples for each factor:

The workload is any activity that needs your attention. For example:

•kids, elderly family members you care for
•your health
•your partner and friends
•your tasks

Your resources are everything that you have access to that helps you deal with your workload. For example:

•your knowledge and skills
•your partner and friends
•your wonderful colleagues
•technology and tools
•access to professional development
•your coping mechanism

The social context is the behaviour of the people around you. This can make your life easier or harder. For example:

•the level of psychological safety at work
•how you and your partner communicate
•how reliant your friends are
•how dominant your mother/father/partner is

Reflecting 2021, Prepping 2022.

Reflecting 2021

Prep-work: Begin with creating a list of your tasks, resources, and what elements of the social context you find essential (honesty, punctuality, reliability, fun etc). If you live with others, do this step with them to get as complete a list as possible. You can use the list above as a starting point and modify it to your needs.

Tip: When reflecting it is vital to not make it too complex. Yes, you could score each item on three different dimensions, write one page about how you feel about it and so on. But chances are that will just be too exhausting, and you’ll end up doing nothing. Keep it simple.

Scoring each item: Score every item as high, medium, or low or any other 3 point scale that works for you. Keep it to 3 to 5 points to keep it easy. Scales with more than 5 points just become difficult to use, especially if you don’t have an objective way to measure each level.

Reflecting on some items: After you have scored items, pick a couple and reflect on them. Write down key experiences and feelings related to that item. Trust your memory. If you can’t remember anything, then it wasn’t crucial. Use the frameworks we teach in Restory.

Prepping 2022

Often when thinking about the following year, people make grand ambitious plans. Usually, these do not materialize. The plan is just too big. If you want to meaningfully change your life, you are better off creating a small number of attainable goals. Feel free to make one goal a stretch goal: Difficult but not impossible.

Finally, don’t forget: Goals are things you can achieve without being (too) dependent on others. If someone else needs to be committed to your goal, then it’s not a goal but a desire. For example, every morning I want to leave the house in a calm and composed mood. This is a desire. How stressful my morning largely depends on my children. However, it is my goal to sit down, relax, and be able to enjoy my first cup of coffee. That goal I usually achieve as I get up before the kids.

A couple of prompts to help you prepare for 2022:

•For what activity did you experience the highest workload? Think about ways you can reduce the workload. Can you make the task smaller, share it with someone, or increase your skills?

•What resource do you wish you have? What do you need to get it? If it is currently out of your reach, what would be a similar resource?

•How satisfied are you with your social context?
What activity, resource or social context creates the most turbulent (positive or negative) emotional reaction?

•How would your life be if you didn’t have to do a specific activity (or access to a particular resource)?


Tiny tips

1. Reflect on your 2021 with reflective journaling. Try past-orientation prompts.

2. Plan your 2022 with future orientation. This could be unconscious or conscious.

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