It’s not just you, we promise. If you’ve reached the end of 2021 feeling like your fingernails are clenched onto the last vestiges of your sanity, you’re in the majority. Dr Lucy Hone, Director of The New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing and Resilience offers her advice on how to have a calm, connected and grateful Christmas and also explains why that starts with understanding where we’re all at, mentally, as we reach the end of this difficult year.
Where we’re at now
What we know from disaster recovery research is that we normally go through a set of phases. We start with the heroic phase, which has a high level of activity, a sense of altruism. That stage passes quickly and then you go into the honeymoon phase, where there’s real community cohesion, a high level of optimism and a sense that everything will return to normal quickly. Sadly, that too passes very quickly and then you enter what we like to call the ‘long-term recovery phase’, which is a marathon, not a sprint. We start to realise what we’re up against – that there isn’t going to be a quick fix for Covid-19 – and stress starts taking its toll. This is typically the phase where, if people don’t look after themselves, they are more at risk of burnout.
What does burnout look like?
Burnout is physical, mental and emotional exhaustion – that’s what everyone knows about burnout; you feel overwhelmed and you feel utterly exhausted. But anyone who’s actually been burnt out will also know that it’s when you stop giving a shit. You stop caring. This is the classic thinking of burnout: “What’s the point? Nothing I do is going to make a difference.” But there are ways of thinking and acting that can help us avoid burnout.
Wins of the week
First you need to keep connecting with the differences you are making in your life – being really aware of the small achievements you are making every week and the things that you are ticking off your list. Make an intentional effort and habit to notice the areas of your world where you are being effective – instead of focusing all your attention on the things you haven’t got to. We try to check in, as a team at work on a Friday, to pool what’s gone well and it always surprises us how much we have collectively accomplished.
Learn how to say no
You don’t have to meet anyone – or everyone – for a drink before the Christmas break.
Why do people feel like they need to meet up before Christmas? If you haven’t seen them in the last eight months, don’t feel you need to see them in December. Burnout comes from juggling too many balls and a sense that there’s no let-up: instead of adding to your load, try removing something that’s not absolutely essential. This applies to home and work.
Re-charge your tank
Sit down and write a list of people who you really do want to see, who will help fill you up. And work out what the things are that you want to do this summer that will really recharge your batteries. Sit there with your cup of coffee and your pen and think ‘Okay, what and who are going to bring me joy, hope, inspiration, curiosity, pride, serenity and laughs this summer?’ All of these positive emotions are important for your psychological piggy bank, so notice if you are, or aren’t, getting them.
Plan for the year ahead
Every January, I come back from holiday and I get my wall chart out for work and I get out a second wall chart out for fun. With Covid-19, it’s going to be more important than ever to create things to look forward to. What works for you, what makes you feel good and like you’ve had a break, and you’ve got away from the frantic lives we all lead? The best years start with good planning in January.
Leave your phone off
At weekends (and when I’m on holiday), I like to get away from everyone apart from the people I’m with at the time. It does mean that I end up with less photos – and capturing those photos is good for your mental health. But posting them on Instagram and then scrolling through, seeing what everyone else is doing – and possibly having a better time than you – is not good for your mental health. So, lose touch with your phone these summer holidays; know that the people you are with, and the things you are doing, are enough.
Look back to move forward
Take a moment to consider what is still good, despite all the turmoil that we’ve experienced this year. When did you surprise yourself with your capacity to cope? What are you amazed that you managed to do? Rather than just looking back at 2020 and saying ‘well, that was a disaster,’ it’s important to notice, in what has been one of the most challenging years in our lived history, that we have all managed to get through and put up with so much disruption. Reflecting on this is a good way to build confidence, which then helps us face future uncertainties.
The holidays amplify loneliness, that sense of not belonging if you have nowhere to go to. Reach out to anyone who you think might like some company – you can do that in small ways and let them do that on their own terms. You can reach out to someone who needs it and say, “Hey, we would love you at any point over Christmas and we really, really mean it. We don’t want to intrude, but what might work for you? Do you want to come over for coffee in the morning, a glass of bubbly at some point, or early dinner?” Just ask them! One of the thinking traps that humans fall into is that they expect people to be mind-readers – and we mind-read for other people. Just ask – it gives people something to look forward to.
Pace yourself. Be kind to yourself. Holidays are not a competition.