For many people, 2020 has been a terrible year characterised by fear and isolation... two of the most toxic feelings known to erode mental wellbeing and can lead to burnout.
So in this article I will share with you 4 tips that will help you prepare for and maintain good mental health that to get you through whatever 2021 throws at you with resilience, happiness and productivity.
2020 started for many with the hope and optimism that characterises the New Year celebrations, an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. gyms are joined, diets are started, new jobs are found and people move into brand new houses. Many of my clients use these first few weeks of the new year as an opportunity to take stock of their situation and to reset their goals so as to make the most of the coming 12 months.
And really we were just getting started in that process, when the news became increasingly focused on the threat that COVID-19 posed, not only to individual well being, but to the collective well being of countries and indeed the global population. Now, looking back over the last nine months of lockdowns, bad news, it seems as though we consistently encountered many moments of fleeting hope that the pandemic was over only for things to just keep getting worse.
Then when we finally got the hope of a working vaccine, it was only a few days later that we learn of new and more contagious variants. And in the middle of this, there was so much uncertainty, with businesses closing people unfortunately losing their jobs.
It’s easy to think that in fact, 2020 should just be wiped from the records. But with as with every year, there were positive steps forward as a society.
In July, scientists in Australia reported that preclinical laboratory studies of a new cancer vaccine had shown promising signs. On World Hepatitis day in July, the World Health Organisation reported that cases of hepatitis B and children under age five had dropped below 1%. Scientists also unveiled the first spherical artificial eye with a 3d retina, which raises the the the reality of bringing vision to humanoid robots and even more importantly, new hope to patients with visual impairment.
In September, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change announced that net zero commitments have doubled in less than a year. Also, we learned that 48 bird and mammal species have been saved from extinction by international conservation efforts since 1993. And of course, we’ve seen the global collaboration and invention and creativity of the human brain at its absolute finest in fast tracking a safe vaccine for covid 19 in record time, which means that we can hope that 2021 is going to be a much better year for everyone, and the start of something good.
So with that in mind, I want to give you some tips for having a productive and well 2021, even in the midst of a pandemic.
Now, what’s really important is that we hold tight, and we stay well until the pandemic is over. While most of us have been working from home, burnout hasn’t really diminished. In fact, I’m seeing more burnout clients now than I was before the pandemic, it hasn’t gone away. It’s just changed in nature, because the disruption, people’s normal work and living patterns has caused a lot of stress, as people have lost some of those practices that they’d established to help them maintain their well being.
So with that in mind, let’s dive in. Number one, measure your stress. In a normal world, you could expect friends and family that you see often to be a good measure of your well being as they know you. But in these times of social distancing, and indeed, social isolation, that’s not possible. So it’s even more important for us to have a regular and ideal, ideally, real time measurement of our well being. As I say, in many of my videos, you want to develop your own sense of well being called interoception to the point where you don’t need external measurement. But this takes practice. So for everybody else, and particularly in such trying times external measurement is the way forward. My two top recommendations for external measurement of your well being are Welltory, which is free, and is an app you put on your phone, and the Oura ring, which is pricey, but believe me, it’s worth every penny. You use the data it gives you to learn how much stress and energy you have in your nervous system so that you can be more controlled on how much more stress and what types of stress you can handle each day. Be at hard work, difficult relationships, or full on exercise.
You see you can’t drink from an empty cup. So by using this information to learn what recharges you, and also what drains you, you will find that it’s life changing.
Tip number two, prioritise sleep. Now to quote the Dalai Lama sleep is the best meditation. The better your sleep, the better your scores will be in your stress measurements, and the more productive you’ll be during the day without draining your well being, which of course is the path to burnout. Sleep is a peculiar one, in that it can be both the cause of burnout and the result of burnout. Now the two books I recommend on this subject to help you understand how to get better sleep are Richard Wiseman’s Night School, and Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep. Both books will inform you and help you to understand your sleep. And you’ll find links below to these books and some other resources to help you improve your sleep in the description below.
The third tip is to activate your Vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is your closest ally in staying well. And there are a wide range of activities and techniques for stimulating this essential nerve that I talked about a lot of my videos. My personal favourite, is coherent breathing, which means breathing at a balanced manner, at a rate of about five breaths a minute, try to do this for 20 minutes a day, even if you break it up into periods of five minutes. And you can use the breathing paces such as the videos on my channel, you can use your Apple Watch, or ideally the Heartmath Inner Balance device. Other ways to stimulate your vagus nerve include splashing your face with cold water doing yoga or someone in your bubble, massage your neck. Now it’s a little known fact that the Vagus nerve innervates the facial muscles, so why not try watching comedies that make you laugh because laughing is an incredibly restorative activity.
There are of course technologies that also stimulate the Vagus nerve for you. And these include the Neuvana Xen if you can get hold of it in your country, and you will find other technologies listed in the description below.
The fourth and final tip is to do what I call Situational Analysis, which is a fancy way of doing what stoic practitioners call Enchiridion, something like that. And it’s simply about bringing focus to those things in your life that you can control, and recognising but not expending energy, worrying about things that are out of your control. So grab a pen and paper and write down a list of things that are going on around you that you cannot control, such as the state of the pandemic, what the government is or isn’t doing, whether the gym is open, what the weather’s doing. And when you can see friends and family face to face. I know it sounds a bit depressing. But it’s important for you to accept that these things will do what they do, whether or not you worry about them. Then write down what you can control, such as what you eat, how much you sleep and exercise, how much time you spend talking to friends and family, even if for the time being that might be through zoom. You can also write down things that you can do that will mitigate or lessen the impact of some of those things that you can’t control, such as staying healthy. Now, this is actually a far more productive way to help you develop your New Year’s resolutions. Because your New Year’s resolutions are far more likely to be realistic and achievable goals if you focus on those things that are within your sphere of control. Focusing on that which you control will give you more positive feedback.
#burnout #2021 #vagusnerve