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How do you take care of your emotional wellbeing?
If you had asked me this question a year ago, I would have sighed with frustration. With the barrage of mental health information, services, and apps, it seemed like there was a "right way" to do this, and I was hopelessly lost. As someone who had experienced burnout, I tried everything to prevent it from happening again, only to turn well-being into a tedious task.
So, I decided to change my perspective and asked: If well-being was a way of life, what would I be paying attention to instead?
Here are 5 often-overlooked aspects I've learned to be central to the wellbeing conversation:
Run a Values Check: Periodically, step back and observe your life. Is there coherence between your actions and what truly matters to you? Many of our values are deeply integrated in us since childhood and have influenced many of the decisions we’ve taken over time. However, values can shift too as we gain life experience and our identities evolve - some values may no longer be serving us; and we may need to integrate new ones as well. Values can shift, and reassessing them can provide a stronger sense of purpose and connection to our life.
Own Your Time: How many times have you looked at your calendar and felt like it’s owned by someone else and you are simply following through? While we can’t be 100% in control of all of our time, the more important consideration is - how is your time spent? If you take a step back and review your schedule for the last (or next) 4 weeks, is there time allocated to activities that are important to you, bring you joy, and allow you to recover from stress? Or have they been parked until your next vacation? I found Dorie Clark’s exploration of “time oasis” really helpful in helping me integrate more moments of joy and respite in my day-to-day, giving me more agency and control over my days overall.
Understand Your Energy Patterns: One of the things I’ve come to appreciate and pay more attention to is that while time is a finite resource, our energy isn’t. And with enough awareness, we can do more with our time and feel more productive if we managed our energy in a smart way. A simple way to start this reflection is to list down energy-giving activities and energy-draining activities that we engage in regularly. Already noticing the balance (or lack thereof) between both can open up opportunities to explore how we can do more things that energize us and eliminate (or minimize) those that don’t. A practical way to start this reflection is to explore this worksheet from Dave Evans’ and Bill Burnett’s book “Designing Your Life”.
Listen to Your Emotions: Among these five strategies, this one is the hardest one for me to face; yet is also my favorite one. I have found that being honest and connected about how I am feeling (particularly the unpleasant emotions) provides me with a lot of good information about my thought patterns, boundaries and self-worth. When I feel frustrated, I know it’s because my expectations are not being met. When I am overcome with anger, I know it’s because something important to me has been buried for too long. One of the emotions I’ve learned most about over the last year is resentment, with thanks to Cait Donovan who offers us a helpful perspective on what this emotion might be telling us about our boundaries.
What emotion would you want to explore more deeply and what lesson might it be teaching you?
Take Stock of Your Relationships: Approaching the big 40, I've reflected a lot on my relationships, expressing gratitude for new ones and acknowledging those that have weakened over time. And, while hard to admit, being honest about those that don't have a positive place in our lives. Evaluating our relationships, not just the time spent, but the quality of these interactions can help us be more intentional about the role each of them plays in our life and deciding which ones to invest in and which to let go of.
Which of these five are you most curious to explore?
Starting with one can create a ripple effect on others as you might discover over time. The key is reconnecting with day-to-day realities, knowing that the opportunities to keep our wellbeing optimal often are in our own hands; and making wellbeing an intentional way of living, rather than a daunting task or resolution to achieve.