Mental Health and Burnout [continued]: Journaling and the Power of Cognitive Reframe

Last week, we dove into a slightly different topic when it comes to mental health: the topic of burnout, and its impacts on teenagers as well as on working adults such as [assumedly] you.

To reiterate what burnout is, according to the Mayo Clinic: burnout is "a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity", and it brings with it a number of serious symptoms, namely:

  • Withdrawing from responsibilities.

  • Isolating oneself from others.

  • Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done.

  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope.

  • Taking out your frustrations on others.

  • Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early

Last week, we discussed the first three signs of burnout, so today I want to focus on the last three, and - again - suggest some ways to combat burnout, or possibly even avoid it all together.

Let's dig right in, shall we?

COPING MECHANISMS

I've come to the realization over recent years that we, as a Western society, have glamorized the grind in a way that can be incredibly unhealthy, and even dangerous. We so glorify the concept of "doing it alone", or "being self-made" that we forget how isolating and lonely that can be. No one is an island. Humans are social creatures, and - as such - we are built to live and thrive in group environments... so when we spend our 40 - 70hour work weeks in the trenches with merely our own determination, will and grit to keep us company: it's really easy to find friendship with the black dog.

So in a bid to fill that void: we turn to "social activities" to get us out of our own stress, and into the throes of socialization. Suddenly, all of our social encounters center around restaurants, bars, or bathroom stalls.

If you had told me that a couple of years ago, the likelihood is I would have responded with "well, that escalated quickly", but I've seen it so often. Especially as a musician [which I claim is basically the slightly more creative version of an anthropologist] - and especially in a post-COVID world.

People come out to try and connect with one another again... but because we're still trying to acclimate to socializing, especially after being forced to spend so much time alone: it's easy to hit a wall. Whether it's nerves, a desire to be liked, self-confidence issues... many people turn to food to break the ice [it's hard to judge someone too harshly, or speak out of turn with a mouth full of food].

If that doesn't do the trick: we add alcohol into the mix. Call it Dutch courage, or simply an easy distraction: afterwork drinks have always been prevalent in helping people feel more connected to each other.

But what if that connection was abruptly interrupted in March, 2020 - over two and a half years ago? What if alcohol just isn't enough to help people feel reconnected again? Again, I've seen this time and time again during my performances. People look uncomfortable as they try to assimilate to their environment, but after disappearing for 30minutes or so in the bathrooms... emerge completely different people.

It's so easy to use food, alcohol or recreational drugs [legal or not] to try to fill the void of not just trying to connect with others, but even to simply find the confidence to show up and be present for yourself. It's so easy to hide our thoughts and feelings behind substances so that we don't have to feel so exposed as we continue to try to put the pieces back together that we lost in 2020.

But what if we were able to look at, and fix the root cause of our lower-than-usual connectedness and self esteem, as opposed to simply focus on the symptoms [the eating out, excessive drinking, and drug use]?

THEN THERE'S THE TOPIC OF FRUSTRATION

The Oxford dictionary defines frustration as feeling "upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something."

Uhhh, sounds kind of relatable - again, given the tumultuous rollercoaster of the past several years. Even pre-COVID, so many of us could easily be tipped if we had a bad day, if we didn't get the recognition we felt we deserved, or if we had a negative interaction with one of our co-workers or family members.

Yep. Frustration is something that is difficult to avoid. However: when it comes to the topic of burnout: frustration is often a side effect that comes far too easily. When you're exhausted, overwhelmed with conflicting or negative emotions, or when your thoughts and feelings seem to be on a rollercoaster ride of their own... frustration is an easy conclusion.

But what if there was a way to not just prevent the frustration, but also create something powerful as a result of the overwhelm and stress?

SKIPPING WORK, COMING IN LATE, OR LEAVING EARLY

It's easy to look at these symptoms of burnout as issues that are easily explainable. Who doesn't need a mental health day every now and then? Who hasn't slept through the alarm clock, or needed to leave work or work-related events early due to other commitments, or last minute emergencies?

But there's a significant issue when the reason for checking out early is due to stress, frustration, overwhelm and/or burnout. Whether you're skipping work due to lack of inspiration to stay engaged, or simply a lack of emotional investment: skipping work or being tardy is a classic avoidance tactic that often contributes even further to the stress: as it can lead to getting fired, or feelings of failure, or not fulfilling one's potential.

So how can someone feel inspired to fulfill work obligations again?

My approach to youth work, teaching and coaching has always been slightly different to the average Western approach. The reason why is because in Tikanga Maori, which are the philosophies through which I both study and teach under; one of the biggest principles that I personally learned: is around the topic of using where you are, and what you've experienced as a superpower [a combination of whakapapa, rangatiratanga and mauri] .

In other words, my experience with losing an a father and surrogate brother to health complications, an ex-partner to suicide, and a surrogate father to substance abuse led me to recognizing and using empathy, compassion and love as my superpowers, which means that I'm able to connect with people on a different level than those who haven't necessarily experienced the same levels of loss.

My experience with having hydrocephalus and the subsequent brain surgeries led me to not taking life for granted, and having a slightly different perspective on what it means to live - meaning that I'm potentially able to identify with those who have struggled with medical trauma or health difficulties differently.

What has this got to do with burnout, and mental health?

Because, as I alluded to earlier, I have come to the conclusion that we live in a world that is far too focused on treating symptoms, as opposed to the root cause of our issues. As a result, unfortunately, we often forget the real reasons why we feel we the way we do, which - of course - makes it virtually impossible to figure out how to change our responses and emotional or physical reactions to events or things that might trigger us.

INTRODUCING JOURNALING

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling is "simply writing down your thoughts and feelings to understand them more clearly. And if you struggle with stress, depression, or anxiety, keeping a journal can be a great idea. It can help you gain control of your emotions and improve your mental health". And there are multiple mental health benefits of journaling. Journaling can help:

  • Manage anxiety

  • Reduce stress

  • Cope with depression

  • Encourages self confidence

  • Boosts emotional intelligence

  • Helps with achieving goals

  • Inspires creativity

  • Boosts memory

  • Enhances critical thinking skills

  • Increases academic success

  • Helps with finding the right words for self expression

But what if we could take journaling for mental health one step further?

What if there was a way to embrace the positive mental health benefits of journaling, and accelerate the mental and emotional well being in general for not just you and me, but for your teenagers?

Okay, yes. The term "word vomit" is not the most elegant of terms, and may have been born from the meme-sational film "Mean Girls", but in a Millennial and Gen-Z world: the concept of journaling [for mental health, especially] is just not as sexy as it used to be considered.

Which is why, when I first started YES Youth Coaching in 2019, I immediately turned towards the term "word vomit" as a way to encourage young people to have fun with expressive writing. Super confidential, without needing to worry about spelling... word vomit is simply a secret journaling tool that first allows everyone - teenagers, parents, employees and employers alike - to get out of their heads and on to paper all the frustrations, fears, doubts, conflicting thoughts and feelings out on to paper.

But it's not just regular journaling. Because, while everyone can write in your journal: we live in a fast-paced, social-media driven world. The simple act of writing quite often gets thought of as a waste of time. We need to create an event or an activity from journaling. But how?

We add music.

By listening to instrumental music: classical, jazz, or - my personal favorite - a genre called "wholetones", the journal-writers brain suddenly lights up in ways that silence can't offer.

Call it alignment, meditation, or calibration: music offers the activity of journaling the opportunity to really tap into parts of the brain, memory, emotions and thoughts that start to bring the root cause of burnout, stress and frustration to the forefront of thought.

Just three to five minutes of word vomit, and suddenly the person who's journaling will start to see themes, concepts and feelings on paper that they themselves might not have even known were there.

I discussed this a little bit in my TEDx Talk recently, but really saw this in February of 2021 when I wrote a song a day for 30 days straight. From every word vomit exercise, I found myself tapping into parts of my emotional and mental health that I had never consciously knew even existed.

But writing songs about these experiences, feelings and thoughts allowed me [and my brain] to venture into new and wonderful areas of my conscious and subconscious that every day journaling simply hadn't achieved.

It was from this exercise that I found myself tackling issues around

Yes, journaling can be a fantastic tool - especially for mental health, but if we took the expressive writing aspects and added music, melody and beat... we can activate even more parts of ourselves that so often get overlooked when it comes to our well being in general.

Music truly is not just the voice of the soul, but the medicine as well.

And I'd love to not just share more of my story with you and/or your company or organization at your upcoming conference or team-building event, but facilitate a workshop with you to help you learn how to journal effectively, and use that word vomit exercise to write empowering, healing theme songs to get you back on track - especially after burnout.

After all: if we live in a world that is constantly telling us who to be, how to act, and what roles we need to play: it's easy to lose ourselves.

It is my hope and prayer to remind you that YOU have the pen in your hand.

If you want to start rewriting that narrative, and writing your theme songs of resilience, overcoming and being a JEDI [Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion], click here to book a call with me and let's talk about how Empowerment through Songwriting might be the solution for you.

I can't wait to speak with you soon.

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