2023 doesn’t seem to have the same refreshing feel as new years are supposed to. You’re not alone if you’re not feeling that January burst of energy this week. There are plenty of reasons why a bit of fatigue, sadness, even burnout, have hung around into this new year, depending on what your life looked like in 2022, and previously.
There are also some universal elements of the human experience in 2022, and really the 2020s thus far, that are kind to keep in mind. We have collectively gone through massive trauma and loss, in the form of Covid-19 and a number of other related and unrelated global events, including economic hardship, job insecurity, land war in Europe, extreme and deadly weather, and now the ‘tripledemic’ further challenging our health.
Since these events have played out continuously since the onset of the initial pandemic in March 2020, we have not processed the stress, fatigue, and grief of this brutal series of experiences. We’re also, particularly as Americans, not very good at looking head-on at loss, or dealing with grief in a direct, healthy way.
As a result, it’s no surprise at all to hear people in a wide range of positions, life stages, and geographies, comment that ringing in 2023 hasn’t yet brought that breath of fresh air that we expect from January. Indeed, the uncertainty, disaster, unwellness, and challenge continue apace in a variety of ways for all of us.
There are also all kinds of planetary and interstellar factors dampening any new beginning energy. This article is focused on ways to reclaim that reset, but read more here about the astrological forces at work right now if you’re interested.
Our Best Is Needed Now More Than Ever
We need that refreshed energy, creativity, and hope now more than ever to have a chance of overcoming the ongoing challenges, uncertainty, and setbacks we continue to face. Specifically, we have no choice but to stay diligent about protecting our own physical and mental health. The latest pandemic is one of mental health. The World Health Organization estimated a 25% increase in anxiety and depression worldwide since March 2020.
And RSV and seasonal flu have joined evolving variants of Covid-19 to threaten our pulmonary health.
We also need to be at our best for our families and our teams. Kids have been through the wringer with all kinds of school setups, lost opportunities for learning and socialization, and unavoidable fear, drama, and tragedy leaking into their day-to-day lives via casual conversations and media.
Our teams are figuring out all new ways of doing – in many cases – new forms of our businesses. The upheaval within and between industries means that there’s not a playbook for much of our days, regardless our level, function, or sector. And so we each have to show up with compassion, flexibility, and creativity to help each other get through the day, much less guide our businesses to success.
Finally, the world needs us at our best. Now that we’re a global population of 8 billion, we only have to address our 1/8,000,000,000th of global problems. But the problems are complex, interconnected, and existential. So whether your piece is related to war, climate, a growing wealth gap, access to health and wellbeing, unsustainable wage inequity, mental health crisis, the food shortage and resulting food insecurity, or something else, it’s important that you’re doing something to contribute to the solution on a daily basis.
This call to perform at our best, in service of our Me, We, and World dimensions, is not meant as a guilt trip. Rising to the challenge of contributing in our unique way is exactly what provides us with the comfort and inspiration we’re seeking. But we need a reset to get there.
Look To Nature
The best antidote for the fatigue and burnout that is hanging on so tight from the experience of recent years, is to be in nature. Nature in any form, from clouds you see out your window to a millennia old forest, is the longest standing example of dynamic resilience.
Furthermore, it’s universal. And in an age as argumentative as ours, how powerful to turn to a source that is common to all.
McKinsey recently published a piece pointing out the ways that being in nature “helps with attention span, creativity, well-being, and happiness”. They highlight a study by Stephen and Rachel Kaplan done for the US Forest Service, which generated the Attention Restoration Theory, that nature can remedy mental fatigue that results from overstraining our ability to focus on a specific stimulus or task. Does ‘mental fatigue’ resonate with you?
In case it does, take note of the Kaplans’ findings, or pass them on for a friend who might be afflicted by ‘mental fatigue’: by getting outside, we actually help our brain process information more effectively.
The behavioral observation about improved processing is coherent with neuroscience research about brains in nature too. Our brains emit alpha waves when exposed to nature, which are the language of the parasympathetic nervous system, and its calm, creative states of mind. (Receiving and responding to stimuli like emails, texts, phone calls, and meetings, on the other hand, put our brain in beta, with higher frequency waves that lead to ‘busy, active mind’.)
This brain calming effect isn’t the first powerful idea to come from nature. Look into the derivation of Velcro or bullet trains, if you’re curious for more. Biomimicry is the study of lessons to be learned from naturally occurring flora, fauna, and their ways of being.
Well – if you are one of those people who’s feeling some mental fatigue, or think a colleague, friend, or family member might be, or if a calm, creative mind would be more helpful to you than a busy mind for some of your goals this year, then get outside.
Even looking at the sky or water – the real versions, not a screensaver or video – can provide some of the benefits of being in nature. But ideally, you will go outside, in an urban greenspace, under a single tree planted in the sidewalk, or in one of our hundreds of National Parks in the US, and hundreds more globally. There are plenty of specific suggestions for leaders, teams, and organizations in this recent McKinsey article by Aberkyn leaders who specialize in this work.
And if you need the full immersion treatment, check out a nature-based retreat, in your local area or far afield. Access to nature is free, so any effect you get will offer an exponential return. Do it for your brain.