Word of the year 2023: Recovery

They say that for every decision we take, there lies an alternate universe where we decide differently. I don’t know if that is true but I do know that every decision comes with consequences. And as Emily learnt in Season 3, not taking a decision is also a decision. 2020, 21 and 22 were three years where governments, organizations and individuals were pushed to make a series of decisions. I am not going to speak for governments and organizations but I can speak for one individual – myself. Over the past two years, I found myself going ‘more with the flow’ which sometimes led to being ‘less disciplined’. I met a few of my goals but missed lots more. Come 2023, I need to ‘recover’ from my decisions. Something needs to change. But there is a bigger reason why I chose the word ‘recovery’ as my word of the year.

To imagine that there is even one individual who has not been through any kind of trauma the past three years is sheer naivety. Yes, I know trauma is a strong word but scale it down by a hundred and it is still stressful, leaves one exhausted, and needs attention. As human beings, we are primed to seek certainty and predictability in our schedules. We like having control over our environment and not having control creates stress and anxiety – no matter how resilient, agile or strong you believe yourself to be. There is a reason why mental health shot up as everyone’s top priority aside from safety and that reason is exactly why this needs to be the year focused on recovery.

I do not expect the world to become a lot more certain in 2023 but I can do a lot that I wasn’t previously doing to help recover. Here are a few:

  1. Establish routines: it helps give a sense of certainty, predictability and control in an otherwise chaotic world. I lost my familiar routines on moving to Dublin and despite trying a few times have failed to establish one I could stick to. Maybe I never tried hard enough in the first place or was trying to jump from no routine straight into a perfect one. So, I am going to start but start small. It could be as tiny as waking up, sitting on the couch for ten minutes as I drink my tea. I’ll then slowly build on it till I get to a place where I can call it a full routine.
  2. One thing a day: Do one thing post work every single day that helps me unwind. This will look different on different days but will include simple activities like cooking myself an easy dinner, reading or knitting. I don’t know how to knit but something in the predictable repeated motion has drawn me to it and is an activity I hope to pick up in 2023. I want this activity to be something that helps me disengage from work but also adds some meaning to the day. Let’s hope I can keep up.
  3. Exercise: I can’t exercise yet. I am still trying to get myself out of bed every morning but as much as I hate exercise I know it’s a magic pill; will build immunity and prevent me from falling as sick as I did. It also helps with focus, energy, mood and an endless number of things. Thus, it’s on my list.
  4. Get counseling support: There – I said it. Regular life is hard enough and if I can find help to get through it, why not? Every sane friend I have has counseling support and the more I hear about it, the more I believe I need it. Also, we need to normalize it. I debated for a while if I should put this up here. Would my readers think I’ve gone cuckoo? But if I can’t normalize it, then how do I even pretend that I want the world to normalize getting mental health support. So, there you go, I am making a call this week and signing up for regular counseling. Exercise will keep my body fit and counseling, my mind.
  5. Disappear: Every weekend for a period of two hours, I intend to disappear off the grid. I want two hours where no one knows where I am and I just walk around town in unknown places, listening to music, a podcast or in silence. It’s my time away from any kind of responsibility or obligation. I do not know yet if it will work but it is an idea that’s been on my mind for a while and maybe this is the year I try it. And I may just disappear off social media, email for all of Sunday. Who knows? We’ll find out.

I believe what is true for me, also holds true for our workspaces. On HR Bandit (my podcast – go listen if you haven’t yet), I referred to trauma-informed workspaces on the Predicting 2022 episode. This needs to be a trend in 2023! Never before has trauma-informed care been so important to promote the health and wellbeing of all. While organizations may not be equipped to provide certainty yet, they can definitely help employees deal with uncertainty better.

My hope from organizations is two-folds:

  • Design for a post-traumatic context: How would you design your workspace if every employee was recovering from collective trauma. Would you continue to operate in a ‘stay strong and push through’ mode or would you begin to accommodate different approaches, allow for fractures and work on easing the environment to be a lot more light-hearted and joyful vs serious and stern. I’ve pushed the concept of viewing work as a game for a very long time and I hope to see it materialize someday while I am still in the workforce; but games are the best example I know where players stay voluntarily engaged for long periods of time, work as strong teams to achieve a goal and yet maintain a certain light-heartedness through it all. I am yet to see playing a game give someone stress and cause a mental breakdown, though if you look hard enough I am sure you’ll find an example of that too. But the point is – I hope in 2023, organizations maintain a state of hyper-vigilant focus on mental well-being and design for a post traumatic context which includes emphasis on empathetic communication when not able to provide employees with any certainty or control over the environment.
  • Move from reactive mental well-being to proactive mental well-being: A lot of what organizations have in place today as mental well-being programs are reactive. We have mental well-being resources, Employee Assistance Programs, time-off for mental health – these are all interventions to care for the mind once it’s already stressed. Even leading with empathy can be considered reactive in cases. A more interesting questions is – which practices in the organization could be pushing employees to seek well-being assistance? Are we asking employees to do too much? Do they have the right resources to do what we’re asking them to do? Is the environment psychologically safe for them to call out being overworked or under supported? Are we extremely focused on short term profit and headcount numbers to be unable to predict the long term impact of burnout? It is only when we begin to start answering these questions, that we move to a place of being proactive. Vimeo for example adopted a mantra of ‘Do Less, Better’ to help their employees thrive. It isn’t a new concept but something organizations struggle with.

Even athletes indulge in period of recovery in order to race ahead. 2023 is not my year of racing ahead. It’s been referred to in many ways – the hangover year, the year of calm, or the year of recovery. I strongly believe that for me, it is a year of recovery and building a strong foundation to turn 2024 into a winning year. If 2023 looks different for you, I am glad. If not, join me as I work through my year of recovery.

P.S: I just added My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh into my cart. Let me know if you’ve read this.

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