Luisa: 'She's the strong one' (Encanto series)
Mental Health and Wellbeing in 'Encanto'
It might not seem so at first sight, but the Disney movie ‘Encanto’ can become a very useful tool when it comes to Mental Health and Wellbeing Training.
The main characters all have some specificities that make them relevant as examples of Mental Health Challenges we might be facing at some point or another in our lives – Remember, Mental Health is a spectrum, we all go back and forth between Mental Health issues or challenges and overall mental health and wellbeing, overtime.
In this 'Encanto' series, we use the Mental Health spectrum to assess the Mental Health and Wellbeing characteristics of some of the characters in Encanto: Mirabel, Luisa and Isabella. And before I start, yes, I did cry watching Encanto, and definitely identify with some of the character traits!
Luisa: 'She's the strong one'
Like her sister Mirabel, Luisa is very good at pretending! She is carrying the load of everybody in the Encanto village, literally moving churches and bridges with her own strength.
Mirabel notices that Luisa’s eyelid started twitching, a crack on the surface of her physical strength, which can give us some insights into Stress Management and Stress Awareness.
1. Spotting the signs of stress is often easier in others than in ourselves
And this is particularly true in the case of burnout. Hence the importance of looking out for each other and creating a culture of openness! Mirabel confronts her sister Luisa, which is what triggers the song ‘Surface Pressure’, and for Luisa to talk about her worries and current challenges.
“I don't ask how hard the work is Got a rough, indestructible surface (…) but Under the surface I feel berserk as a tightrope walker in a three-ring circus” (‘Surface Pressure’, Jessica Darrow)
2. Our burden is heavy
Luisa’s gift is an interesting metaphor: she is physically carrying what other people can’t carry, she is carrying everybody’s burdens. Isn’t it what we all do sometimes, carrying the burden of everybody else’s and forgetting to look after ourselves? Juggling with all the different hats we have (parent, professional, carer, …) without considering our own needs? Yet we can’t pour from an empty cup, it is essential to fill up our cup first, and for this, to be aware of what works for us and our own wellbeing. What are the activities that make you relax or smile or disconnect from worries? Whatever crossed your mind here, that’s a start!
Side note: I’ve had discussions about these challenges with many attendees of the Reset Days we designed and organised for Leeds Teaching Hospitals. Carers, remember that selfcare is not selfish, remember to fill up your cup first!
3. Asking for help is ok
Very often, we can’t do things with our own strength, yet we try and keep trying.
“I'm the strong one I'm not nervous I'm as tough as the crust of the earth is” (‘Surface Pressure’, Jessica Darrow)
But hey, it’s ok to ask for help, same as it’s ok to not feel ok! It’s ok to feel overwhelmed sometimes and to realise our own limits.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, if anything, it is a sign of wisdom.
4. Luisa displays clear signs of someone who is about to burn out
*Exhaustion under pressure
“It's pressure like a drip, drip, drip, that'll never stop, whoa
Pressure that'll tip, tip, tip 'til you just go pop, whoa-uh-uh”
Surface Pressure (Jessica Darrow)
Luisa seems to be exhausted mentally, emotionally, and physically. She has been carrying the burden of the whole house and Encanto village and seems to be finding it harder and harder to keep going with the workload and expectations.
*Purpose versus Wellbeing
Yet working and helping others is her purpose! And this is often when burnout happens: when there is a discrepancy between the commitment to work and the rewards or recognition; when our levels of exhaustion and fatigue are not considered because our purpose is seen as more important; when we forget about our own needs and wellbeing because we work for the greater good.
The weight of expectations is very heavy, and in Luisa’s mind, there seem to be no place for rest, no place to recharge or reset. She thinks that she must keep going and can’t stop, like in a hamster wheel. This is often the case prior to burnout. People who experience burnout often have high responsibilities and think that the wheel of work, of the organisation they work for, will stop turning if they stop running, even though they’re exhausted and can’t run any longer.
“If I could shake the crushing weight
Of expectations would that free some room up for joy?
Or relaxation? Or simple pleasure?”
(‘Surface Pressure’, Jessica Darrow)
*Our work as our Identity
Luisa seems to be finding it hard to embrace her identity if she is not ‘doing’ what she is supposed to do (in her case, to be of service and carry other people’s burden).
“Under the surface I'm prеtty sure I'm worthless if I can't be of sеrvice (…) Who am I if I can't carry it all? If I falter” Surface Pressure (Jessica Darrow)
What does it tell us in terms of identity? What does it mean to find it hard to stop working because we don’t know who we are outside of work? In the podcast episode ‘Burnout and How to Avoid it’ (Episode of The Happiness Lab by Dr. Laurie Santos, Feb 2022), Dr. Laurie Santos interviews Jonathan Malesic, author of ‘The End of Burnout: Why Work Drains Us and How to Build Better Lives’. One concept particularly stuck with me while listening to this episode: your identity is not your work. The first step to fighting burnout on a big scale is to get rid of the concept that identity equals work.
“You are not your work, you have dignity before you even work”
We are not our job descriptions! It’s important to explore our whole selves too, all our different hats, yet it is very easy to fall into the trap of constant working, particularly with new technologies, the ‘always-on’ culture, and the lack of boundaries of working from home. Healthy boundaries are essential, and so are various hats.
“I think it's time you learn
You're more than just your gift”
(‘All Of You’)
For more information on burnout, here is a blog article on burnout you might find of interest. And remember, no guilt:
“The causes of burnout are not just in you. The causes of burnout are in a culture where we get our ideals for work, and we grow up with these from an early age”
(Jonathan Malesic, ‘The End of Burnout: Why Work Drains Us and How to Build Better Lives’)
Now, another cause of burnout is our strive for Perfection. So what about Perfection? The next blog article from this series is going to be on Isabella, the perfect one. What might her Mental and Emotional challenges be?