It’s no secret that people shy away from taking time off to address mental health needs or concerns. Whether you’re suffering from an illness or feeling overworked or overwhelmed, sometimes you just need a mental health break from work. With statistics showing that 1 in 4 adults has a diagnosable mental health disorder, focusing on your well-being, including your mental health at work, is more important than ever.
Workplace well-being isn’t just about your physical health; it’s much more holistic. Whole-person well-being goes beyond physical health, nutrition and exercise – it’s your physical, emotional, financial and work well-being. We know that chronic stress can lead to depression and toxic workplaces can damage your mental well-being.
When to take a mental health break from work
Before you push yourself to the edge of burning out, here are five signs it’s time to take a mental health break:
- You can’t focus.
- Your relationships are suffering.
- You’re showing physical signs of stress.
- Your self-care no longer exists.
- You’re running on empty.
Here’s more about each sign, plus five tips you can use to recharge your mental health at work:
1. You can’t focus
When your mind is on overdrive, the wheels are spinning so fast you lose sight of the big picture. And this ultimately leads to serious amounts of stress, plus health risks. According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “stress plays an important role in several types of chronic health problems – especially cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, and psychological disorders.” And it doesn’t only impact employees – it impacts the company, too. The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine states: “Health care expenditures are nearly 50 percent greater for workers who report high levels of stress.”
What you can do: When you have too much on your plate, don’t hesitate to ask for help. It’s great to be a team player and push yourself to achieve high levels of productivity, but once your health is at risk it’s time to take a step back. Limit your distractions, prioritize your work and step away from your desk to collect your thoughts. Set realistic boundaries for yourself so you don’t over-commit and end up overwhelmed.
2. Your relationships are suffering
What happens in one part of your life impacts all other parts. In other words, what happens in your professional life impacts your personal life, and vice versa. When your family, friends and social life take a back seat to your work, you might find yourself feeling a little empty. When workload increases, burnout risk can rise. And while burnout can show up in employees as exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy, it can also be linked to loneliness. A new study by health insurer Cigna found that nearly half of all Americans feel lonely. Long work hours can put stress on personal relationships and responsibilities, and both your work and your relationships will suffer. Social connection is part of being human, and it’s one way to prevent employee burnout. The benefits of these connections for your overall well-being shouldn’t be overlooked, as loneliness from social isolation or exhaustion can have serious consequences.
What you can do: Consider your work and family responsibilities. Have you missed basketball games, birthday parties or family dinners to stay late at the office or wrap up a big project? When you’re too busy to be a part of your own life, take a break and give yourself the chance to catch up. Practice being present, stick to your commitments and hold yourself accountable.
3. You’re showing physical signs of stress
Long hours at work can actually hurt your body. While the short-term benefits of working overtime can be great and even at times beneficial to both your professional and personal life, the long-term effects of long work hours are much more than just fatigue. The American Psychological Association has found that “job strain – high demands coupled with low decision-making latitude – is associated with increased risk of coronary disease.” Once stress starts to not only mentally, but physically show on your body, it’s time to take a break.
What you can do: Start by acknowledging your cause of stress. Is it your workload? Your manager? Or maybe it’s a specific task that has you feeling overwhelmed. Once you address the problem, write it down. Come back the next day with an action plan that is attainable to support your mental health in the workplace. Tackle the issue one step at a time – sometimes the smallest of wins can make the biggest difference.
4. Your self-care no longer exists
Self-care is vital for all people – and especially for professionals who take care of others. Caregivers are putting work demands, patients and family first – at the cost of their own self-care. In fact, more than 50 percent of physicians experience symptoms of burnout. When you begin to skip lunches, doctor appointments or your workout classes, neglecting yourself becomes the norm – and your health takes a hit.
What you can do: Get yourself in the routine of putting yourself first. Whether it’s taking an extra 10 minutes in the morning to meditate or booking your workout classes ahead of time to keep yourself accountable, when you stick to a routine, it becomes more natural and you’re more likely to follow through.
5. You’re running on empty
Lack of sleep and poor nutrition are two of the most obvious, yet neglected signs that it’s time to take a mental health break. Not only is your physical energy diminished, your emotional energy and intelligence are also impacted. How do you expect to perform your best when you haven’t properly fueled your mind and body? Good sleep is essential to good health, and when you’re well-rested, you’re more likely to feel more focused, energized and ready to take on the day.
What you can do: Pause – and take a breather. When endless thoughts, anxieties or work responsibilities are weighing you down, take the pressure off your shoulders. Put the task at hand on hold and put your mental and physical health first. Whether that means going for a walk or getting a good night’s sleep – take that time to refresh and recharge so you can tackle what’s ahead with a clear mind and strengthened body.
Before you can meet your deadlines, responsibilities and obligations, you have to keep your mental well-being and physical health in check. When you’re on the road to burnout, recognize the signs that it might be time for a mental health break from work – and take action. Everyone will benefit.