I knew I was working too hard, but the overachiever in me, the perfectionist in me, kept going, kept pushing through, until, one afternoon, I broke. I shut down completely. If I had recognized the warning signs earlier, my meltdown might not have become so severe. If I had just recognized the warning signs earlier, then it might not have taken extended Mental Health Days to recover.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that only 17% of the U.S. population is functioning at optimal mental health. I can tell you I am not one of the 17%, and, if you’re reading this, I would kindly suspect you might not be either.
As a former runner, I could always tell if I was overtraining and not giving my body enough rest because I would have a drop in my performance; I would experience high anxiety; my resting heart rate would increase, and I would be drained of energy. These signs and symptoms made running and the enjoyment of it impossible. Was it not wise then for me to take some time for my body to recover so that I could later run at my peak again? Would I be considered a weak runner if I rested? Of course not.
If you had the flu, would you not stay home from work and take care of yourself, nurture yourself with chicken soup, a heating pad, and Netflix until you were feeling better? No one would call you “weak” for taking time to recover.
Why not treat your mental health the same way when it needs repair?
How to know if you need a mental health break.
The following are classic symptoms of burnout that I also experienced recently that led to my shutdown and subsequent mental health break.
Last week I wrote in this post how for several days I wasn’t feeling my best. Looking back on it, I realize I had stressed myself so much in trying to meet my own high expectations that I ignored the earaches, sore throats, headaches, and frequent upset stomach. When I couldn’t push myself anymore, I realized my physical symptoms were an indicator that I was “running” myself too hard and that my body couldn’t tolerate the emotional strain. It was the first sign I needed a break.
2. Poor concentration
Another clue that I needed a mental health break was feeling empty-headed. I couldn’t focus or think clearly. My thinking was muddy, confused and foggy. Even though I wanted to continue to write and work on my blog, my mind refused to concentrate on anything I put before it.
3. Poor quality of sleep
Do you find yourself having trouble falling asleep? Do you toss and turn, or wake up often in the night?
I found I was having trouble falling asleep, even with medication that would normally give me a good eight hours of rest; however, despite pushing myself to exhaustion, I had difficulty falling and staying asleep.
4. Low Mood
I felt depressed for no conceivable reason. I would sit down to work and get the blahs. Self-care did little to help. Nothing worked to lift my spirit, and every time I sat down to write, I would get the blues.
5. Lack of productivity
I couldn’t return email or read and comment on other’s blogs. The enjoyment of writing had left me, and I could only stare frustratingly at a blank computer screen. I had difficulty meeting my blogging goals. My writing turned into dry, dead words that held no emotion, feeling, or resonance. I wasn’t producing quality content, and, worst of all, my writing became subpar.
6. Disengaged with life and pleasurable activities
As a blogger, I spend much of my time in front of the computer or on my mobile devices. There is nothing as effective as staring at a computer screen to disengage you from the real world and the people in it. I neglected friends and family and seldom, if at all, returned messages.
Anxiety can breed anxiety. Because I was already anxious, I became more anxious about how to deal with my anxiety. I had a pit in my stomach that reignited my generalized anxiety disorder and made me cluelessly nervous as if something bad was going to happen. I became fearful about interacting with others on social media. The anxiety was turning me into someone I wasn’t.
8. Anger or Irritability
I’m generally not an angry person, but I did find myself being short with my husband Daniel and telling him to leave me alone until I finished my work. This was out of character for me. On reflection, the stress I put myself under made me cranky and ornery.
As a result of these symptoms combined, a meltdown ensued.
Why you need a mental health day.
A mental and emotional rest may be necessary for you to recoup from a possibly stressful life. If you take care to give yourself proper physical and mental rest, you can actually increase mood, energy, motivation, and, in the end, make yourself more productive.
What should you do on your mental health day?
So if you are thinking a mental health day might be in order, it is important to brainstorm ideas that will recharge your batteries instead of just putting a band-aid on your symptoms.
Try to identify the reason(s) you are having trouble coping? This will be helpful in addressing the actual problem.
For example, a Netflix binge is not going to address the fact that your body is running on 3 hours of sleep or that you are anxious. As soon as you stop watching t.v., you will be just as anxious as before since your distraction is gone and you are no better rested.
Perhaps you are feeling depressed and you take a mental health day and spend it all day in bed. That is probably not the wisest idea because being unproductive and languishing in bed can exacerbate depression.
Think in terms of how the mental health day will affect you. How can you make the most of your mental health day?
Your mind and emotions need to rest and recharge. You aren’t the Energizer bunny. You can’t keep going and going and going. A mental health day should refresh your perspective and allow your mind and body to rest.
Consider spending your mental health day engaging in a physical activity like yoga or some other form of rejuvenating exercise. Spend time on fun hobbies, leisure pursuits, consuming a nutritious diet, getting sufficient sleep, and spending time with your social supports (like close friends and family). Minimize or even eliminate the use of substances that deplete your body by avoiding alcohol and drug use.
The website Odyssey has a list of 56 phenomenal things you can do to de-stress and leave you feeling refreshed and ready to take on the next day.
Lastly, think of some adjustments you might need to make in your life or your thinking. For example, I continually have to work on moderating my perfectionistic thinking so that I won’t keep pushing myself toward exhaustion, only to have a meltdown again. What are some areas in your life you can change to take better care of your mental health? By being aware of your triggers and stressors and adjusting your thinking as to how you will react, you will be in a much better position to keep yourself refreshed, positive, focused, and productive.
I would love to hear from you!
What do you do when you need a mental health break?