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How to master a mental break

Photo by: Andrea Piacquadio

In a perfect world, our daily life would allow us to avoid getting to a point where we desperately need a break. If we prioritise productivity over our mental health it can lead to burn-out, stress, and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Life can get stressful, whether it’s work, school, any type of personal responsibility, it’s important to allow ourselves time to recentre and get back on track. Chronic feelings of stress can have negative effects on your overall well-being. Taking a break can help you relax, and let your brain and body manage everyday life better. Bethany Cook, a licensed clinical psychologist argues that mental breaks have a purpose, “It’s a conscious effort to channel your mind’s focus on something which provides stress relief.” Taking a break is not the same as procrastinating or avoiding responsibility, it’s taking care of yourself so that you can feel your best.

By tuning into how you feel, both physically and mentally, and learning to watch out for signs of burn-out, such as decreased motivation, exhaustion, and negative self-talk, you can prevent them from getting worse — making time for yourself to feel more refreshed. But how do you take a mental break? Sometimes it’s clear, if you’re exhausted your body will ask for rest, or if work is getting monotonous you might need to participate in a fun activity. However, when we are overwhelmed, it can be difficult to even know what we need. This is why we have to take time to reflect, and ask ourselves what would we benefit the most from.

Do you need to relax? Chronic or high levels of anxiety and stress cause the body to release a variety of hormones involved in the flight or fight response. When the body relaxes, it enters the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) state, which promotes recovery. We can activate the PSNS state in a variety of ways. For example, spending time in nature. There’s extensive research showing that green spaces have a great amount of therapeutic effects on our well-being. I personally enjoy walking in my local park, with a book and some form of snack (I don’t always read the book, but the intention is just as good). Avoid checking work emails, messages and constantly checking social media — even consider going screen free for the time you’re taking a break. Good nutrition plays a huge role in maintaining a healthy PSNS, so try to skip any caffeine, very sugary foods, and alcohol.

Take time to practise mindful activities. “When reading, only read. When eating, only eat. When thinking, only think.” Korean Zen master Seung Sahn said to his students. Breathing exercises activate the PSNS, as well as strengthen the lungs, improve the immune system, and lower blood pressure. Give yourself ‘me time’ by changing your location and pace, even five minutes can be enough to reduce stress. Additionally, make sure you give yourself enough sleep, as a lack of rest can negatively impact concentration and our health.

Do you need to do something fun? Social connection is crucial for our well-being. Friendship and social support have a lot of benefits beyond mental health, such as lowering chronic illness rates and mortality. Taking a break doesn’t have to mean ‘resting alone’. By reaching out to others, either in person or calling, and talking about your feelings can reduce anxiety and protect against stress.

Schedule ahead and plan a fun event, something you’ve been wanting to do, don’t do enough, or love. Get a friend to tag along, to make a nice moment great. Additionally, studies have shown that conversations without screens and phones present are considered to have more empathetic concern involved. If you’d rather stay inside, try engaging in a hobby or activity that helps you connect with yourself. I’ve recently taken up some old hobbies I had as a teenager, collage making and doodling, as well as listening to my cheesy playlist to dance in my room for a bit (it counts as exercise too!). Art can also be used to practise mindfulness, as you can induce a ‘flow state’, where the present moment and the creative process are the focus, rather than the final product.

Taking a break is great, but it’s not a cure-all. Don’t get defeated if it does not miraculously get rid of any feelings of burn-out. Taking breaks is something that you have to integrate into your everyday life, even just 10 minutes (or less) can have plenty of benefits! The more you reflect and practice recognising how you feel, both physically and mentally, the more effective your mental health breaks will be. At FitQuid we aim to motivate the community to participate in activities that will benefit their overall well-being, from cooking healthy meals to meeting-up with friends in green spaces. Everyone needs a break now and then, make sure you take care of yourself!



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Auri Carballo

Auri Carballo

Psychology graduate, invested in helping communities.