I don’t think anyone would dispute that this year has been a colossal challenge. I know I’m not alone when I say that the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on my mental health over the last several months.
As a cashier in a grocery store, I suddenly found myself deemed an “Essential Worker,” and I was woefully unprepared for the impact this new role would have on my mental state. Working during this period has become increasingly stressful.
A close friend recently informed me that I was nearing my breaking point and convinced me that I needed to take a hiatus from work as soon as possible. I immediately requested a six-week leave of absence.
I didn’t recognize how bad things were getting until I resolved to take a step back from it all. After my first week off, I could already measure a marked improvement in my stress levels and overall mental health.
Here are a few of the discoveries I’ve made during my temporary hiatus from reality.
It’s okay not to be okay.
We are all human. We all have our breaking points. There is nothing wrong with speaking up when it all gets to be too much! I cannot emphasize this enough — speak up!
The most important thing we can do for ourselves is to recognize when we’re in distress and take steps to improve the situation. Reach out to your friends and family when needed. Talk to your boss at work about giving you fewer responsibilities if necessary.
The absolute worst thing you can do is bottle everything up inside until you explode.
Trust me. It’s not worth it.
There’s no reason to feel guilty for taking care of yourself.
When I first realized that my mental state was deteriorating, I hemmed and hawed over whether to ask for time off. I felt guilty for even having those thoughts in the first place. Part of me felt like I was failing as a human being because I couldn’t cope with the stress anymore.
It wasn’t until my friend knocked some sense into me that I realized how ridiculous I was being. Why should I feel guilty for doing what I need to do to take care of my mental health? If I had a broken arm, would I hesitate to request time off? No! So what was stopping me in this situation?
Partly, it was due to the stigma that still surrounds mental health issues. The thought of people viewing me as a lesser person because I was mentally struggling made me hesitant to speak up.
But also, it was my stubbornness that was holding me back. I‘m not great at admitting it to myself when I‘m struggling, let alone acknowledging it to anyone else.
The guilt went away almost instantly once I was officially on leave. My goal was to take care of myself and de-stress. I was doing what was needed to accomplish that.
We need to take mental breaks more often.
Life is hectic. Especially right now. Everyone is off-kilter, and sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to take a break from it all. Of course, taking time off isn’t always feasible when you have work responsibilities and bills to pay. But sometimes, stepping away from everything is sorely needed.
Do yourself a favor — don’t pass up the opportunity to take a step back when it comes along. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we need to keep pushing forward regardless of the circumstances, but that approach is ultimately detrimental to our well-being.
We can significantly improve our mental health even if we’re only taking a short break from reality.
Why are we so hesitant to take care of ourselves?
Sometimes our bodies need a break too.
I deal with chronic back pain due to scoliosis, and being on my feet at work all day takes a massive toll on me. Usually, I keep pushing through it because what other choice do I have?
However, I've noticed one major thing since I’ve been off work: my pain levels have decreased accordingly.
In the last six weeks, I’ve learned that being in constant pain continuously takes a negative toll on my mental health — I didn’t realize quite how much until I experienced some semblance of relief.
Depression and anxiety are things that I struggle with regularly, but giving my body a break has allowed me to ease them both somewhat. Even if it’s only a small improvement, it is 100% worth it, and I’m glad I could take this time to practice a little self-care.
We all need to remember that self-care is essential for our health (both mentally and physically).
The quickest way to de-stress is to engage in things you enjoy.
When I decided to take a leave from work, my stress levels were absolutely through the roof. I was not acting like myself. I knew that I needed to de-stress and focus on getting back to my normal state, or I’d end up doing something that I regret.
The first thing I concentrated on during my time off was spending more energy on the things I enjoy. I started watching tv shows and movies I’d never found the time to catch up on before. I started playing video games more often. I dedicated more time to hiking and appreciating the outdoors.
What I didn’t do was pressure myself into spending time on things I don’t enjoy doing. The whole point of this break was to lower my stress levels, and the easiest way to do that was to embrace the fun.
I learned not to put too much pressure on myself to be productive during this period because that would defeat the purpose of taking a break in the first place.
We lead very hectic lives these days. We’re always on the go and continually multitasking. This kind of lifestyle can take a toll on anyone during normal circumstances, let alone during a global pandemic.
Don’t be afraid to speak up and admit that you’re not okay. Bottling things up inside until you explode is not a healthy way to handle your stress. I’ve learned this the hard way.
Sometimes taking a step back from reality and allowing ourselves to de-stress is the best possible thing we can do for our mental health. We need to recognize when we are nearing our breaking points and take action before things get out of hand.
We also need to remember that we shouldn’t feel guilty for doing whatever it takes to ensure our mental health improves. Self-care is important!
The most valuable thing I’ve learned during this hiatus is to be kinder to myself. I’m not a failure because I required a mental health break. Ultimately, I’m doing the best that I can, and that is good enough.