How to make the most of a mental health break

Signs you need a mental health break

Lacking motivation and finding it difficult to concentrate? Having trouble sleeping? Overcome with fatigue or feelings of irritability, frustration and worry? These are all signs your mental health may be suffering, says Cotton, who warns that unmanaged stress at work can lead to burnout, a condition typified by exhaustion, cynicism, and self-doubt.

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Broaching the topic of mental health with a manager can be daunting. “As Naomi Osaka recently demonstrated, stepping back from work to look after your mental health may not always be as well-received as we deserve,” Cotton acknowledges. “Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma associated with mental health.”

Ask for a one-on-one meeting with your manager to discuss how you feel and what you need to recover, whether it’s reducing workload, time off, or more flexibility to schedule appointments to talk to a psychologist, says Cotton. “The Fair Work Act protects employees who are dealing with mental health problems from unlawful workplace discrimination.

“However, if you’re not comfortable talking to your boss, approach your HR manager (if available) who can connect you to relevant resources and provide access to confidential employee assistance programs.”

A mental health break doesn’t necessarily require taking a day or longer off work. “It can be as simple as building in smaller breaks throughout the day to re-energise and recharge, such as stopping to have lunch or scheduling some buffer time between meetings,” says Cotton. “Short breaks allow us to be more productive and creative when we get back to work.”

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If you decide to take time off, “set clear expectations with work about who will be looking after your responsibilities while you are away,” and log off email and platforms like Zoom and Slack, suggests Baldwin. “Think about why you’re taking the break and how you’d like to feel at the end of it. Do one thing each day that moves you towards that goal. This might be a holiday, time with loved ones, therapy, exercise or anything else that’s meaningful to you.”

Use a break as an opportunity to reconnect with yourself, advises Cotton. “Do things that make you feel positive and fulfilled. Allow yourself to be absorbed in something you love. Achieving a state of flow, when you’re doing something you love and losing track of time, can be an antidote to languishing.

“It’s also a good time to build your resilience credit by getting the basics right,” she adds. “Re-establish healthy eating, exercise, and sleep habits and care for your mind with meditation, self-compassion, gratitude and connection. Use time off to take these micro-steps to build momentum for lasting change.”

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