A mental health break from work is often viewed as a last resort: we’re happy to ignore the ominous bleeps and warning lights, only taking action when the proverbial dung hits the fan. Despite living in an age of unprecedented stress, few of us would consider taking time out from our careers to promote good mental health. We’re proactive about physical health, committing to weekly workouts, after-work boxing classes or an evening 10k. Yet, so often our attitude to mental health is still framed by a breakdown mentality.
So, perhaps it’s time to rethink our approach. Exercise is a great way of lifting your mood and promoting good mental health. But, if you’re in a fast-paced job with deadlines and demands flying at you from all angles, you may need more than a 30-minute run squeezed in whenever life allows. It’s also better to not wait until you hit career burnout – or myriad other stress-related conditions – before you take a mental health career break. Some proper time out to clear your mind and practise self-care can make all the difference, whether that is taking a few days, weeks, or even taking a year off work for mental health.
Self-care can make all the difference
“In our society, we’re led to believe that only hard work is productive but I’d argue that rest is just as worthwhile,” says Chloe Brotheridge, anxiety hypnotherapist and founder of calmer-you.com.
“You can’t pour from an empty cup, so taking the time to work on yourself and replenish your reserves could mean you’re in a better position than before you started. If work has taken over and become the most important thing in your life, it could be time to reverse this completely and make time for you as the number one thing in your life for a while,” she adds.
A mental health break can encourage positive changes
So what are the benefits of taking a career break for mental health?
“Many clients that I speak to tell me that they either never relax or don’t know how to,” says Chloe. “When you’re accustomed to living in survival mode, you might not even realize that there’s another, calmer way to be. Taking a break could show you that there is a different side to life. It proves that it’s possible for you to relax, and it could give you the impetus to make even more positive changes once you return to work.”
When we're relaxed our minds work more efficiently
A mental health break from work can also be the catalyst for new ideas. “When we’re in a stressed or anxious state, the part of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response (the amygdala) takes over and the rational, clear thinking part of your brain (your frontal cortex) takes a back seat,” explains Chloe. “That’s why it can be hard to make good decisions when you’re anxious.
When we’re relaxed, our minds work more efficiently. Being in a calmer environment can mean we feel more inspired and creative. Archimedes had his ‘eureka’ moment while chilling in the bath and, similarly, Issac Newton came up with his law of gravity while relaxing under a tree in nature. So, taking a career break could help you to come up with your best ideas, too.”
Too much screen time is bad for mental health
Self-care is critical for better mental health. “Pressure and tension can build up and lead to anxiety. While a break can alleviate this, your problems may still be waiting for you when you return,” says Chloe. “Ideally, I’d suggest taking time out to work on your mental wellbeing. It might be learning yoga or meditation on a retreat, starting an exercise habit or reading books that help you to develop as a person. It could mean you’re in a better position after your break than you were before, even if you’re going back into the same environment.”
We also all know that too much screen time is bad for mental health, but it can be counteracted by exposure to nature. Slowing things down and being present is another key element of good mental health. Carve out some much needed headspace on an adventure during your mental health sabbatical and focus your attention more on your surroundings and wildlife, like on a trip to Sri Lanka.
Mental health sabbaticals help you appreciate simple pleasures
One of the happiest nations on earth, Costa Rica is famously easygoing. Pura vida is the country’s official slogan, meaning ‘the pure life’, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a lifestyle and a means of appreciating simple pleasures, from spending time with loved ones to savouring the country’s rich biodiversity.
Since gratitude is closely linked to good mental health, you too can learn the habit of appreciation and bring it into your everyday. And, whether it’s booking an adventure or just appreciating your surroundings, there’s plenty of opportunity all around us to grab a breather and really take stock as part of a mental health career break.
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Images: Flash Pack