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The Stigma Around Taking Mental Health Breaks

It is no secret that people in the US tend to shy away from taking time off to take care of their mental health. Even if you are not ill, but you are overworked, overburdened, or feeling overwhelmed, sometimes a break is necessary to recharge and refresh your perspective. Statistics indicate that 1 in 4 adults in the US currently suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder, so focusing on your wellbeing, including your mental health, is more essential now than ever.


Many workers may feel like taking breaks isn’t an option for them due to their high level of responsibility, or because no one else at their company is able to cover their workload during their absence without fear of falling behind. Many others simply can’t afford a vacation, or worry their desire to take vacation time will make them appear less motivated or dedicated and keep them from moving up at work.

Why Breaks Are Necessary for Mental Health

Whatever the reason someone is afraid to take time off, taking breaks isn’t just about going on fun trips or exotic vacations and slacking off from work; it’s much more holistic. Whole-person health extends beyond physical wellbeing, nutrition, and exercise. In order to operate at our best mentally, we have to be well physically, emotionally, and financially, as well as have healthy boundaries in our professional lives. Chronic stress has been proven to trigger depression, and toxic work environments can have many other detrimental effects on your mental health.


In order to recover from stress, it is necessary to take breaks to help you relax, which can, then, lead to an improvement in your performance when you return to work. By allowing yourself time to recover from chronic work stress, you can increase your energy levels, improve your mental focus, and reduce fatigue, sleep disturbances, and slow down the development of cardiovascular disease.


Even just taking mini-breaks throughout the day can be a good start to helping support your wellbeing and increase productivity. Taking a mini-break can be as simple as taking a few minutes away from your work to chat with someone who is in the same room as you, or getting a snack or a drink and resting for a few minutes.

Signs You Need A Mental Health Break

It’s important to check in with yourself regularly to be sure you aren’t burning out at work, so keep an eye out for these and other signs that you might need a break:

Physical signs of stress

Working long hours can actually harm your health. While the short-term benefits of working overtime are great, the long-term effects are much more serious than just fatigue. Chronic stress wears your body down and increases your risk for heart disease, anxiety disorders, insomnia, and more.

The quality of your relationships is suffering

What happens at work impacts your personal life and vice versa. When your family, friends, and social life take a back seat to work, you increase your chances of developing depression and work burnout as well as damaging the relationships in your life.

Trouble focusing

If your mind is on overdrive thinking about projects and deadlines even after work hours, it can feel like the wheels are spinning so fast you don’t have the mental space to slow down and enjoy your own life or focus on day-to-day activities, hobbies, and self-care. Ultimately this contributes to increased stress levels and health risks, as well as feeling, burned out.

How to Make the Most of Your Breaks

The first step is remembering to take all your scheduled break times every day whenever possible, and not pass up opportunities even when you feel overwhelmed by your workload. The work will be waiting for you when you get back, your mental health can’t afford to wait. Try to get outside and get some fresh air and sunshine whenever possible if you work indoors, even if it’s just for a few minutes. 


Whenever possible, try to make the most of your meals and snacks throughout the workday too. Slowing down and taking the time to enjoy your meals can give you a pleasant break from the stress of your job. Put your phone away, let the distractions go, and give yourself permission to enjoy what you’re eating. Mindfulness practices like breathing exercises and meditation can also be great ways to slow down, take a step back, and reset. 


Finally, don’t hesitate to talk to a doctor or mental healthcare provider if stress from work is causing mental or physical health problems. While your job is important, you can’t perform it well if you aren’t operating at your best. Never feel guilty for taking time for yourself!