The holidays can bring a lot of joy—family time, comfort food, twinkling lights everywhere! But the hustle and bustle can also make this time very stressful. You may catch yourself feeling irritable, forgetful or overly tired, which is a sign to allow yourself to step back, breathe and take a break.
“Taking a mental health day means resting and allowing the mind and body to free itself from stress for a moment of calm,” explains Mayra Mendez, Ph.D., LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center. This can mean anything from engaging in a favorite task or activity to visiting a place or person you love to getting a manicure—basically, anything that adds a moment of serenity to your daily grind. “A mental health break targets the calming receptors of the mind allowing for the regeneration of energy, ideas and action to surface,” she says. Here are six sure signs you may need to take a breather.
1. You can’t concentrate.
Ever feel like you’re not progressing on a project even if you’ve stared at your computer for hours? This could be a sign you need to take a brain break. Overthinking and not allowing the mind to rest can make you feel like you can’t move forward with any decision-making or problem-solving. It will likely progress into a stagnation—kind of like a brain freeze—and only allow you to revisit the same thoughts and ideas without any results.
Try looking away from your screen and checking out the sky or nature outside your window. You may even choose to take a walk or sit on a bench to people watch. “Resiliency is a factor that is activated by taking a step back, breathing, thinking and gaining perspective,” says Dr. Mendez. “Being aware of the need to take a break before getting to a state of shut-down allows for healthy regulation of mind, body and emotions and increases the likelihood of productive outcomes and resiliency.”
2. You experience body aches.
Twinges, cramps or soreness is another way your body is shouting, “Hey! Let me rest!” These feelings aren’t associated with illness or other health conditions and are not typical of daily functioning or overall moods, explains Dr. Mendez. Treat yourself by savoring a drink, like herbal tea or ice water or even a glass of your favorite wine. And take the time to consume it slowly, quietly and calmly.
Taking a break from the stress of work and other obligations and allowing time to rest and calm your mind provides an opportunity for your brain to make sense of the events and interactions happening around you. Your body will respond by releasing tension and relaxing the muscles. You’ll also notice your sleep improve and your awareness of sensations become clearer in a way that awakens your judgment and cognition.
3. You overthink decisions.
Not allowing the mind to rest can give you that feeling that you’re stuck in a rut or that you cannot solve a problem. Give your mind permission to drift away. “Daydreaming provides a reframe for negative thoughts and emotions, inspires hopeful reflections and reinforces a connection to yourself that is sometimes lost in the tensions of day-to-day life,” says Dr. Mendez.
4. You’re forgetful.
We’ve all let something slip our mind, but if you’re experiencing an uptick in forgetfulness, carelessness, resentment or lack of motivation, you may need to take a step back. Read a brief but meaningful quote, poem or story—really anything that sparks interest and stimulates a sense of calm. Plus, taking on a new perspective can improve certain feelings such as anxiety, irritability, anger, and the ability to consider options and regulate emotions.
5. You feel dissatisfaction.
Questioning the value of your actions or experiencing feelings of dissatisfaction and disillusion is just another reason to slow down. Make time to engage in a hobby. It doesn’t need to take up a lot of your time, but just a brief amount of time to do the activity and not feel shortchanged or overburdened.
Sometimes a longer period of time may be needed to feel refreshed, and that’s okay, too. Consider asking for a day off of work. Use clear and concise sentences to honestly communicate why you want the time to yourself. If your boss inquires further, explain that a mental health support day will help replenish your mood and nurture your mind before you’re depleted of healthy energy completely, suggests Dr. Mendez. When you’re back, you’ll be on your A game again—which benefits both you and your colleagues.
6. You’re always tired.
Experiencing prolonged low energy or a higher frequency of fatigue shouldn’t be your norm. If you can, work a short nap into your day. Go to a nearby park or sit in your car during your lunch break to rest your eyes and unwind.
Taking a mental health break replenishes the mind’s ability to finish tasks and will give you the confidence to get through the rest of the day. When your mind can take a break, brain activity recharges, allowing productivity and creativity to surge. “Allowing the mind to take a rest generates achievement and gratification of the more mundane aspects of day-to-day life,” says Dr. Mendez.
Self-care is a critical component to work into your daily routine. If you feel your energy draining or your concentration slipping, take a deep breath, engage in relaxing activities or change your scenery. When we do not take the time to rest and instead allow ourselves to linger over a task, we can become stale, stuck and ultimately inefficient. So turn off that phone, put away your work to-do list and shift gears every once in awhile. You may just find yourself thinking fresh creative thoughts, ready to take on whatever life is throwing at you.