8 Signs You're Suffering from Depression Without Knowing It
8 Signs You Need To Take A Mental-Health Day Right Now
Are you hoarding your ? If you’re like most workaholic Americans, you probably refuse to take a day off unless an unexpected illness forces you to stay home or see a doctor. But those days aren’t just there for when you’re feeling under the weather. Sometimes it’s just as important to take a mental-health day, a day off solely dedicated to giving your psychological and emotional health some TLC, to break away from the draining stress of everyday life—stress which, over time, could lead to major health problems if not properly dealt with.
Unfortunately, however, you may opt to keep your nose to the grindstone instead, not realizing—or wanting to admit—how desperately you need that mental-health day until it’s too late. In fact, mental illness is way more common than you think: According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, about 43.8 million adults in the U.S. experience it in any given year. Only 40 percent of those adults, however, received treatment last year.
“If you had the flu, you would stay home and take care of your physical health. Why wouldn’t you do the same for your mental health?” says Amy Sullivan, Psy.D., director of behavioral medicine, training and research at the Cleveland Clinic. “Mental-health symptoms are often thought of as a weakness, and people may say to get over it or move on. But if you don’t address these mental-health issues, they will consume all other areas of your life. When the mind is healthy, so is the body.”
Truth is, we can all benefit from a day to clear the fog from our heads: “Taking a mental-health day can improve energy, motivation, mood, and one’s ability to manage stress, and time off might actually increase overall productivity rather than decrease it,” says Shannon Byrne, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at Duke University Health System.
But how do you know when to give your brain a break? As things start to become too much for the mind to handle, your body could throw you a number of subtle, but important, hints. Here are eight major clues that it’s time to cash in some time off for a mental-health day.
Overworking yourself mentally can lead to physical exhaustion. Severe exhaustion can lead to two things: the need to sleep all the time, and the inability to fall asleep when you go to bed. And when your sleep suffers, so does your health.
“The part of the brain that interprets our thoughts, feelings, and impulses is particularly sensitive to the impact of sleep,” says Alicia Clark, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C. “The average person needs seven to nine hours of sleep per night.” But when you’re consistently facing high stress levels, according to Marra Ackerman, M.D., director of women’s mental health in the department of psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, you can develop insomnia—difficulty falling or staying asleep despite exhaustion.
Taking a rest day to sleep in, take a good, long nap and get to bed early could be just the remedy you need to get your head and body straight again. “Sleep can be a powerful tool in bolstering our cognitive and emotional resources, and a day spent drifting in and out of sleep can be powerfully healing,” says Clark.
When anxiety knocks at your door, it can show up under a variety of disguises that range from racing thoughts to panic attacks, says Ackerman. It can also lead to physical symptoms like chest tightness, abdominal discomfort, or shortness of breath. If you’re feeling particularly uneasy and you’re having a hard time snapping back into your usual laid-back mood, you might be in need of a mental breather.
“[Taking a mental-health day to] spend time with loved ones or engage in relaxing activities such as massage, yoga, deep breathing, or meditation can reduce anxiety and help improve your performance when you return to work,” says Byrne.
Watch a hot doctor explain whether your anxiety is serious:
Always feeling like a squirrel scrambling to gather its acorns? When there’s just so much going on at work or at home that your brain can’t seem to keep track of anything, it could lead to you make careless mistakes and possibly experience even higher stress levels. Taking a day off from the madness can help you regroup your thoughts and sharpen your focus.
“Concentrating on emotional well-being could allow for some mental rest and improve work-related morale,” says Ackerman. “Practicing mindfulness meditation [during your mental-health day] is one tactic you can use to improve your concentration.”
Related: The Internet Is LOVING How This CEO Responded When His Employee Took A Mental Health Day
Whether it’s personal or office drama dragging you through the mud, an invigorating day of all play and no work can help you reboot. “Watch a funny movie. Spend time with family. Read a book. Do a fun activity, like a craft or hobby. Do anything that makes you feel good about yourself,” says Byrne.
But if you find that what you’re feeling is something a lot more serious than the typical blahs—like deep sadness, irritability, or a loss of interest in activities you normally love—you might be experiencing symptoms of depression. “A mental-health day to rest and spend time doing something pleasant could be helpful, but it also may not be enough,” says Ackerman. “Clinical depression often indicates the need for a psychiatric evaluation, psychotherapy or medication.”
No one is a perfect angel, and we’re all guilty of getting testy from time to time. But once you start getting into rumbles with your friends, family members, or co-workers for no reason other than the fact that you’re constantly on edge, it could be that your nerves are fired up and you’re mentally shorting out. Spending a day away from the everyday hustle could ease up some of the aggressive pressure.
“Feeling physically tense, restless, and achy is often a sign that you have too much pent-up energy and emotion,” says Clark. “Time during a day off spent moving your body in a gentle but exhilarating way can be hugely restorative. A brisk walk with a friend, a yoga class, or a bike ride in nature can do wonders. Exercising to the point of sweat can help you think better and more clearly, which in turn can help you feel better.” (Get zen and toned at the same time withWH's.)
“Massage therapy can also be very helpful in breaking through muscular tightness that is contributing to stress and irritation,” continues Clark. “A hot bath or a steam shower can likewise be helpful in relaxing sore and tired muscles, as well as reduce irritating inflammation. Pampering your muscles can promote relaxation that in turn promotes a sense of wellness.”
Related: 5 Women Share How They Disclosed Their Mental Illnesses At Work
Can’t seem to shake the sniffles? If you’re seeing your doctor more often than you’re seeing your friends, that could be a pretty clear-cut sign that your health is paying the price for a burned-out brain.
“Recurring colds or other physical ailments are a signal that your body needs to slow down and that you’re in need of a mental-health day,” says Ackerman. Taking a beat to catch some Z’s, enjoy a massage or reevaluate your diet will help you boost your immune system and get started on the path to better health.
You might think that guzzling multiple cups of coffee daily will help you power through the work week. But, on the contrary, fueling your days with caffeine will only make you feel more sluggish over time.
“Consuming too many caffeinated beverages and too little water leads to your body getting dehydrated,” says Clark. The cure? Step away from the coffee room at work and spend a day at home replenishing your system. “Drinking as much water as possible can help flush toxins and give your system the hydration it needs,” Clark continues. “Taking time to nourish your body with healthy food and plenty of water can go a long way to perk up your body and mind.”
If there’s one thing that can make you feel detached from the rest of the world, it’s sitting in front of a computer, buried so deeply under a pile of to-dos that you hardly have time to come up for air. “It isn’t hard to feel lonely while coping with the demands of modern life, and pushing ourselves too far can sometimes cause us to withdraw from friends and family who love and support us,” says Clark.
When you find yourself unwittingly withdrawing from the people that you love thanks to growing demands at work, a mental-health day may be in order to reconnect with your social circle—and yourself. “Connecting with people who understand and help us feel strong can be a powerful tool in restoring a sense of connection and belonging,” continues Clark. “Likewise, helping a friend in need can help us restore a sense of social purpose that can go missing when we are too consumed with our own lives.”
Whatever you do on your day off, it’s only going to work if you do it wholeheartedly: "When you take time for yourself, really take time for yourself,” says Byrne. “We are often not in the moment, but rather are distracted by other things and thoughts. This applies to mental-health days, too, and it is possible to take a break without reaping the benefits because we are not truly present. Turn off your phones and other technology, and redirect your mind when it wanders to other things. Let go of any thoughts about what you ‘should’ be doing instead of taking care of yourself.”
And finally, if a mental-health day doesn’t seem to be doing the trick, it could be a loud wake-up call that you need professional help. “Clinical levels of anxiety and depression don’t tend to go away with a single day off—sometimes not even with a vacation,” says Clark.
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