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When work and stress meet, a break can be the answer

Making the choice to take a step back for your mental well-being when you are the youngest member of the British Parliament? It is a particularly bold and courageous decision.

“By being open about my own mental health issue, I hope others will feel able to talk about theirs as well, and that I can play a small role in creating greater acceptance and facilitating healthier discussions around. that question, ”she writes on her website. .

Whittome and Osaka aren’t the only ones deciding to step back from work for their mental health. Healthcare workers and teachers are leaving their posts in droves, citing burnout from the Covid-19 crisis. Journalists also take a step back from their very stressful jobs; Stacy-Marie Ismaël wrote about his decision on Twitter in March.

“I’m taking a break,” she wrote. “I’m leaving @TexasTribune, where I spent the last year operating at a relentless and frantic pace to make sure our journalism can meet the demands of the moment.”

“We did. We did,” Ishmael continued, “and in the process, I * totally * exhausted myself.”

In the United States, there is a sense of shared optimism as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted across the country and people return to their old routines. But experts warn there is a second wave of mental health issues to contend with – the long-term effects of increased anxiety, depression, stress and isolation that countless Americans have faced. throughout the pandemic.

Given this, it’s no surprise that many people who can choose to take time off work.

While not everyone’s privilege, temporarily straying from our jobs can have major benefits. Taking time off can improve long-term job performance and prevent short-term burnout. Research shows that people who take sabbaticals not only benefit from reduced stress in their free time, but also experience less stress after returning to work.
I would know. In 2017, a few months after the unexpected death of my husband, I found myself struggling at work. I had trouble concentrating, struggled with my chores, and had to escape the office bathroom to cry more times than I could count. After a few weeks of going through the motions of my job, I asked my bosses for a three month sabbatical. Fortunately, they accepted and paid half of my salary during my sabbatical.

When I returned to the office, I was more engaged and productive. I was better able to concentrate on the tasks and, once again, I cared about the work I was doing. Most importantly, I was in a better position mentally and emotionally. Although I had a long road to recovery ahead of me, I had given myself the time I needed to deal with my grief instead of trying to put aside my emotions at work.

Americans suffered more mental health consequences from the Covid-19 crisis than people in nine other high-income countries, according to a 2020 Commonwealth Fund report. Thirty-three percent of respondents said they experienced major stress, anxiety, or sadness that was difficult to deal with on their own.

These are feelings that should not be ignored. I know that, unfortunately, taking time off from work is not an option for everyone, but I would like to be given more opportunities to prioritize our mental well-being over personal productivity.

Here are the lessons I learned from my sabbatical. Maybe you can use them too.

Have a plan in place

When I requested time off from my bosses, I had already written down which projects I was responsible for and had suggested ways to delegate these tasks while I was away. The presentation of this solution made it easier for line managers to access my request. It also eased some of the guilt I felt about temporarily letting go of my responsibilities.

Whittome, the British politician, did the same. “While I am away constituents should continue to contact my office as usual. My fantastic team of staff will always be there to help with any issues you may have.”

Before taking leave, explore your options for financial support. You may be able to use accumulated paid vacation, sick leave, or family leave. Workers may also be covered by the Family First Coronavirus Response Act, which requires some employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or extended family and medical leave for reasons related to Covid-19.
When work and stress meet, a break can be the answer

If paid time off isn’t an option, consider setting some money aside to cover expenses while you’re not working. Again, not everyone has the privilege of doing this, but if it’s possible, it’s a good idea. Calculate your monthly costs and set a savings goal.

Allow yourself to feel your feelings

The work takes a lot of our time. What if we stop working? There is a lot of time to fill. Some of the emotions that you might have pushed aside to get things done are likely to bubble up. Grief, anger, sadness, fear, depression, etc. Even if it’s uncomfortable, try to feel those feelings. This is where the real healing begins.

When work and stress meet, a break can be the answer

During my sabbatical, I overcame my grief and other difficult feelings through a mixture of journaling, therapy, and many long nature walks. Everything helped. Even though facing my sadness was scary, it was exactly what I needed – and exactly what I wasn’t able to do in a busy office.

Identify ways to support yourself on your return

Taking time off allowed me to assess what I was missing at work and what routines were unhealthy for me. Meet up with colleagues over lunch? Awesome! Eating a sad office lunch alone in front of my computer? Not so good.

Before heading back to the office, I made a list of work resolutions, including avoiding screens at certain times, limiting the number of meetings per day, and turning off Slack and other distractions when I needed to think things over. in depth. All of these things made for a smoother and less stressful transition to the workplace.

While not everyone can take time off work, there are steps people can take when they feel burnout is on the horizon.

Prioritize your mental health

Even if you don’t have the option of retiring from your job, you can still set boundaries that support your mental well-being, just like Osaka did by choosing not to speak to the media.

Many mental health advocates have applauded Osaka for his bold move. “Let Naomi Osaka be a shining example of maintaining your boundaries to prioritize peace,” therapist Nedra Glover Tawwab posted on Instagram. “Your sanity is more important than pretending to be good for other people.”

If you are suffering from depression, anxiety, or have trouble concentrating, it is worth seeking help. Your workplace may have an employee assistance program that offers free, confidential advice. You can start a meditation practice or start journaling your feelings. Or you can take a page from Osaka’s book and identify a specific work stressor and look for ways to get away from it.

Can you stop responding to emails after dinner time? Blocking time in your calendar to avoid back-to-back meetings? Negotiating a hybrid work schedule so you don’t have to go to the office five days a week? Look for ways to set limits that work best for you and your mental well-being.

Take time for gratitude

This last tip is the simplest and perhaps the most effective. Time and time again, research has proven the benefits of gratitude. People who take time to be grateful tend to be happier and healthier, and have better relationships with others. At the same time, they have lower levels of negative emotions such as anger, depression, and shame.
When work and stress meet, a break can be the answer
Right now, it might seem like an odd time to be grateful. We are still in the midst of a pandemic. There are still thousands of people dying from Covid-19 every day around the world. But it’s during the darkest times that gratitude can benefit us the most. As I wrote in November 2017, months after returning to work from my sabbatical, “Gratitude saved me.”

“In the months following the unexpected death of my husband, I struggled,” I wrote. “I felt hopeless and scared. I was angry and lost. I hit a lot of low points. But I got out of those ruts time and time again by finding things I’m grateful for.”

Taking a little time each day for gratitude works wonders. You can start a gratitude exercise at the table, where everyone shares something they are grateful for. You can set aside five minutes each morning to give thanks over a hot cup of coffee. Or you could do what I did in 2017 and list three things at the end of each day that you enjoyed. I still look at this gratitude journal every now and then; it reminds me of how lucky I was, even when life was incredibly difficult.

We’ve all been immersed in the pandemic at the same time, but we are emerging from containment at different rates and in different ways. Some of us have lost loved ones to Covid-19. Almost all of us have lost the sense of security we once had. We have all experienced major changes and we are all feeling the effects of those adjustments.

I am encouraged that leaders like Whittome, Osaka, and Ishmael are talking openly about their sanity. It’s a silver lining to the pandemic – more of us are publicly admitting things aren’t going well.

If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of other things, including our work. As we continue to readjust to life after the lockdown, I hope we can all find ways to care for our mental well-being and encourage others to do the same.

Katie Hawkins-Gaar is a member of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship Advisory Board for Mental Health Journalism. She writes a weekly newsletter called “My sweet stupid brain.”


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