The one and only, the notorious: burnout. A word we can’t help but hear quite frequently. A modern-day plague. Although we associate it with work overload and work-induced stress, it is also caused by other seemingly unrelated factors, such as imposter syndrome or impossible romantic relationship expectations that we desperately try to meet. To this day, mental health issues remain the sweetest taboo. We avoid addressing burning (emphasis on burning) hindrances, questions, concerns, and needs. Instead, we focus on the tangible bits, the quick fixer-uppers. Keeping up with it all can feel overwhelming. Of course, neglecting our mental health exacerbates anxiety and often leads to depression onset. Chronic pain, cynicism, pessimism, substance abuse. A misery buffet. Can we prevent the occurrence of burnout? We can – if we catch it on time. Here are 7 signs you need to take a mental health break.
1. Immune system havoc
One of the most common misconceptions: the body and the mind work separately and autonomously. – However, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Human beings are complex organisms, relying on the philosophy of the intangible, i.e., interconnectedness. Every cell of our being is inherently programmed to receive and send information. Take a philharmonic orchestra – the execution of an exquisite piece is only possible if every instrument performs in unison. And so, our physical state dictates our mental health – and vice versa. The body knows. The body remembers. Prolonged, acute periods of stress can seriously impact our immune system. Although considered rather significant factors, erratic sleeping patterns and poor diet choices aren’t the only culprits; stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) and the fight-or-flight perpetuity weaken our immune cells. Social and emotional exertion does not help either.
If you find yourself calling in sick every couple of months (or even weeks, in some cases), and you can’t make any sense of it, it’s probably burnout, suggesting you take some time off.
2. A wandering mind
Surely, we all experience focus trouble, especially if the task promises nothing but insipidity. When faced with banalities, we pray for a good distraction. It’s only human. However, when our mental health nears a definite breakdown, our focus suddenly and involuntarily starts embodying a lamb of utter oblivion, wandering the pastures of implausible abstraction. The blank page syndrome. Anyone? Be it the inability to come up with a work-related solution or our bewildered “I cannot grasp the concept of your tears, my dearest friend” face. Nothing adds up. Data processing? Broken. Fried circuits. The glitch. Frustration rides high, but there’s no available antidote. You could be headed for the big B if you have trouble focusing.
3. Joy? What joy?
One of the most conspicuous signs you need to take a mental health break: is the absence of joy. When the importance of the things we usually enjoy starts to dissipate, and we can’t seem to collect a single atom of merriment or comfort, we know that things are starting to get serious. Acute disinterest starts nestling in. “I’m officially revisiting my dark place.” It’s lonely. And it’s dangerous. Many turn to alcohol or drugs as their instant relief go-to device. For the ones with addictive personality types, the crutch is usually a sign of relapse. If you have a history of substance abuse, don’t ignore these signs. It’s time to hit pause and recuperate.
4. Procrastination champ
While a bit of a side distraction (“scrolling hour”) can do us good when we’re working hard (and desperately needing to reset), prolonged procrastination (or acute procrastination) leaves us feeling sublimely useless. Brain activity? Subzero. Motivation? Non-existent. “I can’t move. I’m simply glued to my chair and mental nothingness.” The brain fog syndrome (very much like the wandering mind, minus the anxiety around not doing what we’re supposed to). Idleness for days. A faint undertone of a distant compulsion without any tangible result. If you find the mere idea of immersing yourself in your passion project(s), socializing, or going to work explicitly repulsive – it’s a Ferrari red flag. Unambiguously.
5. Bad habits, we’re open
As the bones of our mental health inaudibly break, we bid our well-implemented practices adieu: sleep, nutrition, exercise, hydration, and self-awareness. Down the rabbit hole we go. As soon as our sanity walls falter, our carefully assorted and exquisitely rehearsed habits decide to enforce self-exile. “Find your nearest exit. And, mind the carpet.” We start sleeping less and stop caring about eating healthy; we hit snooze without a shred of guilt, and we say “decline” to our gym membership renewal. Because what’s the point? Shortcuts and bare minimum. Addiction recovery experts from Little Creek Recovery share: “Giving up on your daily routine is the first sign of potential relapse.” If you’re struggling to escape from the “Bad Habit Triangle,” take it as an omen. Break time.
6. It feels personal
“I hate the weather today.” – “What did you just say to me?!” We take everything personally when our mental health is on the verge of auto-collapse. We become irrational. Irritable. Moody. Cynical. Skeptical. – a tough crowd. Even a microscopic blip becomes an insurmountable hindrance when we feel overwhelmed and run over. And we just don’t have the energy to cope. If you find yourself losing it over a misplaced pair of peacock feather pattern socks for the trip to the store, it’s pretty apparent: burnout has officially arrived. Learn to unwind.
7. Social isolation
When our mental health is suffering, we tend to avoid social interactions. We may feel like we’re a burden to others, so we create distance out of fear of being judged, misunderstood, or taunted. Suppose you’re overextending yourself to accommodate other people’s needs. In that case, while simultaneously being consumed with self-disgust because of your people-pleasing attributes, it’s probably time you give socialization a rest. A proper reset. Take 5. Lick your wounds. Practice self-love.
One of the most stealthy signs you need to take a mental health break: running on impulse. Making rash decisions without any forethought or cognitive process around potential consequences is frequent in mental breakdowns. Take the signs seriously. Prevention is better than cure. Always.
Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash