Are your work obligations adding up and deadlines closing in…but your productivity and energy levels are low? We know you work hard, New York Gal, but sometimes an overwhelming amount of work or going at a relentless pace can result in mental exhaustion. Unfortunately, it can’t be resolved with a 20-minute nap. We want to break down the notion of mental exhaustion, provide the warning signs, give you the confidence to say “no,” and the tools to heal.
Though this article is geared towards work, it can actually be a philosophy in other parts of life as well: studying for the bar exam, training for a marathon, running a community event, or being in the wedding party of a bridezilla (we’ve all been there!.) So take a deep breath, recognize that you are not alone, and read on!
How Mental Exhaustion Can Turn Physical
We spoke to Dr. Rachel Goldman, a New York City psychologist specializing in stress reduction, health behavioral change, and weight management. She says, “The mind-body connection is real. When our mental health suffers, so does our physical health.”
Studies show that physical pain is sent through nerve receptors that transmit information to the spine, then to the brain. More recently, research suggests that sometimes crossed signals result in the brain interpreting mental distress as physical pain.
Some common symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, or dizziness. Chronic pain can also be the outcome of mental exhaustion. Dr. Goldman confirms, “Many times people feel tension in their head, neck, shoulders or back.”
When It’s Time to Take a Break
Ready to tick these off? Dr. Goldman listed the following as signs of strain
- Change in mood
- Trouble sleeping
- Less motivation
- Less energy
- Poor concentration
- Appetite changes
The physical signs include:
- Feeling rundown
If you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms, consider taking a break. Even if you’re “iffy” on the gravity of a symptom, pausing to rest will prevent a more serious issue in the long term.
Saying “no” or taking that needed break shouldn’t cause guilt or extra stress. When speaking to or emailing with your manager, keep these suggestions in mind:
1. Prepare what you are going to say beforehand. Make the request straightforward – whether you are saying “no” to a specific project, asking for a day off or suggesting an extension.
2. Keep it short but sweet! It’s best to be honest, but there’s no need to go into detail about your personal reasons for needing a break.
3. If you’re taking a day off, have a plan for coverage. Otherwise include the other work that you’re focusing on instead.
4. Have some mental health information on hand. If your boss or manager has additional questions, print out or attach Mental Health America documents or provide information from your HR team.
5. Be confident! Remember that you are not alone in feeling mentally exhausted or stressed. Every time we address it, we reduce the stigma associated with mental health.
6. End on a positive note. Conclude with an enthusiastic note for moving forward recharged and eager to excel. Keep in mind, it’s possible your manager or boss is flexible, doesn’t realize all the work you have, or will be happy to give the opportunity to another employee.
Fortunately, “mental health days” are becoming more prevalent in the work environment. These are official days off, meant to reduce stress and prevent burnout. If you’re allotted a certain number of those days a year, it may benefit to have the days marked on the calendar in advance.
Back to Basics
So you’ve said “no” to extra work or been approved for that day off – now what? Dr. Rachel Goldman recommends getting back to basics. During your well-earned time off, you should prioritize sleep, nutrition, hydration, movement, and stress management/self-care. She says, “When we aren’t taking care of ourselves and participating in self-care on a regular basis, that is when we can feel stressed, overwhelmed, and get physically ill, so we need to take that time back and focus on us.”
For a more serious illness, seek help from a therapist who has the professional knowledge to talk through stressors and possibly provide medication. They may also suggest alternative treatments, like meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, herbal remedies, or yoga, to boost the healing process.
The best way to prevent burn-out is to have regular check-ins with yourself. Dr. Goldman suggests the following, “Ask yourself how are you doing and what do you need today? Listen to your body as it gives you signs. If you feel like you need to slow down, then do it!”
Now more than ever, people across the world are experiencing unexpected stress, grief, and anxiety due to COVID-19. Fortunately, mental health programs are surging and continuing to gain momentum in corporate environments. Having these resources is a great step forward, but we still need to be aware of our own mental health. Dr. Goldman continues, “We all need to recharge, and the key is to participate in self-care behaviors, which include stress management techniques on a daily basis so you don’t get to the point that you are running on empty.”
Because when it comes down to it, we all want to work, play, participate and love at the greatest levels we can. Harder than it sounds, right? When we focus on one thing for too long, we often need an extra boost of energy and a fresh perspective. Consider a day off and regular breaks to heal mentally and physically. A little self-love goes a long way!