As we roll towards the end of the year our professions are at their limit. The countdown to Christmas is on. We refer to it as the “mad dash” or “sprint” to the end of the year. That period when we try to cram in as much as we can before our offices close.
More than likely, given the pandemic and lockdowns, this year has been a year where you haven’t taken the breaks that you would usually take. You’ve not been able to travel anywhere, go on holidays or take those breaks that you might ordinarily schedule throughout the year. You might have taken the view that if you can’t go anywhere because of isolation directives, border closures, or other issues, then why take a break at all? Why would you want to use your annual leave if you’re not doing something other than sitting around your house?
The difficulty with this approach is that you will more than likely put yourself in a position where you are running on empty. Here are some key signs that it might be time for a break. If you recognise any of these consider taking some time for you.
If you feel your stress and anxiety is increasing, then it’s likely to be time for a break. You should be talking with someone about any stress and anxiety you are feeling, but you might not know it to be stress or anxiety. Perhaps your thoughts are racing. Maybe it is the case that you can’t think clearly. You might have an overwhelming sense that you just are not coping or that you have so much work to do you need to keep going. More often than not it is at this point that you actually need some time out.
It might be that you find your body is not working properly. Perhaps you have had a persistent pain in your hip because you know you’ve been sitting for too long. That pain in the middle of your back just won’t go away. The ailments that you usually are able to work through simply aren’t healing.
You could find yourself eating poorly. Grabbing a snack on the go and just keeping on working. You might find you have digestive problems either because the food you are eating is not good for you, or because the level of stress and anxiety in your body is so high that your body is having difficulty processing it.
You could find yourself gaining or losing a lot of weight quite rapidly. You also might find that you are getting sick frequently or surprisingly, you are maintaining a perfect bill of health, but you know that once you stop, you might get sick.
Lastly, you might find yourself cranky at others, especially your loved ones. You might find you are snapping at them, snapping at loved ones for seemingly minor reasons, without giving much thought to the reason why. You are probably quite irritable, more so than normal.
So, if we see these signs starting to arise, starting signs within ourselves or within others, what are some of the things that we can do to take a step, to stop, reset, reflect, and go again?
Ideally, you should take a break, even if it’s a mini break. It might be a long weekend, a weekend without work, leaving at five o’clock instead of eight o’clock.
But let’s take it back a step. One of the most simple yet effective steps you can take is to breathe. It might seem like a small step, but the act of stopping what you are doing, taking your shoes off and sitting properly in your chair and just breathing helps relax you immediately. Breathing in for five counts, holding for five counts, and then breathing out for five counts and doing this a number of times helps the body to relax.
You can go for a short walk. Take 5 to 10 minutes and get outside in the fresh air. If you work in the city, see if you can find the river or harbour. Simply go for a walk around the block. Being outside and breathing in fresh air and thinking about the nature that is around you will help you to reset.
Once you’ve done those first two tasks of breathing and walking, then write yourself a proper list. An honest list, a list of those things that actually need to be done today. Not the list of all of the things that you need to do.
If the overwhelm is strong, take a day off work. Call it a mental health day, call in sick, whatever you need to do. If you take a day off work, you can reset and refresh where your mind is sitting. Obviously this approach will depend upon your boss. A good boss will allow you to take a mental health day, if that’s what’s needed. Tell them why. Tell them that you need a day to reset.
During your day off, do things that bring you joy. Do not hide under your duvet and watch Netflix all day. Get out in the garden, or go for a walk, read a book. Work on that hobby that you’ve been wanting to work on, but don’t have the time. Don’t spend your day scrolling social channels.
If you have a mentor, check in with them. Make an appointment to see them, talk to them on the phone. Check in about the overwhelm and seek tips from them about how you can manage that.
Get out and move, walk regularly, exercise regularly. Exercise can be something as simple as going for a walk around the block. It can be taking time to stop and stretch. It doesn’t need to be a 30 to 50 minute weight class or the yoga class that you expect to get to, but never can. Just move and keep moving.
Ultimately, if you’ve had an entire year without any breaks, book some holiday time. It doesn’t matter that you can’t necessarily travel anywhere. Take a week out, go for walks in the national park. Do some gardening, plant a veggie patch, read books. Do whatever it is that gives you joy for a week without work.
Whatever it is that brings you joy, do that. And remember just keep breathing, not just breathing to survive, but focus on your breath. Breathe in and breathe out and you will get through whatever it is that is causing you distress.