As tech investment and NFT stories flood the headlines, shutting your brain off might seem impossible. You know intuitively that your mental health matters, but do you know what to do about it? Catching a break before you need one is a sign you’re prioritizing your wellness. In this article, we help you identify 10 signs that your tank is running on empty and provide some tips on how to cope without feeling disconnected.
What is a Mental Health Break?
Just like you can over-exercise and cause strains and fractures to your body, your mind is extremely sensitive to being overexerted. The primary concern for an overactive brain is stimuli, and stimuli are everywhere. Stimuli are anything that catalyzes a sensory response, such as sounds, visuals, scents, taste, or touch. There are three ways that mental stimulation increases: linear, compound, and acute. All of them can trigger the stress hormone, cortisol and lead to feelings of needing a break.
Linear stimulation is repeated stimulation of the same sense receptor for an extended period. Compound stimulation is when several of the senses are being stimulated simultaneously. Acute stimulation is a brief but extremely intense stimulation of one or more senses. If you combine all three, you are probably experiencing toxic and chronic stress and may need an energetic reset. You can approach your mental health break in two ways: 1.) by intentionally decreasing stimulation and/or 2.) by retraining your brain to accept more stimulation with lower stress levels.
10 Signs You Need a Mental Health Break
Here are some of the most common indicators that you need to check in with yourself.
- Shortness of breath: This is one of the most widely known physical symptoms of anxiety and many other mental health conditions. If you are not engaged in physical activity but still experience shortness of breath, you are likely overstimulated.
- Missing appointments or deadlines: Crowding your calendar with exciting prospects and aiming to please friends, family, clients, and business partners is a habit of many entrepreneurs and leaders. While integrity is important, if you notice that you’re unable to keep your word, consider scheduling more downtime between meetings, or scheduling time in your calendar dedicated to resting and recharging.
- Inability to sleep: A curious mind is an active mind, and an active mind likes to act. While ‘walking your talk’ is important, pay close attention to whether you are eager and refreshed when you wake up in the morning or whether you want to sleep more, but you can’t seem to shut off. There is a subtle but critical difference between sleeping fewer hours because you’re in a creative flow or because you are fighting your body’s needs.
- Fatigue / oversleeping: Many people who fight the need to rest can later experience a crash period. Consistent lack of desire to participate in the things you’re passionate about or see the people you love might indicate a deeper psychological issue than just ‘needing to catch up on some z’s.’
- Migraines: Your brain is housed in your head, so it makes sense that mental overstimulation can lead to headaches and more severe migraines. Sometimes, you may not realize that natural stimuli in your environment not caused by your intentional work schedule (e.g., street noises, pollution, yelling neighbors, crying children, bright lights) are contributing subconsciously to pressure on your brain.
- Sweating: The epidermis is the largest organ in the body, so it’s no surprise that physiological symptoms of mental imbalance start in the skin. This is your body’s way of telling you it’s in a heightened state of arousal.
- Agitation and frustration: As stress levels rise over time, many people report feeling regretful that they were curt or rude to others in moments when they needed a break. It’s OK to inform your friends and even your colleagues that you’re feeling on edge and need some extra time to respond to a proposal or travel plans.
- Stream of consciousness: Speaking, messaging, or emailing in an unedited format may be a sign of burnout. While free-flowing creative writing can serve you well and contribute to your well-being, your network might not be getting the best version of you if you aren’t proofreading your communications.
- Fear, Anger, or Paranoia: In your most heightened sense of toxic or chronic stress, you may notice that you are exceptionally alert. You may feel increased suspicion, uncertainty about your physical or emotional safety, untrusting of strangers, or even skeptical of the intentions of people close to you. If you can recognize these signs early, you can take a break before making important decisions or jumping to conclusions.
- Poor hygiene: For people with SMI (severe mental illness), lack of awareness of personal hygiene is a common sign of mania, anxiety, depression, or increased stress levels. Don’t beat yourself up for your hygiene, but do pay attention to when you last showered, brushed your teeth, put on deodorant, or went outside the house.
Tips for How-to Structure Your Mental Health Break
- First, identify which stimuli are in your environment and which are in your direct control.
- Minimize any distracting stimuli that are in your direct control. For example, dim the lights, turn the TV down or off, close the computer tabs that are not in use, clean up the icons on your desktop, organize your space.
- Maximize any soothing stimuli in your direct control. For example, if you don’t want to turn off the music, change the station to something relaxing, make a cup of tea, lay on the carpet, etc.
- If you’re able, move to an environment with fewer stimuli (e.g., another room in the house, a quiet place in nature, a trusted place of respite such as a friend’s home, a hotel, or a yoga studio, etc.)
- Meditate: A lot of people are nervous about meditating ‘the right way.’ Don’t be! The best way to start a meditation practice is to honor that it is a practice, not a test or a challenge. You can close your eyes, but you don’t have to. The point of meditation is not necessarily to clear the mind but to return the mind as quickly as possible from any mental stimuli or thought patterns directly back to the simplicity of your breath and melting into the present moment. Sitting next to a fan, staring at a tree and drawing can all be a meditation. Even sipping water can be a meditation.
- Practice ‘Earthing.’ One of the best ways to ‘get grounded’ is to put your hands or feet on the Earth. Walk barefoot, mix your potting soil, lay on a sandy beach, take a ride with the windows down – anything that connects you to one of the four natural elements (Earth, Wind, Water, Fire) is likely to provide immediate relief in the short term.
- Hug someone. Consent matters, but oxytocin is important! Call a friend for a simple hug. Shake hands with a stranger, or even just make prolonged eye contact with a store clerk. Human connection is an immediate remedy for self-doubt and overstimulation.
- Identify your catharsis. Make a list of ways you like to release stress and find catharsis for longer-term stress relief. This might be increasing your exercise, allowing yourself to cry, or ensuring you have a healthy sex life whether with a partner or on your own.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. A lot of our stress stems from being dehydrated and not even realizing it. Usually, you don’t become dehydrated until 24 hours after your body has used its last water reserves. By keeping your body refreshed throughout the day every single day, you are increasing your natural immunity, your ability to handle stress appropriately, and you are flushing toxins out of your system that can contribute to physiological symptoms of stress.