What does poor mental health look like for you? For some, it’s feeling exhausted, heightened emotional sensitivity, a lack of focus, feeling disconnected or even a full-on breakdown. For people who struggle with mental illness, it can even be worse than that. Mental health is not the absence of mental illness; however, there comes a time when nearly everyone needs a break for their own mental well-being.
This time should be used to relax, refocus and get back in touch with ourselves. But when you take a break, do you spend your time trying to better your mental health?
Think of your mind like your car: If the “check engine” light comes on in your car, what do you do? You don’t just stop driving it for a while and then continue along hoping for the best (I hope, anyway). Usually, we either take it to a professional that can help us, use our own skills to solve the problem or maybe both!
The same should be done for your state of mind; If something isn’t running quite right, maybe it’s time to troubleshoot or even seek some help from a mental health care professional so we can get back to running as smoothly as possible.
A mental health break should mean more than just sitting at home and catching up on Netflix’s newest originals. It needs to be a conscious effort to root out the issues we’re facing in our lives. A mental health break should be a moment in which we reaffirm who we want to be, what our values are, and make sure they’re in-line with our thoughts and our behaviors. It should be an opportunity to attempt to gain clarity and really see how many of our problems are caused by our own actions.
A therapist or counselor can assist us with this too. They can even provide an additional and valuable perspective to our problems.
Additionally, practicing mindfulness can be a great step toward taking effective mental breaks. Mindfulness is our ability to be fully present and aware in regards to what we’re doing, where we are and our state of mind through our thoughts and feelings. It is a natural process for all of us, but we are more readily able to use it when we consciously practice it.
When we get caught up in day-to-day life, we can start to run on autopilot mindlessly. This can lead us to fall into habitual patterns of thoughts or behaviors that are not helpful to us at best and harmful to our growth at worst.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction techniques, mindfulness can assist us in lighting up these parts of our thoughts we normally ignore. He also notes that mindfulness should be done nonjudgmentally and for the purpose of advancing ourselves and promoting self-understanding. Mindfulness can be performed through guided meditation or even just activities that allow our minds to venture into their inner workings, such as creating artwork, exercising or exploring nature.
By practicing mindfulness, we allow ourselves to confront our problems where a lot of them begin: through the way we think about them. As reported by the American Psychological Association, several studies have shown that mindfulness reduces rumination of our problems, reduces stress responses and boosts our working memory and ability to focus.
Mindfulness in practice has also been found to reduce emotional reactivity and strengthen our sense of intuition and morality. Most importantly, it allows us to step out of our own way, flourish and continue to move forward, even when we thought we hit a mental roadblock.
In doing this, we can take truly effective mental health breaks and come back to our responsibilities better than before.