Many of us Wisconsinites have likely heard about Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Cole Madison’s decision to take a “mental health break” from football. Is there anything the rest of us can take from this example. In the month of May, we focus on Mental Health Awareness. The days of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” are slowly losing momentum.
Scott Lamont and colleagues studied the instances of nurses taking sick leaves in Australia and found that younger workers are more likely to take time off work for things such as emotional issues and mental health diagnoses. This echoes several other studies which also have found younger generations taking time for themselves and recognizing the need to take care of their minds.
Why is it so important to take these breaks? Does it mean we are weak or not as good as others? Certainly not! Each person has a limit to the amount of strain their brains can handle, based on past experiences, our rearing, supports, and genetics. It is very important to know what we can manage and set appropriate limits with ourselves, our employers, and those in our lives.
According to the American Institute of Stress, Mother Theresa recognized the effects that her mission was having on her well-being and wrote to her superiors stating she made it mandatory for her nuns to take one full year off their care-giving duties after every 4-5 years served.
We now have terms for the phenomena requiring this time off. Some call it “burnout”, which is a cumulative process marked by emotional exhaustion and withdrawal associated with increased workload, not trauma. (American Institute of Stress). There is a newer term often used in helping professions and first responders, known as “compassion fatigue,” which is “emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events.” The American Institute of Stress says it’s possible to have both compassion fatigue and burn out at the same time.
The Department of Justice investigated ways to save their probation officers from burnout. They found that giving staff more time off increased staff performance, increased public safety, and had overall cost benefits. Studies such as these have caused some employers to mandate time off.
An article published in Psychology Today regarding compassion fatigue reported that 86.9% of emergency response personnel reported symptoms after exposure to highly distressing events with traumatized people” . . . [and] . . . “90% of new physicians, between 30 to 39 years old, said that their family life has suffered as a result of their work.
Some of the most stressful jobs are fire fighters, law enforcement, military personnel, airplane pilots, broadcasters, or those who are often in the public eye. Any job where we are short staffed, have tight deadlines, do not feel appreciated, have little time to enjoy ourselves, or feel valuable can lead to burnout. As mentioned before, if we do not take time for ourselves to reconnect with others and ourselves, we can be less productive at work, become cynical and easily irritable, leave our job or profession completely, and have an overall quality of life.
Some great ways to take care of our mental health is to do yoga, meditation, exercise, eat a balanced diet, plan activities which are fun to look forward to after long or difficult stretches of work, get into therapy, or start a new hobby.
We can set aside full days for this, or even 15-20 minutes daily to ground and center ourselves. Remember, there are many ways you can help yourself before you feel overwhelmed and a mental health break might be what is needed.