Work Wellbeing: When is the Right Time to Ask for a Break?

by Rebecca Taylor
work wellbeing

When is the right time to ask for a break? Not a holiday or a day off, but an acknowledgment that you can’t do much more than what you’re already doing. I know there are often times I wish I could say ‘Please don’t push me’ but feel really uncomfortable in doing so. Who wants to be judged or questioned? So when is the right time to ask for a break? Where do you draw the line?

I’ll tell you now that I have had my fair share of experiences with mental health. Whether it be a family member or even me, depression has played a huge part of my adult life, and is always something that seems to be lingering behind a corner. My personal journey saw me start to struggle whilst at University. A combination of mounting studies, a full time job and a poor relationship, saw me fighting every day to get through. Finally, as I walked home late one evening, I was attacked. This changed my life as I knew it. I became afraid, anxious and very depressed.

Now that I have had my experience, it feels like more and more people I know have mental health issues. I still don’t know now, whether I feel that way because people are happier to share their problems, or whether it’s because I have become hyper aware to it. The reason I point this out is regardless of the fact I am better, as such, I still have days and even weeks where I can feel my depression and all its sisters (Exhausted, Unhappiness, Anxiety and Lonely) coming back out of their corner and into the forefront of my mind. So why is it when this happens, I still don’t feel able and even allowed to just stop? I still don’t feel I can say ‘You know what, today I am just going to stop and focus on me’. I still feel I have to satisfy everyone and keep chugging on, unable to draw that metaphorical line, and take the time I need to recoup and feel ‘better’.

This problem typically rears its head at work. Above I mentioned that ‘people are happier to share their problems’ however this typically happens between family and friends. I don’t want my colleagues to feel they can’t ask me to do certain pieces of work, or apply any pressure, because I have suddenly become a fragile liability. I don’t want to be passed by or ignored for roles or tasks because they don’t know how ‘well’ I am, or worst of all, if I’m coping. Now don’t get me wrong, I work in a wonderful team and I have no doubt my employer would be supportive, but ultimately I don’t want the judgement and I don’t want to be treated that little bit differently to everyone else.

It is natural though, when you are living life at one hundred miles an hour, that every once in a while you hit capacity. For me, when I am at this capacity for a sustained period of time, I begin to get rundown, then unhappy and if left untapped depressed. You would think then, I would shout when the rundown element started and ask for that timeout. Nope! I think because I feel like I have been at rock bottom once before, that it won’t happen again. I have a better grip of things. The feeling should just pass right?

So back to my original question. When is the right time to ask for a break?

The fact of the matter is, everything I have said above is valid. It is natural to worry about people’s opinions and to not want to be judged. It is ok to not want to have to explain why you are struggling and maybe even confront the ‘demons’ again. You don’t have to want to tell everyone your problems including colleagues who you may not even be close with. My advice here is to seek out what you have you have available to you. At work I have confidantes and a fantastic relationship with my Manager. I know they will take what I say in a confidential and supportive way. I know that they would rather I say I am having a difficult time, than push myself until I break. I also know I would not be judged on this but rather praised for being honest. It is all about the trust. That is what your friendships are built on, and in the way you can share with those you trust, such personal information like ‘I am finding things tough today’, you never know… they may actually have something similar they have been wanting to share with you. Those that care about you will accept you need a break and will do what they can to support you with that.

I spoke about the ‘rundown’ trigger point. Now when this starts, although I don’t necessarily take the break immediately, I do look at when my next downtime is. I plan for a break to give myself something to work towards, but also something to look forward to. Sort of a positive for a negative. It could just be a lazy evening in front of the TV, or a weekend where I can see my family. Pick a point and do something to make you happy. Also know your triggers and your internal ‘help’ signs and have a plan on what you need to do to recoup. Do you need to see a GP? Can you do something simple to turn it around? I pray I won’t ever feel as depressed as I did after University, but there is nothing I can do to guarantee that. I just need to try and reduce the chances.

I also now tell my partner when I need downtime. Historically I would have kept it to myself, and been exceptionally grumpy and closed off. Again I TRUST him and can open up. He can then support me which is what will help get me through my ‘dark moment’ (IT IS A MOMENT AND WON’T LAST FOREVER!). Feeling depressed or needing to rest does not always impact work, it can impact your home life. By being honest with those closest, they can help make sure that recoup happens.

There are obviously lots of alternative ways to ‘talk and share’ which I feel I should mention. All these avenues could fit in with the ‘having a plan’ aspect I spoke about. I had an incredible Counsellor who still to this day I reach out to for advice. If you have a job, it may be worth looking to see if they have any Employee Support Programmes. Also do not forget the wealth of support groups, forums and charities who you can talk to as well as your GP.

The biggest element of all is to TRUST in your own judgement. If you know things aren’t right and you know you are unhappy, you’re the only one who can change this. You are the only one who can reach out and tell those around you that you need that break. You are the one that can put the paperwork to one side, cancel your busy weekend, book annual leave, essentially do what makes you happy. To claw out of depression is an exceptionally hard task when you are there. We all however can do what it takes to encourage our own mental wellbeing, and support the mental wellbeing of those around us.

As I said at the beginning, I often feel like I can’t stop. I feel like the world is running at a million miles an hour and I am always so busy. So again, when it the right time to ask for a break? When your mind and body tell you so! My final advice is just to be honest with yourself and in a sense be selfish. If you taking a day off work means you miss a meeting, who cares! Work will always be there. If you don’t go to that family meal because you are exhausted and on the brink, oh well! Your friends and family will understand. Think about you, think about your wellbeing, and take that time. It could be one of the best decisions you ever make.

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