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  • hopepsychologyprac

Should I take time off work for my mental health?

The question of whether to take time off work for mental health needs is something we get asked a lot, and as with most great questions, the answer is "it depends". And with most great answers, the hardest bit comes first.

Over the years working with people whose careers span the workforce, I've observed that noticing and acknowledging the slow, insidious, creep that stress can have on our mental health can be tricky. Subtle changes within the workplace that may be related to colleagues, responsibilities, roles or demand exist within a wider context of an individuals personal and professional sphere, all of which may be impacted upon by the wider sphere of a social, economic, political and environmental landscape. Demands can gradually change, like the metaphor of the frog in boiling water, until we are in an undesirable situation that is hard to see from our unique position. The most noticeable effect can be on relationships - withdrawal, irritability or distraction are common.

The first step is to take a moment to stop and assess the landscape. I know, easier said than done when life is hectic, but doing so can reap immeasurable benefits. On a scale of 0-10, where has your stress been? How easy has it been to feel your values are being fulfilled? Has your performance in the workplace or other domains important to you (e.g. hobbies, relationships, parents) changed? Talk to someone you trust, what have they noticed? Now take all this information and assess it like a curious scientist might. What does the data suggest?

If the evidence suggests taking time off, this can come with a myriad of feelings that range from relief to shame. Key to recall is that time off can help us reset, undertake changes that allow us to better achieve our values, approach challenges with renewed creativity and vigour, and enhance job satisfaction and productivity. What can constitute a relatively brief pause can have magnificent returns in personal and professional lives, and very rarely do I come across anyone who regrets doing so.

If you are feeling like time off work may be necessary, research your workplace policy on time off and mental health. Consider what duration you feel would be beneficial, and if you can, make a plan for what this time off is to be used for - rest and relaxation might be an entirely appropriate use of time. If you can, seek support from friends, family or colleagues, and when you're ready, reach out to work to discuss your needs. It may be worth considering reaching out to a professional, either through a work place EAP programme, or separately, to help navigate any long or short term goals.

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