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How to give yourself a mental break (and not feel guilty about it)

Despite increasing mental loads, we all deserve to—and should—take time for ourselves.

How to give yourself a mental break (and not feel guilty about it)
[Photos: Erol Ahmed/Unsplash; Tommy Lee Walker/Unsplash]
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Depending on your situation, the complexity of your life might have dramatically increased or dramatically decreased with coronavirus and its ensuing panic and consequences.

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On one end of the spectrum, you may have a less compressed schedule from no commute and a downtick in business. On the other end, you may have a much more compressed schedule with your kids at home and a huge uptick in work, like one of my clients who has a job in grocery store logistics, a field that seems highly stressful to work in, in this moment.

Regardless of where you fall, all of us have an increased mental load due to the massive uncertainty, sometimes around things we’ve taken for granted like being able to go to the office or buying basic items. Who knew a couple of weeks ago we would begin to think of toilet paper as a hot commodity?

We all have increased metal stress since we are rethinking all of our routines, even the simple stuff.

With all that’s going on, you will experience a drag on your productivity, especially when the initial shock waves hit. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t—or shouldn’t—give yourself a mental break. One of the best ways to stay healthy, happy, and productive is to attend to your mental health so that you don’t burn out.

Sleep more 

I’m noticing different reactions in my coaching clients in terms of the crisis’s impact on their sleep. With some, they’re having more difficulty sleeping through the night. With others, they need extra sleep—or can simply give themselves extra sleep because they’ve cut out their commute.

If you find yourself not sleeping through the night, it’s okay to give yourself permission to take a nap during the day. According to best-selling author Dan Pink, the perfect nap or “nappuccino,” as he likes to call it, involves downing caffeine before you take a nap and then setting a timer for 25 minutes. Naps of 10-20 minutes can boost alertness without creating the post-sleep brain fog of longer naps. Moreover, the caffeine kicks in right after this short interval of time.

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Sleep has a positive impact on your mental, physical, and emotional health. If you find yourself wanting or needing more sleep at night, I recommend giving it to yourself. It may hinder your normal schedule to become nocturnal and wake up at noon, but, if you feel you need an extra hour in the morning and can still begin work on time, go for it.

Take mini breaks all day

Even those who typically don’t have problems with focus are finding staying attentive with work more difficult in these uncertain times. I noticed in myself that I started to develop a Facebook habit, and I needed to curb how often I was logging on.

Instead of telling yourself that you “just need to focus,” tell yourself that you must make time for breaks and should plan them into your schedule. You could use the Pomodoro Technique of 25 minutes on, and five minutes, or another short interval, off.

The important thing is that you let your brain know that within a relatively short amount of time, you will have a clear break to check social media, walk around, respond to texts, or do whatever nonwork habit you want.

Give yourself a lunch

With different news and different restrictions that dramatically impact our lives coming at us each day, we have a lot more to mentally process than normal. Also, people’s stances on the coronavirus and response to it has become very political in nature and polarized. It’s almost impossible to know if the people around you are in radical agreement or radical disagreement with your views. All of this external turbulence can create great internal turbulence, heightening your struggle to focus.

To combat this distraction and support your mental health, take a real lunch break. Eat, journal, walk, do some push-ups, read—do whatever you need to do to process and calm your internal self, so that you can have the capacity to come back and focus on getting things done.

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Know when to stop working from home

Finally, give yourself a real shutoff time. Designate a time when you are done with work for the day, and give yourself permission to take a real break in the evening. The reason why this is important is because, while working at home, you may become unclear when your work stops and your personal time begins. You may feel guilty for watching a Netflix show or doing small acts just for your well-being.

However, if you decide you’re “done for the day,” you can watch movies, exercise, spend time with your family, or do whatever you want to do to recharge.

Hopefully, life will return to our concept of “normal” soon. Meanwhile, the key for productivity is sustainability. To have a sustainable schedule, you need intentional breaks throughout the day. Moreover, at the day’s end, check in with yourself so that you have the mental clarity to keep getting things done on the next day.