Next Monday, August 24th, I’ll be joining the #BCSM (Breast Cancer and Social Media) community again for their Monday night tweet chat. Our topic is going to be “mental health breaks.” I’ve been kicking this idea around in my head for a while, and one of the things that has come up for me is that many of the clients I work with in the office, as well as people that I interact with in health communities really struggle with the idea of taking a break.
Living with cancer can be a consuming experience. It can feel like a full-time job to manage early treatment, and a very different job to cope with ongoing fatigue, chemobrain, and other long-term treatment effects. In addition to that, cancer and other illness can be like an earthquake in your relationships and work life. It makes a lot of sense that trying to create mental health breaks can feel unattainable or like a chore.
And all of that is why making space for breaks matters. When your body has taken huge hits, and so much of your experience has been wrenched out of your control, it becomes really important to focus on what you can control. And investments (big and small) in your overall mental health are definitely under your control.
So let’s look at some of the reasons we aren’t getting these mental health breaks.
Reason 1: I don’t have time to do that stuff.
Baloney. Mental health breaks don’t need to be a week-long vacation. or an hour of meditation. Not that either of those are bad. You can give yourself a mental break in under one minute. Try focusing for 10-12 seconds on a sensation of comfort, connection, or pleasure–the taste of your coffee, the sound of kids laughing, the warmth of a favorite blanket. For that 10-12 seconds, really immerse yourself in how good that moment feels. Try to identify how you are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or feeling that goodness. This is an exercise that neuroscientist Rick Hanson calls “taking in the good.”
Reason 2: Treatment has taken up so much of my time, energy, money, etc that I don’t have any resources left over to take care of my mental health.
It can be easy to think of mental health & self-care as luxury items, but they aren’t. Not only are they absolutely essential to our overall health, but you can take a break for your mental health in ways that don’t take up more of your resources. You can change your scenery (get outside, get to a lovely indoor space, add a plant to your desk or bedroom). You can move around–even some gentle stretches can begin to release endorphins & lift your mood. You can breathe–3-5 deep breaths are enough to reset a stressed out-brain.
Reason 3: It’s not fair to my spouse/kids/family/friends/employer if I focus on me. Isn’t that selfish?
Nope. No way. Not at all. Not even a little. Self-care is not selfish. Focusing on mental health actually helps you be a better partner, parent, friend or co-worker. Just think about how you act and feel when you are exhausted or upset. Is it your best self? Can you make good judgments and extend compassion? I can’t. I need to have a basic foundation of rest, self-care, and mental health time outs, so that I can be the best person possible in my relationships. Taking mental health breaks helps me (and you) to be the person that others count on. Without those breaks, we are all more brittle and likely to, well, break.
This is just a tiny sampling of how you can challenge the blocks to your own mental health breaks. Want more? Join us on Monday night for the #BCSM Community tweet chat.