Taking a Break

We live in a world that expects a lot from us. Even in difficult times there seems to be an unwritten notion that we are supposed to be okay, keep going, and hold it all together. However, we are lucky as Canadians because many of our job sites offer medical leaves. I often get to help people identify when they need to take a medical leave due to burnout, stress, and/or life events. This is most often met with resistance, even if the idea was the client’s. We worry what others will think, that it will look badly on us, or that things are not bad enough. Interestingly, almost everyone who takes a break report that these worries were unfounded, that they needed the rest, and that they were grateful they took the time. 

If you are reading this and wondering if you are the target audience of this article or it has recently been suggested that you take a leave, I would like to offer you some ‘how-tos’ on how to go about it and what it could look like. 
First, make an appointment with your doctor to talk through your symptoms and to explore options. If you have a therapist, you can also talk to them and have them consult with each other (this is optional and only if you feel comfortable). Once you take a leave it is normal for the first few weeks to feel like you are doing nothing. That nothing you feel is actually the rest your body needs to recuperate from the high stress it was under. It is okay to spend a few weeks sleeping or numbing out with TV. Once you feel rested phase two involves doing the work. This means meeting with a therapist, adding exercise (a walk is enough, more is okay too), taking time each day to work on skills like self-compassion, emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and/or stress management.  

A therapist can be helpful to guide this plan, but you could also use self-help books or podcasts and consultation with your GP. The goal here is to address the reasons for the stress or burnout and to explore your behaviours. This usually involves learning to say ‘no,’ setting boundaries, and exploring stress management skills. 

The final phase is planning the return to work. This may involve revisiting your job description. I am often bewildered to learn many individuals are unaware of what their job description is! Identify aspects of your work that are not included in the description or what work needs to be shared with others. Then develop a plan to speak to management about what is needed in order to return to work and stay there while remaining healthy. This involves learning to advocate for yourself and understanding where you take too much on either on your own terms or because you feel it is expected. I often say that large corporations are quite happy for you to go above and beyond, and we need to advocate for what is reasonable for our well-being. During this time, it is also important to make a plan for how to incorporate the wellness you learned in your time off into your work schedule. When we forget this part the risk of relapse is much higher. It is also important that a return to work is gradual, a few days a week at a time. This is done to help ease you back in, work on your personal wellness, and to test your overall readiness. 

The outcome of the break often varies. Sometimes people realize they need a change in career, some return to work and feel successful after advocating their needs and putting in boundaries, and a few return to the same high levels of stress.

The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician who can provide mental health resources in your community.