When To Take A Step Back

I’ve written a lot about the importance of trying to push through your mental illness. To clarify, I don’t mean “power through” or “man up” or any of those other absolutely ridiculous cliches. By that, I suppose I more mean “don’t surrender.” As someone who constantly feels like they are being chased by anxiety/depression – and that they will nip my heels and catch me one day – I think one of the hardest things is knowing when to stop moving.

What do I mean by that? Well, if you suffer from this stuff, you probably know. You’re exhausted – words aren’t making any sense anymore – and your brain is just fighting back against every productive impulse you have. All you want to do in the world is build a big old blanket fort, watch Netflix, eat all of the ice cream, and go to sleep.

But you can’t. Because you are so scared that, once you slow down and surrender…even if it’s just for one moment…it will catch up with you. And once it has you in its grips, you lose. It’s over.

Now, if you are someone who isn’t depressed or anxious…or at least, has a better handle on it than I clearly do…you are looking at me right now like I’m saying 2 + 2 = 5. Because non Type-A people, and people without a mental illness, don’t suffer like this. They can take their foot off the pedal without feeling guilt or fear.

I suppose, then, that this is an entry for those of you who know what I’m talking about. Because the truth is that there are moments where you simply must take your foot off the pedal and slow down.

When do you hit that point? I bet you know. I bet you know somewhere, in your heart of hearts, when it is time to back off.

When you hit that point – and the guilt or fear starts to set in – I have two points for you to consider.

First – stop. An hour playing video games doesn’t mean that you will lose your career. No human being, ever, has made it in this world without self care, be them type A, B, X, Y or Z. Every event is not vitally important. Every assignment does not have to be done RIGHT STAT NOW, because even if it is necessary for your career, a career which holds that must sway over you is not that important.

Second, let me flip it around. People like me – and maybe you – who are obsessed with productivity need to stop conflating working non-stop and productivity. Microsoft Japan just tried a four day work week and the result was…a 40% increase in productivity. It’s almost like working smarter is better than harder.

Also. Your demons will find you, or they won’t. But taking a break never killed anyone. But it probably will help kill your demons.

Alright. That’s it. I’m out. I need to eat me some ice cream.

Why don’t we prioritize self-care?

A good chunk of my life as a public official deals with mental illness as it impacts my constituents. One of the key issues, of course, is that far too many people have access to mental health care – some studies show that only 44% of the mentally ill actually get treatment. That’s a tragedy and a travesty, but it’s reflective of a larger issue:

We do not prioritize how we care for ourselves, or our minds.

And if you need any truer example of this, well…think of yourself. And I mean that seriously. I know everyone is different, but I bet that if you got a bad cough that you couldn’t shake, you’d go to the doctor. If you broke your arm, you run to the ER.

Now, should you run to a therapist every time you get sad? No, of course not. But I will say this: I think there are far too many people out there who simply don’t take the time to take care of themselves. And that may not mean seeking counseling. It may be as simple as taking a walk. Meditating. Building some time into your day to de-stress before your own sadness levels reach a crisis point.

Is that you? It almost certainly is. None of us – and yeah, I know this is me – adequately take care of ourselves. This is true across most sectors of society. How many of us are stressed? How many of us know we should be doing more to watch our for our emotional state of well-being, but don’t?

For example, check out this TED Talk from Guy Winch on emotional first aid, in which he discusses emotional hygiene:

Winch nails it: We know and teach remarkably little on emotional hygiene and well-being. Winch asks the question that I am asking to you now: “Why is it that our physical health is so much more important to us than our psychological health?”

One of the books on my reading list is The Depression Cure by Dr. Stephen Ilardi. The book essentially makes six recommendations for treating depression:

  • Eating more Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Engaging activity
  • Physical exercise
  • Get more sunlight
  • Strong social support network
  • Sleep

Now, serious question: How many of you looked at that and went, “Yeah, right, wouldn’t that be nice?”

I mean, I did. And wouldn’t it be nice to get more of these things?

We’ve got a long way to go in society to combat our rising rates of mental illness, depression and anxiety. Many of those changes have to happen at the cultural and governmental level. But there always has to be individual responsibility taken. And if all of us prioritized taking care of ourselves, I bet we’d be happier.

Just something to think about.