Mental health is just as important as physical health, although we are often more concerned with the latter than the former. In fact, the link between mind and body is so deep that it is almost impossible to talk about health in the absence of mental balance.
However, while diseases that affect the body send clear and unquestionable signs, such as pain or swelling, psychological disorders tend to be more surreptitious. They generally get worse little by little, cooking under the slow fire of stress and daily tension. For this reason, we usually realize that there is a problem when we have already fallen into the depths of depression or anxiety has triggered a panic attack.
The great inner disconnection
We live in a contradictory era: the more our connection to the world increases, the more our disconnection with ourselves also increases. This lack of harmony with our emotions and feelings, but also with our affective needs, ends up taking its toll on us because we are incapable of detecting when something is wrong to take that essential break that allows us to take care of ourselves.
When we don’t pay attention to our desires we fall into a state of frustration. When we turn a deaf ear to the need for rest and relaxation, we fall into a state of permanent tension. When we ignore our need for self-actualization, we condemn ourselves to disappointment. When we hide sadness we are heading towards depression and when we ignore stress we feed anxiety.
Any poorly managed affective need can become the seed of an emotional problem. We must remember that “Repressed emotions never die. They are buried alive and will come to light in the worst way”, as Sigmund Freud wrote. When we silence our intuition and ignore the signs of emotional exhaustion, we are opening the way for more complex mental problems, from severe depression to generalized anxiety.
Prioritize mental health before it’s too late
To avoid an emotional breakdown, it is essential to stay more connected with ourselves. We need to develop a more introspective attitude that allows us to put on the parking brake before things get complicated. To do this, we must be attentive to some of the most common signs of mental load and emotional distress:
1. You are excessively irritable
There are circumstances in life in which it is understandable that our nerves are on edge, such as when we are under great stress or in extreme situations. However, if you’ve been feeling irritable about everything lately, it’s probably a sign that you need to stop and take a break to reassess what’s going wrong.
Basically, you overreact to any little inconvenience, from forgetting your keys at home to your barking dog. Everything is annoying you. Even positive things trigger that irritability, like voicemails from a friend or that neighbor who always greets you in the elevator. It is as if your fuse is getting shorter and shorter and there is no reason that can explain this constant irritability.
Remember that when we feel balanced, satisfied with ourselves and at peace, it is difficult for small setbacks to affect us. When we overreact to day-to-day difficulties, we may have a much bigger problem than that broken glass or misplaced word.
2. You are constantly in a bad mood
Many mental disorders are accompanied by a chemical imbalance in the brain, so they end up affecting your mood. Long before, there are small signs of what is brewing, such as exhaustion and tiredness, which lead to an almost permanent state of bad mood.
Of course, sadness, frustration and anger are emotions that must have their space. This is not about becoming a ‘flower power’ fundamentalist. However, when negative emotions completely displace positive states, the time has come to stop on the road.
Stress allows us to stay focused in uncertain situations, giving us an extremely useful extra dose of energy and motivation, but when it is excessive it becomes counterproductive and changes us profoundly. Therefore, if you spend all day in a bad mood and have become a cynical, unpleasant or even rude person, it is a sign that you need to take care of your mental health.
3. You can’t concentrate
Emotional problems affect your cognitive functioning. When you’re overly stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated, or angry, you just can’t process information as clearly and quickly. Your brain is too busy processing those emotions, so it can’t allocate many resources to thinking logically.
Neuroscientists at the Universities of California and Tel Aviv discovered that exhaustion actually “turns off” the brain by affecting the neurons’ ability to encode information and translate it into an appropriate response. That is, they fail to connect and communicate with each other effectively.
For that reason, when your mental health suffers, your performance usually does too. Daily forgetfulness is a sign of this, as well as a lack of attention and difficulties concentrating, no matter how hard you try. That leads you to procrastinate or make mistakes.
If your mind is elsewhere, it’s not surprising that you’ll end up working longer hours, but you’ll be less efficient. That lack of rest ends up creating a vicious cycle that causes even more exhaustion and stress. Often this lack of concentration is also accompanied by a feeling of overwhelm that completely overwhelms you. For this reason, when you can’t concentrate, the solution is not to spend more hours but to rest to discover what happens.
Stop to rest, but also to think
When we talk about prioritizing mental health and taking a break, it’s because we need to rest. We need to disconnect from everything that is generating tension. Drop ballast. Breathe. Relieve stress. Allow the body and mind to recover.
However, we must also take advantage of this break to rethink our situation and analyze what is happening to us and what we are doing. If we return to normality without having made that reflection, it is likely that very soon we will find ourselves at the same point.
Let ourselves be carried away by inertia. Allowing day-to-day urgencies to decide our priorities. Plunging into the fog of obligations and commitments will lead us to the same blind alley of emotional exhaustion. Advancing in this way, in fits and starts and as best we can, has a price. And each time it will be higher, so it is not worth it.
Therefore, take a break to rest, but also to reflect on what you are doing and what you should do. Prioritizing mental health is always worth it.
Nir, Y. et. Al. (2017) Selective neuronal lapses precede human cognitive lapses following sleep deprivation. Nature Medicine; 23: 1474–1480.