Are so you overwhelmed with everything going on in your life that you just need a mental health day? A day to check out – no work, no responsibilities, no to-do lists. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

Stress has become embedded in our culture

It seems like there’s a social mentality that if we’re not crazy busy and stressed out all the time, then we’re not working hard enough. It’s an idea that’s prevalent in our workplaces (Stress: a social issue). We have 40 hour a week jobs, but let’s be honest, most of us are working at least 45 hours a week because we’re working through our lunch breaks. You hear people venting all the time because their employer is constantly increasing their workload. Because of this pressure, not only are we plowing through our lunch breaks while mindlessly stuffing our faces with either fast food or a frozen meal we microwaved; we put off important things like going to the doctor, especially if it’s for preventive care. We wouldn’t want our employer to think we’re not committed or reliable, or worse, ask why we’re going to the doctor. And really, our jobs are one of our greatest stresses. We stress about how secure our jobs are, whether we’re performing to the high expectations set upon us by our bosses and, of course, work-life balance.

“I have actually heard couples get into arguments about who is busier and who is more tired,” says  psychologist Dr. Max Wachtel. “It is like they are competing with each other to be the family’s hardest worker…there is pressure to be busy and to work hard…It comes from an expectation, either internal or external, that we be perfect in every way. We have to be perfect at work, and we need to be the perfect parents, and we have to have fantastic social lives. Every moment ends up getting booked, and all of a sudden, we find ourselves folding laundry at 1:00 in the morning because we’ve run out of time.”

Stress is not the same as busy

It’s important to note the distinction between being busy and being stressed. Just because you are really busy, doesn’t necessarily mean you are stressed out. Stress is when we feel like things have just become too much to deal with. Some stress can actually be good for you. It can get you going or save your life (think “fight or flight”). But when the stress starts to take a toll on your mental and physical health, that’s when it becomes a problem (What is Stress? How to Deal with Stress).

How stress affects your body

Stress can affect your body in many ways, according to the Mayo Clinic. It can cause headaches, anxiety and even impact eating habits by causing you to overeat or not eat enough. Some symptoms of stress can lead to even more health problems if you don’t address the causes of your stress. (50 Common Signs and Symptoms of Stress)

According to Dr. Wachtel, stress can really cause us to be less productive. “Stress can actually cause us to be less efficient–if we are exhausted and feeling overwhelmed, it can be hard to figure out how to prioritize and get tasks done…It seems counterintuitive, but if we try to accomplish fewer tasks, we tend to get more done in a day and we tend to complete those tasks more effectively.”

Ways to de-stress

If you really are stressed out, it’s time to seriously think about ways to alleviate it. You can’t keep putting the issues off or have the mindset that “this is just how it is for everyone.”

“You need to prioritize,” says Dr. Wachtel. “You can’t get everything done that you want to finish in one day, so pick the top three tasks, and focus on those. Also, realize you don’t need to have every moment of your life completely booked–some down time to relax is okay, and it will probably help you to get more done in the long run. It is extremely important to carve out some time for yourself, too. Focus on an old hobby you used to enjoy or try learning a new skill. Exercise, meditation, prayer, yoga–those are all great for stress too.”

Do you need help coming up with ways to unplug and recharge? Here are a few more suggestions:

Rent a funny movie.
Laughter is the best medicine. Someone once said that, didn’t they? Not to mention, renting a funny movie can provide you with another positive opportunity – family bonding time! (10 Tips to Help You De-Stress)

Listen to relaxing music.
This is a great one because whether you’re in the car or at the office you can usually put some music on. Choose something with a slow tempo and preferably with no lyrics. Think spa music. (Stress Relief: 8 Ways to De-Stress Your Life)

Identify your stress triggers
This one is especially important. By identifying what stresses you out, you can be prepared to deal with it ahead of time. You may not be able to eliminate the stress trigger, but just knowing what it is, when it’s likely to occur and how you plan to deal with it is a huge part of the battle. (10 Ways to De-Stress Your Mind and Body)

When to seek professional help
“If you are trying to de-stress and still struggling, professional help may be a good idea. A therapist can help you prioritize and understand how to relax,” adds Dr. Wachtel. If you feel you would like to speak with a professional check to see if your employer has an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) or call your insurance for referral or go to one of our 9Health Fairs for a stress screening.

Here are some signs you may need professional help dealing with stress, according to the Cleveland Clinic:

  • Experiencing a marked decline in work/school performance
  • Excess anxiety
  • Misuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Unable to cope with demands of daily life
  • Having irrational fears
  • Experiencing significant change in sleeping or eating habits
  • Having suicidal thoughts or urge to hurt others
  • Engaging in self-mutilation, self-destructive or dangerous behavior
  • Having a sustained withdrawn mood or behavior

What’s your favorite way to de-stress?