I Took Time Off Work To Get Mental Rest But Now I Feel Even Worse…

How do I gather mental resources as in how does the mind and subconscious replenish? I am off work now so I can get mental rest, why is it worse? I thought time off will get me better but I feel it is all coming out and not denying and distracting makes it worse not better, is it normal?

How time off from a job affects your mental health depends on what was stressing you in the first place. There are two common situations here.

Job Induced Trauma

In the first situation, your job is the cause of your stress. Many jobs are trauma-inducing. Working in fields where you are exposed to humans in any kind of severe distress (such as medicine, law enforcement, crisis help, military, or rescue) is pretty much guaranteed to psychologically traumatize you at some point. Many of these jobs will also cause spiritual trauma because they often result in people getting caught in “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” moral dilemmas.

Your elements have tipping points when it comes to how much stress they can handle. When people first become traumatized on the job, they usually attempt to keep working. This is a mistake. When trauma occurs, the smart move is to immediately take time off, talk to a counsellor, and get properly debriefed. The sooner you talk to someone in detail about what happened to you, the sooner you can stabilize. It is impossible to resolve trauma without doing an in-depth analysis of why whatever happened upset you so much. While it is possible for you to do this kind of analysis on your own if you understand how to go about it, it’s much easier to do it with guidance from someone who understands trauma mechanics.

In this first scenario, since the person is freshly traumatized, they will be so focused on their new crisis that they won’t get much enjoyment out of taking time off. Due to how poorly the general public understands trauma mechanics, there are a lot of negative stereotypes of people who take time off for “mental health reasons.” Those stereotypes often make people feel guilty, embarrassed, and inferior for trying to take care of themselves. The very fact of taking time off often makes this group feel immediately worse, not better, because they feel like failures for not being able to “just suck it up.” But if they put serious effort into addressing their trauma (ideally meaning they start talking to a knowledgeable counsellor right away or they start doing in-depth self-analysis), they will often start to feel much better fairly soon as they receive help with changing their traumatic beliefs. Beliefs are easiest to correct when they have just been formed, which is why getting in-depth help as soon as possible is so beneficial.

Worsening Existing Trauma With Stress

A second common scenario is that people begin a job already in a state of trauma. This means that their base stress levels are already too high, then the job adds more stress onto the pile. In some cases, the nature of the job directly triggers trauma fears, which can result in people experiencing sudden spikes in anxiety and possibly even panic attacks at work. In other cases, the job isn’t directly triggering trauma fears, but it is adding more stress than the person’s system can handle, so they start hitting their breaking point.

Trauma puts a heavy toll on your system. It’s rather like trying to go grocery shopping when you have a splitting headache. The fact that your head is in so much pain makes focusing on your purchases very difficult. Once again, pressing on for too long in this second situation can lead to a complete system breakdown, so the sooner you quit, the better. Because the job was piling on extra stress, there will often be noticeable relief when the job ends. But because the you are still in a state of trauma, simply stopping the job won’t restore you back to a positive state of health. You have to address the root causes of your stress, and in this second situation, the stress often set in long before you started your job.

Understanding Recovery

Based on your wording, it sounds like you fit into that second category. If that is the case, the kind of stress you’re dealing with was not caused by your job, but it is severe enough to not leave you enough margin to hold a job. Taking time off is definitely the right move in a situation like this because it is vital that you reduce the demand on your system once you start experiencing internal alarms that you are approaching burnout.

Now excessive stress always makes you feel lousy, and once your base stress levels become too high, you can easily start sliding into depression because your natural state is a painful one. It’s rather like having a terrible headache: if you don’t do something to give yourself a break from the constant pain, you’re going to be in constant pain, and obviously that’s going to make you feel drained and miserable. So what do you do now?

When your daily stress levels are so high that they are causing you constant misery, there are two goals that you need to focus on. The first goal is to identify and address the root cause of your stress so you can start getting your levels to lower. The second goal is to identify ways to give yourself relief from the symptoms of being so stressed. The analogy here would be like taking an aspirin for your headache: it only gives you temporary relief, but that relief is very valuable because it gives your system a chance to rest.

You can’t fix trauma instantly. Changing traumatic beliefs is a process that takes time. While you’re working on that process, you’re still feeling miserable, and that makes it very hard for you to function. So the goal is to rotate between doing therapeutic exercises and doing activities that will help you recharge. The best way to go about this is to set up a daily schedule for yourself.

Schedules are immensely helpful in cases like yours because they give your days structure and purpose (something that can easily feel absent once you stop working as someone’s employee). The advantage of writing up your own schedule is that you can be strategic and customize your schedule to be as beneficial as possible.

Here are some important things to consider when making up your daily schedule:

  • Your body needs energy. Stressed bodies often start requesting certain kinds of foods to help compensate for the extra strain they are under. Your schedule should include at least three meals, all of which have a decent amount of protein. Each meal should also include some form of sugar or starch (sugar helps enormously when dealing with stress, so this is not the time to start cutting calories and trying to lose weight, unless food-binging is the problem you’re working on). Pay attention to any food cravings that your body comes up with, and try to meet them, unless they are some form of recreational drug. If you’re not already addicted to drugs, this is a bad time to start experimenting because you are extra vulnerable to forming a substance addiction when you are in a high state of stress. (I’m assuming you’re not dealing with a drug addiction. For anyone who is, realize that I would give different advice in your situation, so send in your own request if you’re looking for help. A lot of the advice I give on this site is not suitable for a general audience.)
  • If your body requests snacks between your scheduled meals, you should accommodate it. Psychological and spiritual stress is very hard on the body, and it is being entirely reasonable to request extra resources so don’t give it a bunch of guff for doing so. In general, dieting during trauma recovery is not a good idea because it works against the goal of trying to reduce your overall stress load.
  • Space your main meals evenly apart, with not much more than 4 hours between them. Usually breakfast and lunch work well when they are placed closer together, and lunch can be further from dinner if you have a decent snack in between.
  • Realize that there is a natural decline in your cortisol levels in the afternoon. For people dealing with excessive stress, this natural shift often results in them feeling a wave of depression and/or fatigue every afternoon. Consider taking a nap or having a snack during this window of time. Listen to your body to see which option it prefers.
  • Once you’ve got your meals planned at realistic times, add a short walk after each main meal. Gentle exercise is very helpful for relieving stress. Short bursts of intense exercise is very helpful for relieving sudden spikes of anxiety/anger/fear. If you are dealing with this kind of spiking, plan ahead of time for what kind of intense exercise can help you. Speed walking, or even going for a short run can be very effective here. Other options to consider are running as fast as you can in place inside your home, using a punching bag (they have models that are free standing so there is no installation required), or even the classic screaming into a pillow (so the neighbours can’t hear you). The goal here is to vent psychological and/or spiritual stress out of your system using physical activities. Doing some form of exercise is much more effective and helpful than keeping it bottled up and trying to press on with your day. But again, what works for you will be different than what works for someone else, so let your mind direct you here. Visualize doing the kinds of activities I’ve mentioned and notice what your internal reaction is. Avoid the ones that give you a negative reaction. Try the ones that seem appealing.
  • At this point you should have three meals planned, followed by three gentle walks. Consider listening to music on your walks. Happy or calm music can be restorative. Music that makes you feel melancholy or thoughtful can be therapeutic if it’s not overdone. This is especially true if you are having difficulty crying even when you feel very sad. You should stop listening to any music that bothers you (meaning it just makes you feel agitated, but it’s not helping you vent).
  • Now that you have three time anchors in your day, it’s time to fit in a rotation of activities. There are three types of activities you need to include: productive, therapeutic, and recharging.
  • Therapeutic activities are ones that work on the root causes of your current stress. These activities are critical to your recovery, but it is important that you don’t overdo them. Introspection is important here, so consider adding a session of journaling to your morning. You can type or write–whatever is easiest, however this needs to be kept private, not shared (don’t even think about blogging your feelings to the world at this point, because that a bad idea for so many reasons). Often a good time for this will be right after breakfast. It’s important that you don’t multitask at this time (no laundry running in the background, no mobile phone pinging you). This is a time for you to sit down and focus on your soul and subconscious. Close your eyes and wait for specific concerns to surface. When they do, write them down, then vent about them. Try to flesh out why you are upset, and try to identify when each concern first surfaced in your life. This is also a good time to do some of the exercises that I recommend in my post Practical Steps for Correcting Traumatic Beliefs. Since you have a relationship with God already established, direct some of your thoughts at Him as you write. Also write down any feedback you feel He gives you in the moment. This is also a good time to do or review the soul attitude exercise that I outlined in How Can I Combat My Anxiety & Panic Over World Events?.
  • Limit your morning therapeutic activity to 1 hour. Stop earlier if you run out of inspiration. If you want to go longer, don’t go over 2 hours max.
  • After the morning therapeutic activity, you might feel a need to destress with exercise. If you feel a need to reset your mood, try taking a short walk with upbeat music, or doing a brief session of intense physical exercise.
  • It’s now time for a productive activity. You could skip the exercise and go right to this activity if that works. Listening to upbeat music at this point is often helpful. The purpose of productive activities is to deal with the chores of life: laundry, groceries, dishes, cleaning. When you’re dealing with stress overload, you need to limit your productive activities because you’re working on a tighter resource budget. But it’s also important to put in at least one of these a day because it will stave off the “Wow, I’m just a slob with no life” kind of depression.
  • By the time you do your productive activity, it will probably be time for lunch. After lunch, you take a walk. After the walk, it’s time for a recharging activity. It’s tempting to squeeze another kind of productive activity in here, but you should resist this urge when you’re trying to recover from stress. For someone in your state, recharging activities are as vital as therapeutic activities, so we need both to happen each day.
  • Your recharge activity needs to be something that you personally consider “fun.” Reading, gaming on some electronic device (Google Play store offers an extensive library of games that you can play for free on your phone), watching television, crosswords, painting, knitting–the sky’s the limit. As long as you like the activity, it will be beneficial. The goal here is to give your elements a break from focusing on stressful subjects. During therapeutic exercises, you intensely focus on what is stressing you. That is exhausting, but necessary to recovery. You then use recharging activities to help your elements replenish their energy after feeling drained by the therapeutic activities.
  • You should schedule a solid 2 hours for your recharging activity. It’s important that you don’t cut yourself short here, so set a timer so you don’t have to watch the clock. You will be entering the cortisol slump period soon, so this would be a good time to have some coffee or tea paired with some chocolate, a couple of cookies or some fruit. Treats like this are comforting to the body, and we need to be helping all of your elements recharge at the same time.
  • After your recharging activity, it’s time for a second productive activity. Allow 2 hours to feel like you really got something practical done. Now it will be time for dinner. Then another walk.
  • After your evening walk, attempt another therapeutic activity, only make this one focused on you and God. God leads all recovery processes, and it’s important to keep your relationship with Him in centre view at this time. Doing a spiritual meditation would be helpful here. Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, turn on some pleasant background music, and visualize you and God just sitting on a bench together in the middle of some beautiful scenery. Your subconscious will create the scenery. A good trick here is to use nature sounds to help it focus. For example, if you like the beach, turn on some music with the sounds of ocean waves in the background and your subconscious will automatically produce imagery to match those sounds. Ask God to help you form the image of Him sitting on the bench with you, and be open to Him surprising you with the image that surfaces. God will typically encourage you to visualize Him in a form that you find safe and comforting, and for humans, this usually means visualizing God in a human form. It’s also very common for God to encourage people to view Him as having their same ethnicity (because this helps them feel comfortable), so if you’re not white, don’t feel a need to cling to the “white Jesus” image. The Divine Being who we refer to as Jesus is not a human, and He has no body, so there is no such thing as an “accurate” image of Jesus. The point in visualizing God in human form is to help you feel more comfortable with Him, not to figure out what He actually looks like. God understands what kinds of imagery will help your soul and mind feel more relaxed with Him, and that is the kind of imagery He will encourage you to use, so be open to His suggestions.
  • Only do this meditation for as long as it feels helpful. Don’t set a timer, and don’t feel bad if you give up after just a few minutes. The point is to try. Now it’s time to move on to a second recharging activity. If you feel guilty about doing this, think about the two productive activities you’ve already done and remember that you are trying to recover from stress exhaustion, which is a very serious health problem that requires specific kinds of treatment. Choose any recharging activity that you want at this point, and try to get in another solid 2 hours, once again setting a timer so you can fully absorb yourself and not watch a clock.
  • By now you’ll probably be a couple of hours away from bedtime. Unless you’re loving your activity and want to keep going, you should change activities at the 2 hour mark. Variety is very helpful in these cases as it feels more stimulating/satisfying to your subconscious. At this point, you might want to make some plans for the next day, switch to a different recharging activity, or even think about your previous therapeutic activity. Let your mind and soul lead you here with their promptings.
  • When you go to bed, if your mind is racing, try using white noise or calming background music to help yourself settle. Make sure your bed is sufficiently warm (enough blankets) and comfortable. If you are feeling tense and anxious when you go to bed, you might need to add some things that are physically comforting, such as a pregnancy pillow (which is a very long pillow that wraps around you and creates a calming, cuddled sensation).

Here is a sample schedule that reflects the principles I’ve explained:

A lack of structure always makes a condition like yours feel worse. But few people realize how critical it is to balance therapeutic activities with recharging activities. When we’re feeling miserable and we’re in a hurry to recover, a schedule like this can seem “too slack.” But it’s really not. That morning therapeutic activity is going to alter how your mind and soul think for the rest of the day. One daily session of intense introspection is more than enough to keep your internal elements on the right track. If you overdo the therapeutic activities, you end up overwhelming yourself, and going backwards instead of forwards. Recovery requires time. Your elements also need to feel rewarded for their efforts, and that’s where the recharging activities come in. Remember that it is draining for your soul and subconscious to work on their issues, so when you want them to do the work, you need to be intentional about putting in more fun/rest breaks for them as well. You can’t just pile on therapeutic and productive activities and expect yourself to thrive. The recharging activities are essential.

This post was written in response to Alissa.