Last year, I was incredibly stressed at work.
I take a huge amount of pride in the work I do, and to feel as though I wasn’t coping with my job was a huge blow to my self-esteem. I’m only 24, I thought, I have no other demands or dependencies – why is this so hard?
Sometimes, I think things just are. Sometimes our brains are just not up to computing the things we are used to doing. After several drawn-out weeks of being on the verge of completely snapping, I was somewhat relieved when I was told I should take some time off work.
Sick leave, when related to mental health or stress, can be a very odd and isolating experience – especially if you’ve got a routine you’re used to. If you’re going through similar – or think that you might benefit from the absence – these are the things I found helpful for during some much-needed time off.
Organise that fit note, phone your doctor and research your work rights. If you’re of an anxious disposition like me, this is going to give you one less thing to think about (and who doesn’t want that?). Sorting out all the formalities early will give you time to, you know, actually de-stress.
I found it best to be super transparent with my doctor. They can chat to you about treatments, recovery and advise how much time you might need to be off for – and provide some helpful pointers for your time off.
These days, getting a break from daily responsibilities is a real luxury. If your sick leave was sudden or a little unexpected, you might find yourself with quite a bit of time on your hands.
It’s fine to do a bit of zoning out in front of day time TV or really enjoy a lie in, but the idea of sick leave is to look after yourself – just as you would with your physical health.
Now is a great time to engage in a little self reflection. Was it an isolated incident or just a bout of low mood? Is it time to start researching your options if your job isn’t making you happy?
Talk, talk, talk
Family, friends, colleagues, helplines, housemates, forums. There are all kinds of options available to help us through a tricky time.
I found it helpful to keep communication lines super open with work. It’s nice to know they care about your wellbeing – and it helps to make your return to work (if that’s your plan) that bit less daunting.
If you’re feeling weird about talking to people you know, charities are a godsend. I had a lovely email conversation (because telephones are evil) with a volunteer from Samaritans at the start of my leave. It can be really reassuring to talk to someone when others are less free to chat because of work or other day-to-day commitments.
As much as we may fantasise about the idea after a stressful period, the chances are we won’t be out of work forever. As you build up your strength and confidence during your absence, have a think about the areas where you’ll need help in your return to work.
The Mind Wellness Action Plan was an enormous help for me when it came to talking about constructive ways to assess how I was feeling and what would help me move forward.
Give yourself time
If you’re anything like me, you may find sick leave a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I would anxiously await phone calls, feel guilty for not being at work and, sometimes, just feel like I’d totally let myself down.
On these days, I couldn’t face being organised, or talking about things, or thinking about work.
Now’s the time for self-care. Finish that TV series. Go for a short walk. Snuggle down into bed with a book. Cook yourself a nice meal. Just make sure you’re being kind to yourself.
Remember that, above all, you have not failed for needing to slow down and take a breather. You wouldn’t rush back to work after a serious accident, so make sure you take the time to rebuild your mental strength – and go back to work when you’re feeling refreshed and ready.