Jonah Hill is taking “the important” step of pulling back from certain work duties for the sake of his mental health – something many of us could probably benefit from doing, when struggles flare up.
The Hollywood star, 38 – whose new documentary Stutz explores the topic of mental health, including his own experiences – said events and public appearances “exacerbated” his anxiety attacks.
While ups and downs in life are normal, how can you tell when it’s time to take a step back on the work front?
— Dr. Gia (@drgiamarson) August 18, 2022
“We see a lot of people coming into the clinic presenting with workplace stress and anxiety, but when we dig deeper in therapy, it’s usually part of a broader issue that needs addressing,” says Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic (thechelseapsychologyclinic.com).
Whether it’s anxiety attacks like Hill, burnout, depression or something else that’s going on with your mental health, there are potentially several signs that it may be time to take a step back on the work front…
We’re not just talking feeling extra tired temporarily because you’ve been busy or staying up late. But deep, ongoing exhaustion may be a sign your mental health needs a breather.
“Exhaustion causes cognitive problems, so you might find that you’re easily losing focus in meetings or you’re becoming increasingly forgetful. Your anxiety levels will increase, so you might find yourself over-thinking or overly preoccupied with work,” says Touroni.
“It’s normal to feel tired from time to time, but if you’re feeling tired most days, or you find you don’t have the same energy levels you once did, this should serve as a major red flag.”
2. You can’t sleep
Touroni says: “Sleep should also be taken seriously, as it serves as a good indicator of your emotional and mental wellbeing.”
It’s common for anxiety to spiral at night-time, and chronic stress can also result in difficulty unwinding and drifting off.
“Sleep difficulties can be a sign that burnout is on the way,” adds Touroni. “This might present as problems falling asleep, not being able to stay asleep, waking up multiple times throughout the night or waking up early and not being able to fall asleep again.”
3. Relationship difficulties
When we’re reaching our limits and overwhelmed, it can seep into our relationships and communication with other people in a number of ways. So, keep an eye on this, says Touroni.
“For relationships to thrive, you need to create the time and space to nurture those bonds. If you’re too stressed with work and are on the road to burnout, you naturally won’t be able to provide those closest to you with the attention and care they deserve,” she notes.
4. You are less productive
A tendency to do too much is often a factor in stress and burnout. On the flipside, when we’re running out of steam, “your work productivity will likely decrease,” says Touroni.
“When you are over-working, you might feel like you’re getting a lot done, but the reality is that you can’t give your best when you’re depleted and over-stretched.”
5. Your mood is low
Mood changes can creep up on people. While we’re not designed to be constantly jumping with joy, an ongoing low mood, feeling very down or out of sorts can be an indicator that things aren’t in a healthy place.
“If you find that you are more irritable than normal and have a shorter fuse, this may also be a sign,” adds Touroni. “Changes in mood and low mood are red flags to watch out for.”
What should you do next?
Taking a step back from work isn’t easy for everyone, of course – not everybody has the same financial security or flexibility. While releasing his statement, Hill acknowledged: “I understand that I am of the privileged few who can afford to take time off… I won’t lose my job while working on my anxiety,” adding, “I’m hoping to make it more normal for people to talk and act on this stuff.”
Whether the outcome is being signed off work for a period, putting healthier boundaries in place so you’re only doing what’s reasonable/manageable, as well as seeking professional mental health support, there are steps you can take.
Speaking to your GP when your mental health becomes a concern can be a great step (yes, there are long waiting lists but that initial step gets the ball rolling).
If you feel like you’re heading for burnout, UKCP psychotherapist Kate Merrick says: “The best time to act is before it happens, and to take daily steps that help support you and strengthen you in the face of life’s challenges. Steps that can help are mindfulness, regular breaks, exercise, speaking with a therapist, healthy eating and getting enough sleep.”
Consider talking to your line manager and looking at what support is available in your workplace too, such as an Employee Assistance Programme, which may give access to confidential short-term counselling and support lines.