It’s Okay to Take a Break

It’s okay to take a break when you’re struggling mentally, physically, or both.

It’s so easy to get overwhelmed. We all have so many commitments to keep up with that being able to make time for yourself can be rare. It’s okay to take a break, though, and if you are struggling, I urge you to consider stepping back.

I had to step back from this blog during the first several months of 2021 due to an overwhelming sense of burnout and poor mental health.

I’m finally feeling much better and am back to blogging, and after taking such a long break, I’m now enjoying it just as much as I was when I first started this blog!

That’s not to say that I ever disliked writing here, it’s just that I got so wrapped up in the idea of making money through the blog that it started to feel like a second job. My full-time job is demanding and I really struggle with my mental health due to it, but building up this blog until it felt like a job took a lot of the fun out of it.

So I stepped back and took some much-needed time off. I started to read for pleasure again without taking notes the whole time for an upcoming review. I stopped waking up every morning to scour and post Kindle deals (which took over an hour each day!). I stopped using Twitter. After a couple of weeks like this, I had rediscovered my passion for reading and writing and wanted to jump back into it. However, I forced myself to wait just a little longer, to make sure I was ready. And it’s paid off.

When should you take a break?

There are too many reasons to list here for why you might need to take a break from some aspect of your life.

Some examples, however, include:

  • When you feel like you never have “me time”
  • You find yourself stressed over mundane or trivial things
  • Your sleep is interrupted by worries over what you need to get done the next day
  • If you no longer find pleasure in the things you once did
  • Spending time with people you love start to feel like a chore
  • Your body and/or mind is simply exhausted

Not everyone can step back from work or their commitments, however. That is a privilege that not everyone has. However, if you are in the position to take a break and you need one, do it. It’s not the end of the world to take off a sick day from work or to use your vacation time or to cancel plans to work in some alone time. It’s 100% okay.

While taking a single “mental health” day isn’t going to fix everything, it will give you a moment to simply catch your breath, and sometimes, that can be life-saving.

What if you aren’t able to take a break?

If you are not in the position to take time off work or to set aside your commitments, then you still have some options!

Try to find time during your busy day to work in at least half an hour of time for self-care. For example, after putting the kids to bed you could have a glass of wine while relaxing in a bubble bath. Or, you could wake up a hour earlier before work and use that time for reading or journaling.

If you can’t manage to make time for something like that, perhaps listen to some relaxing music or a self-help audiobook on your commute.

Your mental and physical health is important. Sometimes it’s hard to make time to take care of yourself, but it’s literally one of the most important things that you can do! So please try to make time, even if it’s just a few minutes here and there.

What’s the Difference Between Psychiatry and Psychology?

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When I first began seeking help for my mental health, there were so many unfamiliar terms. The most confusing for me at first was simply the difference between the two different types of doctors available: psychiatrists and psychologists. I’m sure I’m not the only person who was confused about the difference between the two, so I wanted to help out anyone else who might be in the same boat.

Essentially, psychiatry is a medical specialty that focuses on the diagnoses, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders. Meanwhile, psychology is the study of the mind and behavior.

So what does this mean? Since a psychiatrist is a medical doctor, that means that they can prescribe medicine. So when you need to get on mental health medication or alter the drugs you’re on, you’ll want to see a psychiatrist. They can also diagnose your mental disorders and give you testing.

If you’re looking for talk therapy, however, you’ll want to see a psychologist. While they can’t prescribe you medications, these are the professionals you’ll want to see when you want help working through your problems. Cognitive and behavioral therapies as well as many others, including art therapy, are just some of the services they offer.

Depending on the type of help you need, you might need to go to one or the other, or you can seek out both types of help (which is what I need to stay healthy). If you’re not sure what you need, talk to your doctor for recommendations.

I’m American, so I don’t know anything about options in other countries. If you do and want to offer some advice, please do so in the comments. So, some tips for Americans seeking mental health care:

  • If you have health insurance, check your provider’s website or call them for a list of psychiatrists and psychologists that your insurance will cover. Don’t expect it to be easy, however; I have great insurance through my job, but it was still an epic pain-in-the-ass to search through hundreds of names to find a good provider.
  • If you don’t have insurance, you still have options. There are free or sliding-scale practices all over the country, and a Google search will help you find them.
  • If you don’t have time to go to a doctor’s office and would prefer to seek help online, there are resources for that too. The only one I’ve used is Talkspace because my employer offers a service through them. I didn’t stick with it because I prefer face to face appointments, but it’s a great option if you prefer video chats or emailing with a psychologist.
  • Finally, if you or a loved one is feeling suicidal, please seek help immediately. Either visit your local hospital or call the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255, which is available in both English and Spanish.

If you need help with your mental health, I know it can be scary and overwhelming to find the services, doctors, and medications that are right for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!



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An Example of What Bipolar Disorder is Like

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At least as far back as high school, I’ve dealt with severe depression, anxiety, and mood changes, but it wasn’t until this past year that I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The diagnosis didn’t lead to a cure for the disorder since there isn’t one, but it’s allowed me to notice the symptoms and triggers for the manic or depressive episodes that define the disease. Seeking professional help for it has also led to being on medication that I, in all honesty, should have been on decades ago.

Unfortunately, we’re still getting the medications worked out. The types of drugs and the amount vary for everyone, and we haven’t quite found the right mix for me yet, despite going as far as doing genetic testing to try to figure out the best combinations. The medication has certainly helped to a certain degree, but I’m still having manic and depressive episodes that are severe enough to interrupt my normal day-to-day activities.

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This past week has been a rough one, and also a perfect example of what my bipolar disorder is like. Therefore, I thought this would be a good opportunity to write about what I experience every time I go through a manic and depressive episode.

Everything started out fine this past week, and I even managed to complete nearly a full week at work (which has been rare for me lately). Then the hypomania kicked in.

Hypomania is different from mania, although it can also lead to full-blown mania. Bipolar mania tends to get out of control, sometimes even requiring hospitalizations. Mania lasts for a week or more, can lead to terrible decisions (think out-of-control spending, increased drinking and drug use, and making poor sexual choices) and is something that, thankfully, I’ve only experienced twice in my life.

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Lasting for just a few days however, hypomania actually feels great much of the time. During the hypomanic days that I experienced this past week, I was incredibly productive, highly motivated, excited about everything, talkative (which is strange for me, because I’m usually really quiet), and didn’t sleep as much. I experience hypomania frequently, and it always leads to a period of depression.

It’s a strange feeling to be hypomanic. One the one hand, it’s wonderful, because I no longer feel depressed, I have less anxiety, and I can get so much done. On the other hand, however, I know that it can lead to an actual manic episode. I have trouble knowing when I’m hypomanic, which is why I’m thankful for my boyfriend, who has taken the time to get familiar with the disorder so that he can help recognize the symptoms even when I can’t.

So, for two to three days, I felt great. And then yesterday happened.

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Yesterday I woke up feeling shattered. I didn’t want to get out of bed, my anxiety was about as high as it could get, and I felt worthless. I had to call out of work which was necessary but made me feel guilty and even more upset.

My entire day yesterday consisted of beating myself up mentally, binge-eating, trying to escape into Fallout 4, and napping. So much napping.

My boyfriend did what he could to try to cheer me up and to make sure I was eating and drinking water, lighting stress-relieving candles around me and putting my cat on my lap when I was feeling particularly bad (quick tip – purring cats make you feel better). Despite all this, I just felt like absolute trash all day.

Depression isn’t something that you can smile your way out of or ignore the pain of. There’s nothing worse that you can say to someone suffering from depression than “snap out of it” or “It’s not that bad – deal with it.” It’s a mental illness that can lead to physical pain and make normal life impossible to carry on with.

Being bipolar is difficult. There are any number of things that can trigger either a manic or depressive episode. The worst thing I’ve been dealing with lately is that it appears that my job is a trigger for depression, which is terrible since it’s the best-paying job I’ve ever had, and I desperately need the medical and mental health benefits that I receive from it.

While these manic and depressive episodes are different in everyone, and can even vary for me, this was a great example of what living with bipolar disorder feels like. As I learn more about coping with this disorder, I’ll share what I learn with you guys. As of today, I’m still struggling with the depressive part, but I know it won’t be too long before I’m on another upswing.

Bipolar disorder is one hell of a mentally exhausting disease.


Are there any questions you would like to see answered about living with bipolar disorder? Leave them in the comments for me and I’ll answer as many as I can!




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Everything You Need to Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder

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Now that it’s officially autumn, it’s getting close to the time of year when many people, approximately 10 million of them, are going to start feeling more depressed.

Seasonal affective disorder, commonly known as SAD, is a form of depression that affects people based on seasons. The majority of people with SAD become depressed in autumn and winter, with the symptoms lessening or disappearing in spring or summer. The symptoms start out mildly at the beginning of the season and then gets worse as the season progresses.

While SAD can affect anyone, there are certain people who are more prone to it. Women are four times more likely than men to be diagnosed with it, and people with a family history of SAD or other forms of depression are more prone. Also, the farther you live from the equator, the more common SAD becomes.


Symptoms

Many of the symptoms of SAD are the same as for people suffering from year-round depression, such as: overwhelming feelings of sadness, low energy, feeling hopeless, difficulty concentrating, loss of interest in things you previously loved, changes in appetite, problems sleeping, or thoughts of death or suicide.

However, there are symptoms specific to SAD, and if you suffer from it in autumn/winter or spring/summer. Here are those symptoms, from the Mayo Clinic:

Fall and winter SAD

Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include:

Oversleeping
Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
Weight gain
Tiredness or low energy
Social withdrawal

Spring and summer SAD

Symptoms specific to summer-onset seasonal affective disorder, sometimes called summer depression, may include

Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
Poor appetite
Weight loss
Agitation, anxiety, or violent behavior
Restlessness


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Causes of SAD

While, like depression, the root cause of what causes SAD and why only certain people suffer from it is unknown, there are a number of factors that can contribute. The most prevalent are the changes to your serotonin and melatonin levels.

Serotonin and melatonin are both important chemicals produced naturally in your body.

Serotonin, also called 5-hydroxytryptamine, is found in your brain, bowels, and blood platelets. Your body’s levels of serotonin can increase due to exercise and diet, along with light levels. Low levels of serotonin are linked to depression, as the chemical is responsible for regulating mood, sleep, memory, and more.

You know that feeling after working out when you feel amazing and invincible? That’s serotonin. A deficiency in serotonin has a number of symptoms, such as

  • bad moods
  • poor memory
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • cravings for sweet or starchy foods

Melatonin is a hormone produced by your pineal gland that aids in sleeping well and regularly. According to the National Sleep Foundation,

“During the day the pineal is inactive. When the sun goes down and darkness occurs, the pineal is ‘turned on’ by the SCN [suprachiasmatic nucleaus, an area of the brain] and begins to actively produced melatonin, which is released into the blood.”

Bright lights (such as those fluorescent lights you work under) and blue light (from your phone or computer screens) both suppress the production of melatonin. There are a number of ways that you can increase your melatonin levels at night.

The most obvious way is to turn off your technology an hour before going to bed. Blue light is super harmful to your ability to sleep, and we all spend too much time on our phones anyway. Turn them off and read a book before bed. There are also special glasses that you can buy that block out harmful lights.

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Stop doing this!

The most popular way to increase melatonin levels, however, is to take it as a supplement. Melatonin supplements can be purchased over-the-counter and from online retailers such as Amazon and Wal-Mart. It’s generally considered safe, although there can be side-effects. While it can really help some people sleep better, it’s a bad choice for others.

To give you an example, I’ll share the effects that melatonin supplements have on both myself and my boyfriend.

I take melatonin a couple of times per week, on those days when I can’t fall asleep by other means. I’ll take two gummies about an hour before sleep, and by the time that hour is up, I’m falling into a blissful slumber.

When my boyfriend takes melatonin, however, it does help him fall asleep, but when he wakes up the next morning, his entire day is ruined by a “melatonin hangover.” He’s groggy for the entire day and has trouble focusing. We’ve even tried cutting his dose in half, and it still has the same effects.

If you have trouble sleeping and want to give melatonin a try, by all means go for it. Just remember that it isn’t for everyone. Some common side-effects of taking supplemental melatonin include drowsiness, headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Also, it’s not safe to take melatonin if you have an autoimmune disease or are taking oral contraceptives (it reduces their effectiveness).

 


Natural Ways to Relieve SAD

While it typically isn’t possible to get over SAD on your own, there are a number of activities and habits you can take up in the autumn and winter to reduce the severity of your symptoms.

  1. Exercise regularly. Exercise causes your brain to release important chemicals (such as serotonin) that promote your mood. Plus, exercise has so many other great benefits, like increased brainpower, weight loss, higher energy levels, and reduced risks of chronic diseases.
  2. LightOne of the treatments for SAD is the use of light to improve your mood. While going outside and getting natural sunlight is the best choice, that’s a lot harder to do in the winter. Fortunately, there are countless lamps made specifically to mimic natural light. Sitting near one of these lamps will improve your mood during those darker times. Very Well Mind has put together a wonderful list of some of your best options.
  3. Diet. Studies have shown that foods high in a chemical call tryptophans can lead to improved mood. Here’s a list of foods high in tryptophans that you might want to add to your diet when you normally experience SAD. As you can see, there are a lot of different options, so everyone should be able to incorporate at least a few of these into their diet.
    • Bananas
    • Eggs
    • Salmon
    • Poultry (chicken, turkey, and goose)
    • Seeds & nuts
    • Soy products
    • Spinach
    • Milk and cheese
  4. Aromatherapy. Essential oils are great for relieving stress. This is one option that I can personally vouch for. I used to work in the spa industry, and I learned to use various essential oils to produce the desired effects that I wanted. One of my favorite, not related to SAD but still useful, is the energizing effects of grapefruit and rosemary essential oils blended together into a diffuser. Here’s a list of four essential oils that might help relieve symptoms of SAD.
  5. Routine. Sticking to a regular schedule, even when you don’t feel like it, has the benefit of teaching your body when it’s time to sleep or eat. SAD can lead to insomnia and weight gain, and having specific times when you do these things can lessen the effects.
  6. Journaling. I’ve written on this blog before about journaling and the effect it can have on your life and mood. In my own experience with depression, journaling can provide a necessary outlet to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, where you can better analyze your thoughts and deal with them. I like to journal in the evening before I go to bed, as a sort of “brain dump” to help me sleep well, instead of worrying about everything that happened that day.

Seeking Professional Help

Sometimes, home remedies aren’t going to be enough, and that’s okay. You need to take your mental health just as seriously as your physical health.

If you start to have feelings associated with depression or SAD, please seek out your doctor or a psychologist. They’ll start off by doing a few tests to make sure something else isn’t going on, such as an underlying health problem. Once that’s ruled out, your doctor will do a psychological evaluation to determine if you have SAD.

Once you’re diagnosed, your doctor will recommend treatments or medications for you. For treatment options, they might recommend light therapy (phototherapy) or traditional talk therapy (psychotherapy). When it comes to medication, there are a number of options, including bupropion (which I take myself and has improved my energy levels) and SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, aka anti-depressants).

I would like to reiterate here that there is nothing wrong with taking anti-depressants or going to therapy. It drives me crazy that there is still a stigma in some communities over seeking help for mental health. If you are feeling depressed, please seek help.


In the end, seasonal affective disorder is a real and very serious disease. If you find that yourself or loved ones are exhibiting any of the symptoms listed above, please consider getting help.


Do you suffer from seasonal affective disorder or know someone that does? Feel free to leave any insights or advice in the comments!




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