5 signs you need to take a mental health day & 5 ways to mentally refresh after a stressful day

I’m sure you know that both our mental and physical health are equally important and that they can influence one another through many pathways. Sadly, for a lot of us, we can easily fall into the habit of neglecting our mental health and look at ‘coping or dealing with’ with increased levels of stress and anxiety. I’m sure we’ve all got home after a stressful week and poured an extra-large glass of wine to ‘cope, deal or relax’ with the stress of the week. Below are five signs you should think about taking a day for yourself and your mental health and five ways to mentally refresh after a stressful day.


5 signs you need to take a mental health day

Energy Levels

A sign of good metabolic and mental health is having a nice flow of energy throughout the day. However, chronic stress can impact our behaviours and energy levels. When dealing with chronic stress, many of us reach for hyperpalatable refined foods causing peaks and dips in our blood sugar and consequently peaks and dips in energy levels. If you find yourself not having a flow of energy throughout the day, it’s maybe time to take a day to assess and reset.

Turning to Alcohol

In terms of coping mechanisms, alcohol may be the worst one for your health. At the end of the one of those weeks as you pour a glass of wine for yourself, ask yourself, ‘how often do I do this?’. Alcohol has a sneaky way of becoming the go-to comfort for stress and it can be easy to use this as your main way to relax. The units of alcohol can easily add up too!

Struggle Sleeping

Chronic stress can keep activating our sympathetic nervous system (your fight or flight response), making it difficult to relax on an evening. We’ve all experienced the night before something important and struggled to fall asleep as your mind shifts between these anxious thoughts. If this sounds all too familiar it’s time to take a day for yourself and address the stress. Having a relaxation/wind-down routine on an evening can help. Read our sleep-wake cycle blog.

Isolating – not making plans

Sometimes after a stressful day or week we just want some quiet time for ourselves, and this is probably a good thing for our mental health. There’s nothing wrong with some alone time, in fact, I would encourage this from time to time. However, if you prefer to isolate yourself most of the time to escape from the stress of the day, this could be a sign that stress is impacting your behaviours and your mental health. This could be a sign to do something you enjoy and do this with other people!

Feeling down most of the time

Similar to above, there’s nothing wrong with having a day where you feel 20%. It happens. The problem starts when we’re not aware that we’ve been 20% most of the week, month or even year. If you’re feeling down, like you lack purpose or lack motivation most of the time could be a result of chronic stress and an imbalance in your life. Below are 5 ways to mentally refresh which could be a good start to improving your overall mental health.


5 ways to mentally refresh after a stressful day

Nature and grounding

One of the best ways to improve your mental health is getting outdoors in nature. Exposure to natural sunlight and being in nature has calming affects on our body, helping reduce stress and anxiety. Also, ‘grounding’ or ‘earthing’ might also provide further benefits to your health! ‘Grounding’ or ‘Earthing is a therapeutic practice connecting the human body to the earth and by doing so conducts electrons from the ground to reduce oxidative stress in your body, this potentially can have positive effects on your health. For example, walking barefoot on the beach or even your garden, lying on the ground or submersing yourself (safely) in water. This is a new area of science, however early findings suggest it can help lower stress, anxiety and improve mood. I mean, who doesn’t feel calmer after walking barefoot on a beach. For those wondering, I don’t think you get further benefit from being fully naked on the beach…I’m not sure if that’s why nudist beaches exist…but whatever floats your boat!

Exercise- release the endorphins!

Another great way to reset your mind after a stressful day is exercise. Exercising releases endorphins reducing perception of pain, improving mood, and reducing levels or stress. So, exercising after a stressful day is a great option. Exercising before your stressful day can also increase your resilience to stress, reducing stress levels overall. What’s most important is that you’re taking breaks to be physically active. Challenge yourself for one week to have a 10-minute walking break over lunch and see how your mood improves at work. Read about the benefits of walking here.

Breathing- activate your parasympathetic nervous system

Breathing techniques are a lost art that are now resurfacing in the scientific literature. Did you know, five to eight deep inhales and slow, controlled exhales are enough to activate your parasympathetic (rest and digest) response. If you frequently find yourself feeling really stressed after work before you get out the car or walk through the door, try doing eight deep breaths to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. An even better approach is to do this in nature. Frequently doing these practises will reduce stress over time. Read more on Stress- it’s not all bad blog.

Socialise- make those plans!

Human connection has a wonderful affect on our mood, helping reduce stress and anxiety. One of the best ways to distract you from a bad day is to hang out with your pals. Spending time with loved ones, hugging and connecting with others releases a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin can help decrease cortisol levels and blood pressure and help reduce stress. Make plans, high-five and hug your friends, as face-to-face contact with loved ones is like a vaccine for stress.

Have a healthy meal- keep your gut bugs happy

One day I had the ingredients out when my partner came home from work. I gave her two options of healthy meals I could cook. She suggested fish and chips and I swear to you I was putting the ingredients away before she said chips! We’ve all been there where we’ve ordered a takeaway to relax! However, having a healthy meal is a great option to improve your mood after a stressful day. Why? Did you know that your brain and gut are connected, and they can send signals between one another. Yes, your gut, specifically your gut microbiota, can influence your mood and stress levels! Read more about this in this blog. They are connected via the gut-brain axis, through the Vagus nerve. So, a great way to help reduce stress is to give yourself a healthy whole-food meal so your gut bugs can send happy, loving signals up to your brain, improving your mood and lowering levels of stress.

Remember, your mental wellbeing is vitally important to your long-term health. If you’re feeling down most of the time, reach out to a friend and speak to someone who can help.


Author: Paul Rudd, Health and Wellbeing Coach at Trinity Health Group PCN

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