Mind Matters with Kyle MacDonald: It’s okay to take a break for your mental wellbeing


Q. Is it okay to take a “mental health day” from work?

Yes, always. Next question?

But seriously, it actually is. Recent surveys suggest up to 40 per cent of New Zealand workers may have felt burnout in the last three months.

It can be tempting to feel the need to “harden up” or simply keep showing up for fear of consequences, you are absolutely within your rights to call in sick, stay in bed with a cup of tea and binge watch Schitt’s Creek.

Less than three days of sick leave in New Zealand requires no explanation, no medical explanation or proof. Of course, it’s even better if you work somewhere where it’s explicitly okay to do this but you don’t need anyone’s permission to look after your wellbeing.

Ultimately a day under the duvet isn’t going to fix a toxic workplace, get you better pay and conditions or decrease your workload. But it might give you enough emotional resources to keep going when you need to and challenge what you can.

Q: Can people really change?

There’s an old joke, “How many psychotherapists does it take to change a light bulb?

Only one … but the lightbulb has to want to change.”

Corny yes, but also true – change is always possible, but must come from the person themselves. It cannot be forced upon us by others.

Time and time again people will be sent to therapy by someone else in their life – their parents, their partners – with a story of what the person sending them wants changed about them.

Sometimes their reluctance can be turned around, but more often than not the person isn’t reachable.

Over the years I’ve come to dub it the “horse to water” problem.

The very human response to being told we’re wrong or we have a “problem” and we need to change is to defend ourselves. And from that place, change is not only difficult but less likely. “Resistance” is the technical term – the harder you push, the harder the other person pushes back.

So how do we help people decide they want to change? Well as I’ve said previously we need to listen, and in listening look to create motivation – by highlighting what is uncomfortable and the consequences of the choices we make.

We can do this for ourselves, too. The most common motivation for change is some form of crisis – because we’re then motivated to stop the painful feelings. Avoiding pain is one of the most powerful motivations there is.

But we humans are also pretty good at avoiding pain – and it’s hard when others point out the pain our actions are causing.

So give gentle feedback – and be open to what others have to say. And if we all did a bit of that then the world would be a better place.

Ultimately it all comes back to honesty – and being honest to ourselves. And once that light bulb goes off, the rest is easy.

Q: Is it possible to get addicted to online gaming?

It’s technically possible to get addicted to anything that causes us pleasure, ultimately the question is does your gaming get in the way of your life?

Do you find it hard to complete everyday tasks because you’d rather be playing? Have people close to you expressed concern about your gaming?

Because it’s not about how much you play, it’s about any consequences it causes.

The harder question with any potential addiction, is what might you feel a need to escape? What makes it hard to be present in your own life at the moment?

Because whether it’s online gaming, social media use or any compulsive behaviour or addiction, this is always the question we need to ask ourselves.

So, take the challenge to honestly assess your use. It is getting in the way? If not, then no problem.

But keep an eye on yourself. It doesn’t mean it never will be a problem.

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