This Mental Health Awareness Month, give your brain space to rest

Better to inspire than expire.

Debra Helwig is the internal communications and events director at Pinion.

“Take a damn vacation”.

I stared at the prescription paper in my hand. It was an official Rx pad, doctor’s name at the top, my date of birth, his signature its usual illegible scrawl. And that was all it said.  No pills, no creams, no shots, no treatment.

William O. Snell, D.O. Best doctor you’ll ever want to meet. I adored him. But that day I thought he’d taken leave of his senses.

“Very funny,” I wheezed.

“I’m serious, Debra,” he said. “All this” – he gestured generally toward my upper body and its autoimmune disease-laden, serially offending lungs and sinuses – “is getting worse because of stress. You have to break the cycle. Get out of here. Go away. Take a damn vacation. Let your body heal itself. Give your brain a chance to rest and set everything else in order.”

And you know what? He was right. He did prescribe some meds, but the thing that really, completely, totally got me well was not the antibiotic and the steroids. The real cure came after a week on Daytona Beach, alone with my husband and the sound of the ocean.

The thing I loved about Dr. Snell was his utter pragmatism and his way of treating the whole person that a lot of clinicians miss. He gave you shots when you needed ‘em and dosed you up with antibiotics when it was required, sure – but he also had a big sign in his office that said “For good health: Pray daily and take two weeks of vacation every year.” Here’s what I learned from him:

Just like muscles need rest after exercise and your tummy needs time to digest after eating a big meal, your brain needs space to rest. A person’s ability to manage stress and heal their body is impaired if they run from thing to thing to thing and never take a break.  Even if it can’t be a full vacation, some time away (a day, an hour, a breath) from routine and pressing work can make an enormous difference in attitude, in productivity, and in inspiration.

As communicators, we instinctively know this. We are the curators of employee engagement, for goodness’ sake! We plan for Mental Health Awareness Month, tell stories and build programs that help employees live inclusively and authentically, and communicate clearly and with empathy so our peers have grace and space to do their best work.

But we also  do this at breakneck speed, breathless under the weight of timeliness and accuracy. We Zoom and Teams and email, trying to be everything to everyone, some days struggling for space to take bathroom breaks – much less a lunch or a day off.  We adjust our rhythms to the tyranny of the comms cycle, and in doing so, we forget the best lesson we try to teach others every day: to be productive, to be happy, to THINK, we have to break away.

Big breaks. Little breaks. Deep breaths. Making spaces, intentional and full of energy, to give us the inspiration that will carry us, healthy and focused, through the next thing we want or need to do.


Inspiration – breathing in. Taking a breath. Taking a break. Getting ideas. Coming up with something new and exciting. Becoming energized.

Expiration – breathing out. Pushing through. Breaking down. Falling apart. Ending. Death.

I think I’d rather inspire than expire, wouldn’t you?

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