Can taking a career break boost your mental health?

England rugby player Owen Farrell (left) and singer Lewis Capaldi (right) have both recently taken career breaks for mental health reasons. (Getty Images)
England rugby player Owen Farrell and singer Lewis Capaldi have both recently taken career breaks for mental health reasons. (Getty Images)

England men’s rugby captain Owen Farrell has decided to take a career break from international rugby for mental health reasons.

A spokesperson for the 32-year-old said in a statement that the Saracens number 10 will miss next year’s Six Nations tournament in order to "prioritise his and his family’s mental wellbeing".

Farrell joins a growing list of public figures citing mental health reasons behind decisions to take career breaks, such as singer Lewis Capaldi who announced at this year’s Glastonbury festival that he would be taking a break from performing.

"I feel like I’ll be taking another wee break for the next few weeks, you might not see me for the rest of the year," he said at the time. Capaldi has previously said that his mental health symptoms are a “direct result” of his career, coupled with his recent diagnosis of Tourette syndrome.

Career breaks for mental health reasons are becoming increasingly common, with a recent study from AIG finding that 19% of women and 15% of men had taken a break from their career due to mental health reasons.

Chloe Brotheridge, hypnotherapist and coach who supports anxious overachievers at work, says that levels of burnout are still continuing to increase, with young people and women impacted the most.

"According to a survey by Deloitte, burnout due to work pressures has increased in Gen Zs (52% this year versus 46% in 2022) and millennials alike (49% versus 45%)," Brotheridge adds.

"A career break can offer a chance to pause, rest and consider your options. More people are realising that sometimes, stepping back to recharge and reset is crucial for long-term career sustainability and personal happiness."

Saracens' Owen Farrell before the Gallagher Premiership at StoneX Stadium, London. Picture date: Saturday November 25, 2023. (Photo by Ben Whitley/PA Images via Getty Images)
A spokesperson for Owen Farrell said his break from the England team is to prioritise his and his family's mental health. (Getty Images)

Dr Ravi Gill, psychologist at Smart Mind Health, adds that taking a career break is not only becoming more common, but more accepted in workplaces too.

"Taking career breaks for mental health reasons has become more recognised and accepted in many workplaces as awareness of mental health issues grows," she says.

"The pandemic changed many people’s perspectives on work as it opened our eyes to working more flexibly, having a work life balance but also provided an opportunity for people to revalue life and contemplate the idea of taking a career break."

So, how do you know if it’s the right time to take a career break? We’ve asked Dr Gill and Brotheridge about the signs your mental health is wavering and how to approach your boss about a break, below.

Signs your job is affecting your mental health

Dr Gill says some sure signs that your job could be having a detrimental effect on your wellbeing include:

  • Persistent stress

  • Anxiety-related symptoms

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Decreased concentration

  • Changes in mood

  • Headaches

  • Fatigue

Brotheridge adds that you will know that it’s time for a career break when the negatives of your job outweigh the positives "to a point where it's affecting your daily life and this continues beyond a few weeks or months".

"This tipping point might be feelings of burnout, dread about going to work each day, or when work-related stress starts to affect your relationships and health," Brotheridge continues.

Office Worker Looking Stress
Stress can lead to physical symptoms such as stomach issues and back aches. (Getty Images)

"It might be a physical manifestation of stress such as stomach issues, back ache or a skin rash. It might be after visiting your doctor about your symptoms of stress or anxiety. They may sign you off or ask you to consider taking a break. It's about listening to your body and mind – if you're constantly unhappy and your job is the main source, it might be time to consider a pause."

How to take a career break

Now you’ve decided you need to take a career break, how do you go about it? Dr Gill says the first thing you need to do is talk to your employer and let them know how you are feeling.

"Having a career break is an opportunity to recharge and reassess life. A career break is when you take a period away from your industry. It’s a chance to explore other interests, for example those in academia may take a sabbatical to complete some research. It’s an opportunity to travel, live in another country or pursue other business interests," she explains.

"There are no laws on career breaks, it is an agreement between an employer and employee. You have to speak to your organisation about what a career break looks like. Is it a fixed time period, is there flexibility, what does the return to work look like? Look at your employment contracts terms and conditions."

Brotheridge agrees that taking a career break doesn't necessarily mean quitting your job.

"Many companies offer sabbaticals or extended leave options," she adds. "The first step is to have an honest conversation with your employer about your mental health and the need for a break.

"Research your company’s policies and your legal rights. In some cases, quitting might be the best option, but it's not the only one. Planning financially and practically for the break is also crucial."

Young African American woman feeling exhausted and depressed sitting in front of laptop. Work burnout syndrome. Mental Health concept.
If you are thinking of taking a career break it's worth speaking to your boss about what your options are. (Getty Images)

What to learn from a career break

Looking after your mental wellbeing is the most crucial aspect of any career break.

"Engage in activities that promote wellbeing," Brotheridge advises, "This might include therapy, physical activities, pursuing hobbies, or simply resting.

"It might be about doing activities that fulfill a sense of meaning and purpose, like volunteering or travelling. It’s also a good time for self-reflection. Assess what aspects of your job were most stressful and consider how to handle them differently in the future.

"Develop a plan to maintain a healthy work-life balance, whether it's setting boundaries, improving time management, or changing your work environment. The goal is to return with renewed energy and strategies to manage the demands of your career in a healthier way."

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