I live with bipolar disorder, an illness that I write and speak about on an international level. My illness requires constant self-assessment to keep me physically and emotionally well. However, it doesn’t take a chronic health condition for work and life to impact our mental health. It’s important for everyone to pay attention to our bodies and minds and take action to keep working and feeling our best.

Having been surprised by my symptoms in the past, I created this two-step strategy that helps me assess my well-being, be responsive and proactive, and thrive. I’m putting it out there in hopes that others might find it useful in their lives as well.

The Check-in

Every week I perform a three-step check-in, looking at myself from the outside. Because my brain does not always register it is struggling, analyzing my outward actions (declining performance, unmet deadlines, etc.) allows me to see if my mental health needs to be addressed. Here are my three steps:

  1. To-do check. Am I on schedule? Why or why not? I am driven by deadlines. Seeing that I’m at risk of missing deadlines (or have missed some already,) I know it is time to increase my mental wellness routines.
  2. Time check. How much time am I working? Am I overworking and on the verge of burning out? Could I be preventing this by reaching out for support from colleagues or delegating? Or, am I barely working because I am already burned out?
  3. Colleague check. What do my colleagues think? What are they seeing? Are they noticing changes in my habits and deliverables? Am I leaning too much on them for mental health support or could I be asking for more support?

The Check-out

After I check in with myself I decide how much energy I need to focus on self-care. Even if I’m doing well, it’s important to take time to “check out” of work and life stressors and decompress. (Side note, there is a time and place to “check out.”) Here are three check-out steps I do every day to practice self-care and thrive.

  1. Take a break. Even if I can’t take a lunch break, I always take small breaks where I can completely check out. I watch a short TV show while I eat, read a book, meditate, or do something that helps me not think. I don’t count social media as a break because it often brings me right back to work worries. By forgetting the world for small moments, I allow my body to relax and my mind to reset.
  2. Take a walk. Another strategy is to leave my workspace. I take a walk or change rooms for a bit. Getting out of the space in which I spend most of my day working, thinking, and stressing allows a reset and recharge.
  3. Put the phone down. Growing research is examining the connection between increased screen time and decreasing mental health. Working in communications (for the Americans with Disabilities Act National Network) I am ALWAYS on my phone checking email, social media, and news outlets. This means my brain is always on. However, taking breaks from technology is when my body feels the safest telling me how I’m really feeling. True, it’s not fun realizing that when I slow down, I may be super sad or super anxious, but that is when I begin to recognize the importance of maintaining well-being.