Taking a Mental Health Break: Bring Back the Nervous Breakdown

Taking a Mental Health Break: Bring Back the Nervous Breakdown

Back in the early 1900s, the term ‘nervous breakdown’ described the condition when someone was prevented from carrying on with the demands of daily life. The nervous breakdown was considered a temporary, sociological condition. It wasn’t a character flaw or a mental issue – and the cure was a restorative power break. Declaring you were having a nervous breakdown gave you a socially acceptable license to step off the treadmill to recover and rejuvenate.

This great article in The Atlantic talks about how many successful people – including JD Rockefeller who went to the south of France for six months  – took sabbatical breaks.

The French describe it as reculer pour mieux sauter – to withdraw in order to make a better jump.

While this does tie into the importance of having resilience rituals (Chapter 3, Your Oxygen Mask First, Double Your Resilience), there’s a point when you just can’t get stronger and need to not just rest but rejuvenate.

A few CEOs we know have taken months-long sabbaticals away from their businesses to recover and reset.

One CEO sold his business and took three years to sail around the world. Another rode her motorcycle around America, and yet another took his family on an expedition around the world.


The point is to give yourself permission to have a recovery period when you know you need it. And while not everyone has the luxury of taking six months out, everyone can do something towards sustainable resilience. Take a couple of extra days, every month, for long weekend recoveries; or reduce your personal or volunteer commitments or commit to taking a full hour for lunch every day.

When I get frayed and burnt out, I deliberately make space in my schedule for recovery. Thankfully, I’ve learned to catch it earlier in the process so that I don’t need an extreme remedy. This year, I’m focused on getting back to a rhythm of one week a month with no meetings. My goal is to create time for personal pursuits or writing or strategic things for my business.

By Kevin Lawrence /  Lawrence & Co.