How to Keep your Brain and Mind Healthy in a Capitalist Nightmare

Here are some ways to keep your brain healthy despite all the long hours.

We all feel down from time to time. But sometimes, it lasts much longer than it should and you find yourself wondering if you’re okay at all. Working takes a huge mental toll and it can be hard to take care of yourself while maintaining a full-time job.

But there are ways to stay mentally well despite the stress of holding down a job, making enough money for rent, bills, and other tensions. Some examples are:

  • Using your paid time off for vacation days
  • Taking care of your body
  • Forming connections away from work
  • Therapy (including music therapy)
Woman relaxing beneath an umbrella.
Taking advantage of your paid time off and vacation days is an excellent way to maintain mental well being.

Embracing your Vacation Time

One third of Americans do not have access to paid time off. Of the Americans who get PTO, 55% reported having unused vacation days. This is an absurd number, especially considering many do not receive vacation days in the first place.

There are many reasons employees don’t take up on their assigned vacation days: fear of piling up work while away, wanting to show dedication, fear of being viewed as replaceable, and others. But of those who do take time off, 68% report working while on vacation.

If you are able to  take time off, using your vacation days (without working) has numerous benefits. It prevents burnout, lowers risks of depression, gives the opportunity to recharge and reset your horrible sleep schedule, and actually increases job performance after returning. For anyone who doesn't get paid time off, embrace the time you're not at work to relax.

There is absolutely no real reason to not use your given vacation days, especially if they don’t roll over to future years. You have them for a reason, so take time for yourself whenever you feel yourself being overworked.

Man asleep, laying in bed.
Sleep is an essential factor in physical well-being, but also for your mental health.


As mentioned in the previous section, sleep is imperative to mental (and physical) health. We all know that not enough sleep makes us feel groggy and tired the next day, but it can also exacerbate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. It is very common for those with mental health disorders to have difficulty sleeping, which worsens their mental state— and worsens their ability to sleep, and so on. It is a vicious cycle.

Not getting enough sleep or sleeping at odd hours of the day can negatively impact attention, concentration, reaction time, and mood. The average adult needs about seven hours of sleep, but for those of us who work shifts instead of 9-5, sleeping can be especially challenging.

To help with nontraditional hours and getting enough sleep, try light therapy, melatonin, and creating a sleep schedule (if possible). Napping can also be helpful for an energy boost if needed. Just make sure to not rely on melatonin or napping--things can get messy if sleeping too much during the day or relying on a drug to sleep. But think about your work schedule. What times can you sleep for at least seven hours or nap for half an hour, with enough time to wake up and not feel groggy?

Work out what’s helpful for you because sleep is the foundation of a good day.

Woman reaching for vegetables at a farmers market.
Eating vegetables is not the only way to feel good in your body. Making sure you are eating enough is a whole other issue that is often forgotten about.

Eating Enough

Eating well is the best way to keep your brain and body healthy. I could talk about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, but you probably know the numerous benefits. Instead, this section will discuss the importance of eating enough food overall and not restricting yourself.

Not eating enough food can worsen or cause depression, heighten anxiety and obsessions with seemingly insignificant stressors, and cause you to feel panicked or withdrawn. Your concentration gets impaired and it is overall much harder to function properly. Many people restrict their food intake with the goal of losing weight or unintentionally skip meals from overworking themselves.

You absolutely need to eat. The ideal range for daily caloric intake is between 2,000 and 2,500. I understand that working takes away time. Maybe you have to wake up early so there’s no time for breakfast. Maybe your boss wants you to work during lunch so you only have a protein bar and some coffee. Maybe your commute is long, so you skip dinner when you get home. All of this makes sense, but you are depriving your body of the nutrients it needs.

Take the time to eat food that makes you feel good. If you only get a 30 minute break in between shifts, have a sandwich and a snack. If your boss is forcing you to work during lunch, either remind them of the OSHA laws that mandate your employer give you a full break, or eat while you work if you prefer to avoid conflict.

Eating to fuel your body does not mean binge eating– it means allowing yourself to eat what your body desires and what feels good, rather than prioritizing your job or what you’ve been told should make you feel/look good.

Friends laughing outside, playing a card game.
Hobbies and friends are fun ways to make the times when you’re not working enjoyable.

Get a Life

The title of this section sounds harsh, but you need a life outside of work. This means friends, family, and hobbies. I know how tempting it is to spend all of your off hours staring at a wall or YouTube video, dreading going back to work. But you need something to keep you engaged.  Many studies have found that hobbies can improve your quality of life, reduce stress levels, promote mental health, and improve your relationships with other people. It can even improve your performance at work, but that is not the important part of hobbies: it's about finding joy in your life.

Hobbies can be anything that gets you excited: collecting stamps, building model trains, crocheting, roller derby, memorizing the major events leading up to the civil war, and much more. Hobbies can be particularly beneficial when they involve other people.

Being around friends that aren’t from work lets you actually feel separated from your job. Friends can support you, make you laugh, and increase your sense of belonging. Making plans with friends also helps make weekends or days not at work exciting, rather than hours of waiting for time to pass.

Person strumming at a ukulele
Music therapy is a good way to learn how to relieve feelings of stress, improving your quality of life.


The methods I’ve previously discussed have all been social and physical. Sometimes, you just need more help than that. Sometimes you can eat well, sleep enough, and exercise regularly while still feeling terrible. You may need professional help.

Talk therapy has been proven to help improve mental health in the long run. It can help you process major events and traumas, or the horrors of the mundane. You can learn coping mechanisms and skills to handle your emotions by yourself. Therapy doesn’t have to be in person– there are plenty of virtual therapy websites that are cheaper than a private practice.

Music therapy is a less traditional form of therapy, but is no less effective. It can be used as a mood enhancer or way to manage trauma. It involves listening to music, learning instruments, and can be focused for each individual person.

That’s it for this list!

There is no right or wrong way to live, but these are some proven factors that can directly improve your quality of life. Working in a capitalist society where we’re constantly focused on more and more can be emotionally draining, so make sure to take time for yourself.

Lydia Rosenstock
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