Sick days are a normal part of most workplaces. If a team member doesn’t feel well or comes down with something contagious, then most coworkers support them taking a day off to rest and recover.
But when it comes to normalizing mental health days, our culture still has a long way to go. Many people don’t feel comfortable asking for a day off to tend to their mental health, even though it’s just as much of a contributor to our overall wellbeing and ability to remain productive at work as physical health.
While our culture gradually lessens its stigma around mental health care, it’s important to make your emotional wellbeing a priority—even if that means taking a day off from work. Nearly 19 percent of Americans report having a mental illness, while more than half of American adults report feeling stressed. This speaks to the universal need for sustained commitment to emotional self-care.
Of course, a single day isn’t going to cut it if you neglect your mental health the other 364 days of the year. But sometimes, a day off is all you need to get your mental state back on track. Here’s an overview of what mental health days are and when to take them, plus some ideas for what to do on your next recuperative day out of the office.
What are mental health days?
Mental health days may be inspired for different reasons and take different forms. But what they all share in common is that they involve taking a day off from work to restore mentally and emotionally. Think of a mental health day as a whole day dedicated to self-care and recovering from stress or burnout.
Because many workplaces don’t offer mental health days, employees may feel the need to fib about being physically ill so they can take a sick day. That’s unfortunate, but it’s important to take this time any way you can because mental health days offer several benefits to employees.
- They can help relieve anxiety, depression, and/or stress.
- They can enhance emotional resilience so it’s easier to navigate trying or stressful times at work or at home.
- They give you a chance to take stock of how you’re doing emotionally and course-correct if you identify feelings of being overwhelmed, unhappiness, and so on.
The benefits of mental health days don’t stop with the people taking them. When team members take care of their mental health, this can benefit their employers and the company they work for. After all, stress and anxiety are proven productivity killers, while a positive state of mind is linked to better performance at work.
When to take a mental health day
There are many reasons why it might be prudent to take a mental health day. For instance, a person may take a day off because they’ve been feeling overwhelmed at work or they’re generally feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
While the motivations for taking a mental health day can vary, there are some clear-cut signs that you may be in need of a day off to clear your mind. If you’re starting to feel irritable at work, you’re having a hard time caring about your work, or your work performance is slipping, then you could probably benefit from a day of self-care.
You may also benefit from a mental health day if you’re dealing with a stressful situation at home and could use some space to sort through what’s going on, if you’ve been neglecting self-care for a while and are feeling run-down, or if you’d like to attend appointments related to your mental health, such as seeing a therapist.
If you’re feeling guilty or anxious about taking a mental health day, then a little planning can help soothe those anxieties. For instance, it may be a good idea to avoid planning a mental health day on the same day as a big meeting or deadline. That way, it will be easier to step away from work temporarily so you can really focus on your own wellbeing.
What to do on your mental health day
A mental health day is all about doing what feels good to you, whether that’s window shopping, taking a walk in nature, or hanging out on the couch in your pajamas. If you’re feeling stuck, here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Enjoy plenty of sleep
Both the night before and the night of your mental health day, try to prioritize sleep. Adequate sleep is one of the quickest ways to feel better both mentally and physically.
- Get some exercise
Research consistently finds that moving our bodies is a great way to combat stress and anxiety and feel better in our own skin. Consider heading to the gym or the local pool, or simply take a walk around the block to get your blood pumping.
- Spend time in nature
Ample research suggests that spending time in nature can help relieve stress, anxiety, and depression and uplift your mood. To enjoy these benefits, head out for a hike or simply lounge on a bench at a local park.
- Engage in relaxing activities
What’s relaxing for one person might be agitating for another, and vice versa—so it’s important to tailor these activities to your own preferences. Options include practicing yoga or meditation, getting a massage or pedicure, reading a good book, hanging out with close friends, and so on.
- Tackle projects that have been on the backburner
Sometimes, our mental health suffers because we aren’t able to tend to projects that cause us constant, low-lying stress. Thus, some people find that using their mental health day to catch up on correspondence, balance their checkbook, repaint their bedroom, or tackle other chores can lift a proverbial weight off their shoulders.
- Take time to reflect
Use this time to process emotional situations, find closure from stressors, and identify strategies to tend to your mental health on an ongoing basis.
No matter how you choose to spend your mental health day, here’s something you shouldn’t do: feel guilty for taking some time to yourself. Even though our culture sometimes stigmatizes mental health, regularly taking time to recharge your emotional batteries is an essential component of working well and—most importantly—living a healthy life.