It seems that we all can agree that if you’re not feeling well, you should stay home from work. If your nose is running, you have a fever or severe cough, calling in sick for work is a no-brainer. But why do we only allow ourselves time off for those types of “sick” and not others? (Especially now that so many of us are working full-time from home!)
Mental health is just as important as physical health, and according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults experience mental illness each year. Untreated mental illness can lead to worsening symptoms, risk of cardiovascular disease and even brain damage. So, it’s not only vital to take control of your mental health in the form of a day off, but it’s important to allow yourself the chance to catch your breath, says Leah Masonick, Life Purpose and Career Coach (@leahmasonick).
“I believe in today’s fast-paced world there are often times where we’re asked to operate at an unsustainable pace,” Masonick told SheKnows. “This sets us up for burnout, and can take a toll mentally and physically. Giving yourself a mental health day allows you the space to breathe, relax and re-center yourself.”
Signs you might need a mental health day
Allowing yourself a mental health day whenever you feel the slightest twinge of discomfort or stress in your job is not the best route to take. Save your mental health day for when the strain of work is just too much to bear. When you’re neglecting your exercise habits, not eating right or even getting sick more frequently, this might be a sign that you need a day off. But these signs can look different for every person Masonick says.
“I think the indicators for when you need a mental health day vary by person,” Masonick says, “but can be things like having minimal to no patience for those around you, like snapping at everyone.”
So, be conscious of what is going on internally and check-in with yourself as frequently as possible.
How you should spend your day
It can be easy to lay in bed all day and catch up on all your favorite television shows, but the truth is mental health days should provide your body with what it is lacking. For most people that’s quality time with oneself that recharges your battery. Taking a workout class or getting a massage are great options, but one thing Masonick says everyone can do is get outside.
“Take a walk in a park or in the woods, breathe in the fresh air, get exercise and allow your mind to relax and notice the beauty around you.” She also recommends sleeping-in to feel well rested, journaling or making yourself a healthy meal. By doing things for yourself that you enjoy and that have some level of productivity, you won’t experience the guilt that comes with binging an entire season of a show you’ve been meaning to catch up on or lying in bed all day, eating junk food.
Why your mental health day matters
Taking a mental health day allows you to recharge, rest and regain perspective on your health. The reality is that if these needs are overlooked your mental health can affect your work performance and overall composure in the workspace.
“Some of the mental benefits of taking a mental health day are things like regaining mental clarity, feeling reinvigorated, having a renewed sense of calm and improved personal and professional relationships,” Masonick says.
The more acceptable it becomes to admit and discuss that many of us suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental health disorders, the more acceptable it will be for us to take mental health days. However, if you feel there might be more going on, consult a therapist or life coach who can help you re-examine your life to see if there are bigger issues at play.
A version of this story was published February 2020.
Before you go, check out our favorite mental health apps to help give a bit more love to your mind and body: