You use your vacation days to jet off to Mexico (OK, or a friend’s winter wonderland-themed wedding in Vermont), personal days when you’re renting a U-Haul and moving homes, and sick days when you’re fighting a cold, flu, or post-bad-sushi-borne illness. So what about when you’re feeling like you just need a day to yourself?
Your answer: the mental health day, an essential when it comes to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Here’s what you need to know about needing, planning and successfully taking a mental health day.
Why You Need a Mental Health Day
You know that coworker who always comes to the office when she has a cold? And you know how everyone insists she take a sick day, lest she make herself worse and infect the entire office (just days before the company holiday party, no less)?
Feeling mentally or emotionally down is no different — and it’s a legitimate reason to take a day off. “Think of taking a day to yourself like going to the gym. At the gym you’re working on maintaining physical benefits; when you take a mental health day, you’re taking time to recharge and balance out your emotional state,” says Brandon Smith, known as The Workplace Therapist.
“Beyond that, consider the benefits from a risk management standpoint. If we don’t take these days when we need them, it increases the probability that we lose our composure at work. We might break down in tears at a meeting, chew out a coworker, or yell at a customer — all things that can damage the reputation of your brand, hurt your presence in the office, or even cost you your job,” he adds.
How You Know You Need One
But what’s the difference between “I don’t feel like working today because I’d rather watch Game of Thrones” and truly needing to take a day to yourself? “Some major signs are feeling exceptionally stressed or overwhelmed, or physically run down and exhausted,” says Jennifer Kass, a spiritual mentor. “But you could also benefit from a day off if something happened in your life — a breakup or another challenge — that you need to process emotionally and mentally. Even though society may not think a breakup requires healing as if you have the flu, healing your heart is as important as healing your body.”
The weather, change in seasons, and time of year also play a role. (Seasonal Affective Disorder is the real deal, folks.) “Many people don’t get enough sunlight,” says Smith. (Hi Seattle!) “And certain occupations operate in cycles and have busy seasons, like accountants do in March and April. It’s important to take days after those exceptionally busy times to recharge and reset. The workplace is like a marathon, running until you drop, and that’s not healthy.” Know your season, and carve out your recovery days accordingly.”
Planning the Perfect MHD
If possible, don’t wing it. You don’t want to spend your MHD (yes, we’re calling Mental Health Days by its acronym) worrying about incomplete tasks at the office, so prepare for the day by getting all your work done in advance and on time. “But sometimes, just like with a workout, you wake up and realize plans have changed,” says Kass. “Don’t be rigid with yourself — know your body, your feelings, your emotions, and know when you’ll benefit from taking the day to yourself,” she adds. Also important? Knowing when you need to go into work, too.
And as tempting as it can be to spend the entire day under the covers, the goal of the MHD is to recharge so you can return to the office feeling refreshed and revitalized. “It’s perfectly OK to take a nap, indulge and rest a bit,” says Smith. “But make sure you get out. Go for a walk, go to the gym, catch up with friends or do whatever you need to gain some form of positive energy. Don’t spend the entire day locked inside your home. That won’t fix it.”
For maximum results, try to take your day off on a Friday so you can luxuriate in a long weekend. “Then you have the rest of the weekend uninterrupted,” says Kass, who says a Friday through Sunday long weekend is better than a Saturday through Monday weekend. “Fridays have a fun feel to them — Mondays can be tough, overwhelming, and busy,” she notes.
What to Tell Your Boss
No, we don’t recommend feigning illness or lying. If your company doesn’t honor mental health days as part of your benefits package (many don’t), keep it simple. “It’s best to say you’re feeling under the weather and leave it at that,” says Smith. “It’s an entirely true statement: If you’re feeling down or angry; you’re not 100 percent.”
“Be unapologetic about what you need,” adds Kass. “Women especially are riddled with guilt — it’s like an ‘I’m sorry’ epidemic. Just take your day without any justifications or excuses. Respect your decision, and know that when you respect yourself, everyone else respects you in turn,” she says. Plus, people in an office setting rarely use all their sick, vacation and personal days. Make sure you use every single one — you deserve that time for yourself so you can be a more productive employee.
What’s most important, Kass says, is to spend the day connecting with yourself in a meaningful way. “Cook, meditate, spend time in nature, utilize creative expression, physical movement like dance or yoga, write, listen to music or connect with people you haven’t seen in a while,” she says.
Remember, it’s not just about the day — it’s about setting yourself up for success going forward. “The better we feel inside, the better our lives get,” says Kass. Preach.