Most people think that taking a “mental health day” is a less valid reason to skip work than taking a sick day when you’re ill. But it’s important that we treat our emotional health as seriously as our physical health. So experts advise taking a mental health day when needed. (Interestingly, two states, Utah and Oregon, recently enacted laws allowing school students to use sick days to deal with psychological challenges.)
Overwork can lead to a variety of negative side effects — such as exhaustion, sleeplessness and anxiety — that if unchecked can explode into full-blown burnout or breakdown. If the stresses of work keep building up in your life, you’re not obligated to just “suck it up” and keep punching the clock. It’s more than okay to take some time off for psychological self-care — it’s a necessity.
Here are some signs you need to take a day off just for your emotional well-being:
- You’re exhausted all the time and you’re having trouble sleeping. Or, you’re sleeping too much.
- You’re showing signs of anxiety: racing thoughts, tightness in the chest, stomach discomfort,, shortness of breath.
- You’re having trouble concentrating on tasks, perhaps leading to careless mistakes.
- You’re showing signs of depression: sadness, irritability, loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy.
- You’re feeling physically tense, on edge and quicker to anger.
- You keep getting sick with colds, flu, etc.
A day off for some “me time” can definitely help by leaving you more refreshed, more productive and ready to meet challenges back in the workplace. It’s also an opportunity to gain a wider perspective on your job.
But what’s the best use of the day away from the office? Some suggestions:
- Catch up on some needed sleep. Sleep late or take a well-earned nap.
- Eat a hearty, nutritious breakfast! A good meal at the start of the day can improve your mood. Later enjoy a healthy, lighter lunch and dinner.
- If you’re feeling exhausted, give your body a break by swimming, doing yoga or getting a massage.
- Unwind by indulging in a new fun activity. Try out a new restaurant or visit a museum that you’ve been meaning to explore.
- Reconnect with friends and loved ones. Share a meal or a stroll in the park. Regular socializing is an important way to maintain mental health.
- In the evening, reflect on your day’s experiences. Practice gratitude for all the positive things in your life.
- End the day with a good night’s rest. Remember good sleep habits: no alcohol, caffeine or screen use before bed, etc,
Of course, one mental health day is not enough if you’re struggling with serious issues such as chronic anxiety, depression or addiction. Then it’s time to seek help from a therapist. Many employers offer an employee assistance program (EAP) which provides workers with short-term professional guidance to deal with personal problems or work-related challenges that impact job performance.