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The Work-Life Issue

When You Should Take a Mental Health Day

Everyone has to deal with varying levels of stress. This can be particularly difficult to manage if you also have symptoms of depression or anxiety. When you feel like your stress levels have reached their peak, it might be time to take a quick break to reset.

A mental health day is a day you take off from work or school, and minimize any commitments or responsibilities. You can use this time to focus on relieving stress, relaxing, having fun, and preventing burnout.

While one day might not solve heavy underlying problems that lead to burnout, a mental health day can provide a much-needed break to pause, regroup, and come back with greater levels of energy and a fresh, less-stressed perspective.

According to research conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), anxiety and depressive disorders cost more than a trillion dollars globally in lost productivity each year.

Whatever stressors you face, these tips can help you take a mental health day and make the most of it.

On May 19, 2022, Verywell Mind hosted a virtual Mental Health in the Workplace webinar, hosted by Editor-in-Chief Amy Morin, LCSW. If you missed it, check out this recap to learn ways to foster supportive work environments and helpful strategies to improve your well-being on the job.

Benefits of a Mental Health Day

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by your daily roles and responsibilities. When you're constantly expected to perform your duties as an employee, a parent, a spouse, a family member, or a friend, you can find yourself exhausted.

It's important to take time for yourself to:

  • Clear your mind
  • Have fun and do things you enjoy
  • Improve your sleep quality
  • Process your emotions
  • Promote relaxation
  • Reduce stress

World Mental Health Day

World Mental Health Day was first celebrated in 1992 by an organization called the World Federation for Mental Health. Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) supports World Mental Health Day as well.

The day is meant to raise awareness about mental health issues, reduce stigmas surrounding mental illness, and encourage workplaces, institutions, and individuals to prioritize their mental health.

When Is World Mental Health Day?

World Mental Health Day happens every year on October 10.

Choose Your Day

Once you have decided to take a mental health day, the question then becomes "when and how?"

The best way to avoid feeling stressed about taking a day off is to schedule a day off ahead of time, taking steps to rearrange your workload or find a replacement for the day. However, if you wake up in the morning and just feel that you can't face the stress of the day, this may be a good time to take a mental health day and make the most of it.

The decision of when to take a mental health day really depends on your personal situation. If your employer is supportive and you are comfortable sharing your reasons, feel free to plan a mental health day in advance.

Some people feel they need to make mental health day excuses in order to get out of work. But if you don't want to divulge your reasons for taking a day or if your employer is less understanding, don't feel obligated to share.

While there has been a growing movement to destigmatize mental health issues in the workplace, many employers still do not support mental health concerns as a legitimate reason to miss a day of work.

You can:

  • Call in sick: You can say, "I'd like to use my remaining sick day this month," and not specify why you're using it. Or you can say, "I am not feeling well today and I need to take the day off," without adding anything further.
  • Plan to use some of your time off: You can say, "I will be using my PTO," without giving a reason why. Your employer or fellow employees don't need to know what you'll be doing.
  • Schedule your mental health day for a day you already have off: If anyone asks what you'll be doing, you don't have share you're taking a mental health day unless you feel comfortable doing so. You can simply say, "I'll be seeing family," or "I'll just be relaxing at home."

Weekends work well, too. While a "traditional" mental health day generally includes taking a day off from work, it's not necessary to call in sick to take a day to focus on stress relief.

If you're wondering if there's a mental health day for students, you're not alone. State legislation has been increasingly supportive of policy that enables students to take time off for mental or behavioral health. Of course, policies vary by school and by state.

If you or your child need to take time away from school for mental health reasons, you can use a sick day to do so. If you need more time or your school requests a doctor's note, talk to a guidance counselor and/or administrator at the school to explain your situation. A mental health professional may be able to provide a written note that verifies your need a day (or multiple days) off.

Signs of Burnout

If you can recognize the signs of burnout (or feel them coming), it's probably time to take a mental health day at work or a mental health day at school.

Signs of burnout include decreased motivation or performance, negative thoughts about yourself or others, and physical or mental exhaustion.

If you're not feeling like yourself, and you dread performing your day-to-day tasks, chances are you are experiencing some burnout.

What to Expect From a Mental Health Day

Knowing what you can expect to get out of a mental health day is important. It's important to remember that it isn't a day to hide from your problems. 

An effective mental health day can help you:

  • Destress
  • Get a handle on your emotions
  • Relax
  • Reset your perspective
  • Rest
  • Take a step back to evaluate

Problems can be harder to deal with when they seem close, overwhelming, and inescapable. Taking a mental break from work and spending some time on self-care can sometimes give you the mini-break you need to head back into things with a clear head.

How to Spend Your Mental Health Day

Sometimes this one is a no-brainer—if you're exhausted, your body will be screaming that it needs to rest. Of, if you feel you can't face another day of hard work, you may just need to have some fun. However, if you're feeling overwhelmed, you may not be as aware of your needs.

Take a minute and really reflect: Would you benefit the most from some tension relief? Or from making a few changes that will relieve stress in the future? Some time with a loved one? Or just a change of scenery? As different stressors require different responses, different types of mental health days fill unique needs.

If You Need to Relax

Taking a mental health day often means taking time out to relax. That can mean watching TV in pajamas for hours, or puttering around the house and doing nothing. As long as this isn't an everyday thing, that's fine. Some activities can take a little front-end effort and feel immensely relaxing once they're completed.

Some things you can try include:

  • Attending a yoga class
  • Getting a massage
  • Swimming laps
  • Taking a walk in nature

The key is to spend time doing an activity that you find relaxing, whether it's taking a hike, exploring a museum, or just spending some time immersed in a good book.

Things to Avoid

  • Other people, if they interfere with your need to recharge
  • Smoking, drinking, or other substances
  • Overeating unhealthy foods
  • Ruminating or wallowing in negative emotions
  • Spending all day reading posts on social media

There are plenty of ways to spend your day, whether you decide to catch up on some much-needed sleep, indulge in a hobby you love, or hang out with a friend. Spend your day on activities that boost your physical and mental wellness.

Press Play for Advice On Self-Care

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If You Need Some Fun

If you really need a change of scenery and a "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" kind of mental health day, make the most of it. Plan at least one fun event—either something you normally love to do and don't do often enough, or something you've always wanted to try. Take a good friend along, if possible, to really make the day memorable.

If nothing grabs your attention, try to engage in activities that provide just the right type of challenge: Hobbies, games, and the like.

If You Need to Make Some Changes

If the stressors seem to pile up and you're looking for a way to slow down and stop the noise, you may want to take a day to restructure things. You may not be able to eliminate all of your ongoing stressors in a day, but you might be able to make a significant reduction in a few areas, which may, in turn, create a lasting impact on your stress levels.

You can start to eliminate stress by:

  • Creating a list of things that drain your energy
  • Cutting out some of your larger stressors
  • Taking a look at your priorities
  • Working on increasing job satisfaction

Don't expect to be able to take on all of this in a single day. If you want to use your mental health day to make real changes in your life, use it as a chance to evaluate, plan, and get ready to work on those changes.

If You Need a Longer Break

If you're concerned that your overall stress levels need more than just a mental health day, consider taking a staycation or vacation. You may also consider whether you're headed toward burnout.

Online resources can also help, and you may want to also bring up your concerns with your doctor, or talk to a mental health professional. There are many steps that can be taken to help.

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health issues, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

Look for ways to keep stress levels low so that you don't wake up one morning in dire need of an emergency mental health day. A mental health day can be useful occasionally, but you should also strive to prioritize your mental health every day and make time for rest.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Naveen R. Mental health in the workplace: World Mental Health Day 2017. Indian J Occup Environ Med. 2017;21(3):99-100. doi:10.41032Fijoem.IJOEM_148_17

  2. Afonso P, Fonseca M, Pires JF. Impact of working hours on sleep and mental health. Occupational Med. 2017;67(5):377-382. doi:10.1093/occmed/kqx054

  3. Mariotti A. The effects of chronic stress on health: New insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communicationFuture Sci OA. 2015;1(3):FSO23. doi:10.4155/fso.15.21

  4. World Mental Health DayMent Health Fam Med. 2010;7(2):123.

  5. World Health Organization. World Mental Health Day.

  6. National Conference of State Legislatures. States act to allow student mental health days.

  7. American Psychological Association. Burnout.

Additional Reading

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.