When You Should Take a Mental Health Day

Red Sheet in a Meadow
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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 you're stress levels have reached their peak, it might be time to take a quick break to reset. Sometimes taking a mental health day—a day off that's specifically geared toward stress relief and burnout prevention—is the best thing you can do for yourself. 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.

Unfortunately, employers are not always supportive of psychological issues that workers may face. Yet mental health issues take a serious economic toll worldwide.

According to research conducted by the World Health Organization, 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.

Take a Day

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

Ideally, if you can schedule a day off ahead of time, ensuring that you've taken steps to rearrange your workload or find a replacement for the day, this is the best way to do it, so you're not feeling stress about taking the day off. 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.

While there has been a growing movement to destigmatize mental health issues in the workplace, many employers still believe that mental health concerns are not legitimate reasons to miss a day of work.

A survey commissioned by the British government found that 70 percent of employers did not believe that stress, anxiety, and depression were valid reasons for missing work. More than have of employees felt that their employer did not take mental health issues seriously. For that reason, many workers report faking illness in order to get time off to cope.

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 out in advance. 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.

You can:

  • Plan to use some of your time off
  • Schedule your mental health day for a day you already have off
  • If absolutely necessary, call in sick

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.

What to Expect

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

Problems can seem 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 that mini-break you need to head back into things with a clear head.

Decide What You Need Most

Sometimes this one is a no-brainer—if you're exhausted, your body will be screaming that it needs to rest; 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, and as long as this isn't an everyday thing, that's fine. However, some activities can take a little front-end effort and feel immensely relaxing once they're completed.

Some things you can try include:

  • Taking a walk in nature
  • Attending a yoga class
  • Swimming at the gym
  • Getting a massage

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 NOT to Do

  • Binge-watch TV
  • Avoid friends and family
  • Smoke, drink, or use other substances
  • Overeat unhealthy foods
  • Ruminate or wallow in negative emotions
  • Spend 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.

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, be sure you make the most of it. Plan at least one fun event—either something you normally love to do and don't do enough or something you've always wanted to try. Take along a good friend, if possible, to really make the day memorable.

If nothing grabs your attention, try to engage in gratifications or 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, and that may create a lasting impact on your stress levels.

Start by:

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 More of a Break

If you need more of a break than just one day, consider taking a staycation or vacation. You may also consider whether you're headed toward burnout. If you're concerned that your overall stress levels are greater than a mental health day, a vacation, or online resources can help, you may want to bring up your concerns with your doctor, or talk to a professional. There are many steps that can be taken to help.

A Word From Verywell

Look for ways to keep stress levels low and 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 on occasion, but you should also strive to make your mental health a priority every day.

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