“Mental health can be viewed as the air traffic control of our lives,” says Anna Rowley, PhD, creator of RallyBright and the Active Resilience Quotient, a tool that helps individuals, companies, and teams measure, track, and cultivate everyday resilience practices in and out of the workplace. “With poor mental health, we fail to ‘take-off,’ have mid-air collisions, and experience delays and confusion, causing our personal and professional lives to suffer.”
What Rowley has to say makes sense, especially considering that more than half of all U.S. employees report sometimes feeling overworked or overwhelmed by their jobs. And this stress doesn’t just stay in the workplace. Mental Health America (MHA) recently conducted a study that revealed over 50 percent of surveyed employees reported that their relationships with friends and family were “always” or “often” affected by workplace stress. Another 63 percent revealed that their workplace stress resulted in a significant impact on their mental and behavioral health.
In today’s fast-paced environment, it’s important to care for your well-being. And that means listening to your body and taking a mental health day in the event that you’re approaching burnout.
Mental health is important to overall well-being.
How we feel and think significantly affects our physical well-being. For example, stress has been found to increase our vulnerability to heart disease and other cardiovascular problems. Emotional problems like low mood, depression, and anxiety can wreak havoc on our work and lifestyle—interrupting and affecting things from our sleep to our relationships.
Jonny Lo, a PhD candidate and founder of Onboard Health, a company that creates interactive onboarding experiences for hospitals and private practices, says, “Although no single cause for rising mental health issues exists, the modern workplace is one of the primary contributors, due to factors like career competition, worsening of job security, and the demise of a work–life balance.”
All of which means you have to champion your own care, listening to your mind and body for indicators that you need a day of rest.
Signs You May Need a Mental Health Day
Whitney Hawkins, a licensed therapist and owner of the Collaborative Counseling Center, notes that if you are experiencing any combination of the following, it may be time to take a mental health day:
- Inability to focus at work or at home
- Having trouble sleeping or sleeping excessively
- Changes in your eating patterns
- Experiences of anger in unusual circumstances
- Relationships that are especially stressed
- Inability to find pleasure in daily activities
- Concern from people close to you that you’re stressed or overwhelmed
- More frequent use of substances (like alcohol)
- Feelings of anxiety or depression
Benefits of Taking a Mental Health Day
“Rather than hyper-focusing on your inbox or ever-expanding to-do list, pausing allows you to widen your perspective and remember that you have a life outside of the office, class, or mom duties. Mental health days are an opportunity to give back, not only to yourself, but ultimately to others as well—simply because we often re-enter our day-to-day duties feeling refreshed,” explains Rowley.
“Taking care of your mental health provides numerous benefits, such as increased immune system, enhanced productivity and satisfaction when returning to work, boosted feelings of contentment, and reduced acute stress. Some of the most scientifically backed beneficial ways to spend a mental health personal day are meditating, sleeping, noticing what you are grateful for, spending time in nature, and connecting with loved ones,” says Ellie Cobb, a Columbia University–trained clinician who notes that being mentally healthy is an active process that we must tend to on a regular basis.
“Being kind to ourselves and acknowledging when we need to slow down will have a positive ripple effect for our own health and those around us,” she notes.
How to Make the Most of Your Time Off
To make the most of a mental health day, engage in activities that stand to benefit your mental health and well-being, limit risk factors that may worsen your mental health, and take the opportunity to seek help.
According to Rowley, you should consider spending your day off engaging in physical activity, fun hobbies, or leisure pursuits, consuming a nutritious diet, getting sufficient sleep, and spending time with your social supports (like close friends and family). She adds that it’s important to minimize risk factors by avoiding stressors like personal conflicts and reducing alcohol and drug use.
A mental health day is also an opportune time to ask for help. This might come from your social supports. Other options include self-help and support groups or scheduling a visit to a health practitioner like a family physician, psychologist, counselor, or psychiatrist.
How to Tell Your Boss, Professor, or Spouse You’re Going to Disconnect
When informing anyone who needs to know that you’re taking a mental health day, Cobb suggests emphasizing the fact that giving yourself a day to refresh will increase your productivity around the home or workplace.
“Prioritize your health and happiness, and simply tell your boss you will be taking a day to recharge your mind, body, and soul so that you can return to work a more productive, more compassionate, and more balanced employee,” she explains. Lo adds that when it comes to any sick leave request, you should provide an honest account to your supervisor that alerts them to your need for time off as soon as possible.
“Most workplaces that trust their employees and value their loyalty will accept a sick leave request on its merits, without the need for a written medical certificate. However, if this is not the case, experts recommend taking a personal day. An email correspondence will usually suffice, although a message or a phone call may be preferred if it’s on short notice or during work hours,” he explains.
MHA has created an online screening program that allows participants to take an anonymous, scientifically based screening that covers mental health issues including depression and anxiety.
“It’s a simple first step to determine if what someone is feeling [or] experienc[ing] is a sign of something more serious and can be used to start a conversation with a loved one, doctor, or employer,” says Erin Wallace, MHA’s chief communications officer.
The screening can be accessed at www.mhascreening.org.