When should you take a mental health day?

Did you know that most companies include mental health in a sick day? During a “mental health day” employees can use a sick day caused by stress or burnout rather than physical symptoms of a cold or flu. Naturally, the lines become a little bit blurred due to the often invisible nature of mental health. Is taking a mental health day a good idea? It depends, really. First we need to understand there are two different kinds of mental health days. One pertains to an actual diagnosed mental illness. The second is more of an informal use of the term mental health, where you use sick time to reduce stress that you’ve built up in the course of your job. Rather than resorting to the mental health day, if you are feeling stressed or anxious quite regularly, it’s probably worth considering a visit to a therapist or psychiatrist to understand if your feelings are linked to an anxiety disorder or depression, two of the most common disorders in the workplace. Should you happen to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or depression, it’s then important to understand these are as real a physical illness as a flu or cold. Your therapist can help you determine your triggers and when is best to take time off to manage your symptoms. If you’re not suffering from formally diagnosed levels of depression and anxiety, that doesn’t mean you can’t take the occasional “mental health day”. However, there are a few important things to consider first.

Plan ahead

Taking a mental health day spontaneously is generally not a good idea. The feeling of dread of going to work is not enough of an excuse to call in sick, as appealing as that thought is sometimes. Stress and anxiety tend to be highly emotional experiences of trying to avoid something in your life that is causing you angst. If you resort to a sick day when you’re trying to avoid this unpleasantness it can risk creating a nasty habit of turning to this solution anytime adversity arises. You can, unintentionally, trigger a go-to response of running away from your stress which is very unhealthy.   Instead, hard is it may be, consider thinking about why your work is causing you stress. What is it specifically that’s causing it? If staying home and avoiding a dreaded meeting is your reason, the day off won’t alleviate that stress and could actually make it worse. The job still needs to be done. And if you’ve taken the day off to avoid that meeting, you’ll end up stewing on it for most of the day in a helpless state when you could have been there handling it instead. Sometimes, as impossible as it may feel, you’re better off muscling ahead into the meeting and getting it done. This isn’t to discourage a mental health day, but it’s got to be planned in order to get the relief that you need. There are two strategies that can make your mental health day most valuable. The first is to plan a day that takes you away from the things you are trying to avoid. Naturally, avoiding the things that have put us in a restless state will provide some relief. There are many ways to do this. Take in an afternoon baseball game, or game of golf. Get outside into nature and hike. Do a yoga or meditation class. Or you can actively work on skills to help you separate yourself from the stressors in your world on a more regular basis to avoid falling into this restlessness.

Taking a day off to sort your life

The second strategy is to take the mental health day to take care of some other things that are causing you stress by virtue of them being unattended to. Behind on bills? House cleaning? Banking? A mental health day to tackle these neglected things can lift a tremendous weight off your shoulders.   While it might seem less appealing to take a day off work to do another kind of work, making your home life a less stressful place can improve your resilience to handle adversity in the workplace.

Micro mental health

Lastly, it’s worth considering taking hours or moments during the day instead of full days. Head to the gym first thing in the morning, or break up the day and go during the lunch hour. Get a massage or spa treatment more regularly. Get up early and take the longer, more scenic route through the pretty park on your walk to work listening to your favorite podcast. Point is, rather than letting the stress build up to the point where it is utterly unbearable, see if you can integrate these moments to your daily to bring better balance.


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