Why You Should Take A Mental Health Day

By Samantha Goddiess - Mar. 15, 2021
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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The World Health Organization celebrates World Mental Health Day on October 10th every year. But one day per year is hardly enough to maintain your mental health. World Mental Health Day is for awareness, but you should take mental health days throughout the year.

Your mental health — your emotional, psychological, and social well-being — affects you in ways you may not even realize. Taking a day off that is specifically tailored to relieve stress and prevent burnout can make a world of difference when you’re having a rough time.

One day may not be able to solve the underlying problems that are leading to your burnout, but a mental health day can give you a much-needed break.

You’re awarded time off at your job. Take it and use it wisely. Give your emotional health the TLC it needs.

Not everyone responds to stress the same way. The number or frequency of your mental health days will depend entirely on how you feel — and your ability to take time off. Not everyone is in a position to take time off work when needed — it’s an unfortunate truth for many.

One to two mental health days per quarter is what is recommended. Take what you need and what you can, when you’re able.

How to Spot Burnout

You don’t want to push yourself to burnout. You will leave yourself with physical and emotional symptoms that may be difficult to recover from. Burnout can share symptoms with some serious mental health conditions.

If you struggle to deal with work-related stress, maintain a heavy workload, or don’t maintain a good work-life balance, you are at a much higher risk of burnout. Entry-level employees have a higher risk of developing burnout, but that doesn’t exclude mid-level or high-level employees from work-related stress.

You want to avoid burnout at all costs. Taking a mental health day can help to stave off the symptoms associated with burnout — and the inevitable crash that follows.

Be on the lookout for the three dimensions of burnout:

  1. Exhaustion. This isn’t just the kind of tiredness associated with a bad night of sleep. Burnout causes bone-deep exhaustion that follows you throughout your day. Every day.

    No amount of sleep seems to replenish your energy levels. You are physically and emotionally exhausted. You may experience physical symptoms such as headaches, gastrointestinal discomfort, insomnia, or consistent illness. There are also emotional symptoms: inability to cope or handle stress, irritability, and lethargy.

    True exhaustion could be a sign of burnout.

  2. Cynicism. You have to convince yourself to go to work every morning. You seriously contemplate disappearing on your lunch break and not coming back. Your coworkers are starting to irritate you. You couldn’t care less about your job or your performance.

    If you don’t enjoy your job anymore or you’re finding yourself frustrated over the simplest tasks, you may be experiencing burnout.

  3. Reduced professional ability. This is more than just not caring enough to put in the effort. You’re struggling to concentrate, your creative mind has dried up, you lack the enthusiasm or energy to put forth enough effort to do the work.

    If you’re experiencing burnout, you may see a noticeable dip in your work quality. Or, you may need to double, or triple, your effort just to produce the same quality work.

Signs You Need a Mental Health Day

Everyone has bad days at work. We all need a break once in a while. Even the most well-adjusted individuals will have their moments. How do you know when it is time to give yourself a break?

Your body, and your mind, can indicate when it is time to take a mental health day. You want to take that much-needed break before you reach the point of burnout.

When you start to experience one or more of these signs, you should start considering a mental health day:

  • You can’t sleep. You’re so tired, but you can’t seem to actually fall asleep. If that’s not normal behavior for you, it can be a sign that you need a break.

    Sleep is often one of the first things to suffer when we’re dealing with a lot of stress. Unfortunately, when your sleep suffers, so does your health.

  • You’re restless. You can’t seem to turn your brain off. Relaxing is starting to become difficult and you never seem to feel recharged.

    Restlessness is a common symptom of anxiety; it’s also a sign that you’re feeling overwhelmed. If you’re doing too much without giving yourself a break, it can lead to restlessness.

  • You have no motivation. It is getting harder to drag yourself out of bed. You have to talk yourself into leaving your car some days. You just don’t want to.

    High-stress levels can lead to a loss of motivation. This can affect you at work and home. If you’re struggling to enjoy the things you used to, it’s a sure sign you need a break.

  • Your temper is shorter than usual. You are finding it harder to deal with people these days. Your patience is short and you’re more irritable than you’ve ever been. You don’t even know why you’re mad.

    If you’re under a lot of stress, it can shorten your temper. If you feel the irritability and impatience creeping in regularly, you want to take a break now. Irrational angry outbursts are a sign of burnout. Take a break before you get there.

  • You’re feeling overwhelmed. You can’t seem to get on top of your to-do list. There are obligations at work, at home, everywhere you look. It’s all starting to weigh on you. Once you start to feel overwhelmed, it can be difficult to shake that feeling.

    You need to tackle this. Just continuing to push through can lead to burnout. A mental health day can help you take a moment to refresh. You can return with the motivation and energy needed to address the underlying issues causing your overwhelm.

  • You’re getting sick more than usual. It’s not allergies. You can’t seem to beat this cold. And it seems like every time someone gets sick at the office, you follow soon after.

    Did you know that stress can affect your immune system? If you’re sick more than usual, it is a sign that your body is screaming for a break. Take that mental health day, and come back with a strategy for dealing with your stressors.

  • You’re struggling to focus. You never seem to stay focused during meetings anymore. It is taking you longer to complete your normal tasks. You’ve reread this same line two, three, four times without it sinking in.

    Everyone has an off day. But if you’re finding it difficult to concentrate all the time, it can be a sign of a bigger problem. Stress, overwhelm, and exhaustion can all make it difficult to concentrate. Time for a break.

  • Your emotions are all over the place. You’re crying over the weirdest things. You seem to get angry at the drop of a hat —‌ you don’t even know why you’re angry, to begin with. Your emotions are running high and wild.

    Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your emotions. Insomnia can also affect your emotional well-being. Take a mental health day and see if it makes a difference.

  • You consider quitting at least once a day. As you get up in the morning. On your morning commute. After your lunch break. When your boss drops another task on your pile. On your way home. You dream of quitting.

    If you are constantly thinking about quitting your job, it’s not a very good sign. It might be the stress or it may be a sign that it’s time to move on. Either way, a mental health day can give you the break you need to clear your head.

  • You’re starting to neglect your work. You keep putting off that report your boss needs. Your lunch breaks are starting earlier and lasting longer. You don’t care if you roll in a few minutes late and you try to see how early you can leave without anyone noticing.

    Your motivation to work is so far gone that you’ve stopped caring at all. It won’t be long before your performance starts to dip and your superiors take notice. Give yourself a break. There are only two results from this kind of behavior: getting fired or reaching burnout.

How to Effectively Take a Mental Health Day

If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, find yourself at risk of burnout, or just need a break to reset, a mental health day — or two, or five — can make all the difference.

Remember, this isn’t a day to hide from your problems and hope they go away on their own. An effective mental health day can help you destress, relax, rest, reset your perspective, and grant you the time you need to step back and evaluate your priorities and needs.

It is recommended that you schedule your mental health day(s) ahead of time. Sometimes, though, you wake up knowing you need a break. You can call in sick to give yourself the break you need too. If you’re unable to take time off, use the weekend (or your scheduled days off) to focus on stress-relief and burnout prevention.

To get the most out of your mental health days, focus on what your body and mind need. If you’re exhausted, rest. If you need to release stress, have fun. If you just need to relax, then relax. Different stressors will require a different response. Your mental health day should suit your needs.

Relaxation is a big part of mental health days for many. While some use their time to catch up on their to-do list or refocus their priorities if you need to relax there are plenty of ways to do so. You can:

  • Get a massage

  • Sleep in

  • Do something creative — draw, paint, craft

  • Read a book

  • See your family and friends

  • Listen to music

  • Watch your “comfort” show or movie

  • Go fishing

  • Spend time with your pet

  • Daydream

There is an infinite number of ways you can spend your mental health day and get the respite you need. There are, of course, activities or behaviors you should avoid, such as:

  • Binge — food, alcohol, or illicit substances

  • Wallow

  • Continue stressing out about work and life

Final Thoughts

Mental health days can help to keep your mental health in check. They should not be your only source of emotional, psychological, and social health, though. You need to find ways to keep your stress levels down and find/maintain your work-life balance.

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Samantha Goddiess

Samantha is a lifelong writer who has been writing professionally for the last six years. After graduating with honors from Greensboro College with a degree in English & Communications, she went on to find work as an in-house copywriter for several companies including Costume Supercenter, and Blueprint Education.

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