You know you need a sick day when you are under the weather with a fever, cough, or nausea. But when should you take a mental health day?
When you're burnt out from long work hours, faced with personal hardships, or battling depression and anxiety than taking a break from your regular work responsibilities can help you recharge and go back to work that next day feeling better. The reason? You’ve taken a step back from daily stressors and spent the day engaging in self-care or activities that you enjoy.
In some cases, it is obvious when you should take a mental health day. Maybe you're struggling to cope with a recent breakup, or a poor performance review has upset you.
Sometimes, however, it can be difficult to know when you should take a day off to boost your mental health. But, the following 12 signs are good indicators that you desperately need to take a mental health day.
1. Your usual coping mechanisms aren't working.
To cope with tough times, we all have coping skills. There are numerous ways people manage routine stressors, including yoga, breathing exercises, or simply walking around the block. But, what if your go-to techniques just aren’t working anymore?
First, you need to realize that you’re not alone. After all, it’s quite normal for coping skills to wear thin. But, instead of throwing in the proverbial white towel, make a daylong commitment to adjusting or learning new coping skills.
2. You’re exhausted, but can’t sleep.
Physical exhaustion can result from overworking yourself mentally. Exhaustion can lead to two problems: an inability to fall asleep when you go to sleep, and a need to sleep all the time. As a result, your health suffers.
“The part of the brain that interprets our thoughts, feelings, and impulses is particularly sensitive to the impact of sleep,” Alicia Clark, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C., told Women’s Health. “The average person needs seven to nine hours of sleep per night.”
Marra Ackerman, M.D., director of women's mental health in the department of psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, says insomnia can result when you are consistently stressed out despite exhaustion.
Sleeping in, taking a long nap, and going to bed early could be just what you need to get your body and mind back on track. “Sleep can be a powerful tool in bolstering our cognitive and emotional resources, and a day spent drifting in and out of sleep can be powerfully healing,” says Clark.
3. You're always sick.
According to health experts and researchers, chronic stress has a negative impact on your immune response. Stress can increase suppressor T cells and catecholamine levels, which are immunosuppressive chemicals that make you more susceptible to viral infections and physical illness.
As such. you may need to relieve some stress, like taking a mental health break from work, if you tend to catch every cold or virus going around the neighborhood or office.
4. Your mood has changed.
Feeling constant irritability and crabby, and not feeling like yourself? That’s another sign that you need to take a mental health day.
Pain and suffering aren't worth pushing through -- especially if you already have anxiety or depression. Become more aware of your mood and then do what you can to elevate it - even if you need to speak to a therapist.
5. You’re more anxious than normal.
Having a little anxiety is normal. But if it gets worse, taking a day or two off may be beneficial to you. The symptoms of anxiety can take many forms, including feeling nauseous, short of breath, sweating, and restless. Listen to what your body and mind are telling you; they may need to rest.
6. You can’t stay focused.
A mental fog created by stress hinders concentration, decision-making, and seeing the big picture.
An afternoon away from your stressors can help clear your mind if you are fixated on trivial details that don't matter, or if you find yourself fumbling about with no goal.
7. Excitement is in short supply.
It may be time to take a break from work if you're not getting excited about new projects anymore. Along with taking a mental health day off, you may want to request extra assistance from your employer. Alternately, you might consider a temporary assignment switch to learn something new.
Believe it or not, if you take a day off, you will come back with renewed motivation. Take a break for a day or two and then take note of how you feel when you return.
8. You’re disconnected from others.
Having a disconnect from co-workers, friends, and family is another sign you need a mental health day. There might be times when you feel like no one understands you, or constantly feel that everyone else is on a different page from you.
9. Change in eating habits.
Do you frequently visit fast-food restaurants or eat uncontrollably despite normally eating a healthy diet? Stress or depression may be the cause of this. It might be beneficial to take some time to rest your mind and body.
10. You change your (alcohol) drinking habits.
If you drink more wine, beer, or alcohol than usual, that is a sign that you need a mental health day. Alcohol is often used to alleviate anxiety when people are overwhelmed at work. Rather than turning to substances as a coping mechanism, take a mental health day.
It is important to remember that excessive drinking can lead to mental and physical health problems in the future.
11. You feel helpless, frustrated, or hopeless.
Though it seems simplistic, positive thinking keeps people from feeling down.
For example, during a 2020 review article published in Cureus, researchers recommend that you focus on positive thinking, take a mental health day, and remind yourself that feelings of fear, anxiety, and panic will pass. According to them, this helped people get through the Covid-19 epidemic.
In short, if you believe you're broken, you'll likely stay that way. Therefore, on your mental health day, think about where you want to go and start implementing your plan.
12. Family and friends have expressed concerns.
Sometimes it is difficult to recognize that you are struggling. Another person may have noticed though.
You should do a quick self-check if someone has said you seem stressed, anxious, or depressed. Allowing yourself a day to acknowledge your feelings and sort things out might help.
How to Take a Mental Health Day From Work
You should decide how you will spend your mental health day once you've scheduled it. This day is all about focusing on self-care, taking a break, and getting ready to start anew. A single day may seem inconsequential. However, if you're on the verge of burnout, it might be exactly what you need.
Take advantage of your day off by following these tips:
Actually call out. It is not mandatory to notify your boss if you are taking a mental health day, whether you take a “sick day” or use some of your accumulated vacation time. Take the day off and enjoy yourself.
Take care of yourself. Spend time doing things you enjoy. Whether you want to go for a long bike ride, take a walk on the nearby nature trail, read a book, go golfing, or visit a spa, find ways to relax and unwind.
Avoid certain activities. A mental health day isn't the time for excessive drinking or substance abuse. You may experience more agitation, anxiety, or depression when you consume mind-altering substances. Spend time with those who make you feel refreshed, rather than avoiding friends or family.
Do not stress about it. Mental health days are supposed to be a time for relaxation. So don't plan anything if it feels too daunting. Your mind and body may need a rest sometimes. Enjoy a laid-back day by doing nothing at all if that's what you want.
Consider whether you need more time. Feeling physically and emotionally ill at the thought of returning to work may be a sign that you need more time to recuperate. Look into whether you can take an extra day or two. For specific medical conditions, you can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Have you exhausted your paid leave? Take advantage of the weekends to recharge. Don't stress yourself out by starting multiple projects on your list of things to do at home. Even though you may need to run to the grocery store, you can otherwise enjoy the weekend as a time to relax.