When you’re feeling sick, you know it’s probably best to take the day off from work in order to recover and feel better. But while we may know how important it is to take care of our mental health, many of us may still hesitate to take time off work in order to do this.
There may be any number of reasons why you may feel you need to take a mental health day. Personal problems, poor working relationships and overwork are all common reasons – as well as feeling burnt out, overwhelmed and stressed. Left unchecked, these factors may eventually lead to stress, unhappiness and even mental illness.
Tackling mental health problems early is important for preventing them from getting worse. This is why taking a mental health day to care for yourself, de-stress and re-group can be useful. So if you’ve been feeling more tired than usual, are having trouble sleeping (or not getting good quality sleep), experience changes in appetite or even feeling more impatient than normal, it may be a sign that you need to take a day off work to look after your mental health.
This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of beginning a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and bring answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life.
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A word of caution here though. Spending your mental health day ruminating on your woes, thinking about the things that are stressing you out, or simply doing nothing at all is unlikely to have any benefit to you.
Making the most of your day
The best way to spend your mental health day is likely to be linked to the reason you took it in the first place.
If you’re overwhelmed with your workload and have been very busy, then spending time thinking about how you can improve your work/life balance, or getting organised might be most useful in helping you to feel better. If you’re miserable with your job, then spending the day looking or applying for other jobs might be a good call.
But if you’re feeling emotionally or psychologically drained, here are a few other things you can do to improve things:
Get creative. We know that creativity is good for us, even if you aren’t very good at what you’re doing.
Whether it’s painting, singing, crafting or writing a journal, spending time being creative helps release tension and boost energy levels.
It’s a bit like how you worked through issues and learnt by playing as a child. Creativity works much in the same way. It can help us relieve stress and indirectly helps us work through the things that were bothering us to begin with.
Get physical. Exercise is shown to be as effective as medication in treating many mental health issues. In fact, exercise can be so good for mental health that it’s often used as a first-line treatment for people with moderate depression.
It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do, either. Whether you like running, weightlifting or pilates, any exercise is good for managing stress and lifting mood – thanks, in part, to the feel good chemicals that our body naturally releases during exercise.
Get outside. Being in nature has a measurably calming effect on our bodies – it activates our “rest and digest” (parasympathetic) nervous system, which is important for helping to reduce stress levels.
You could try activities such as tree bathing, a popular pastime in Japan, which involves walking quietly in forests and woodlands while trying to be present in the moment and breathing deeply. If you don’t live near a woodland, then activities like gardening and walking in the park are really beneficial too.
Get spiritual. This doesn’t mean go to church necessarily (unless that’s what you want to do), but practices such as mindfulness, meditation and yoga are shown to be exceptionally good for our overall mental wellbeing. For added benefit, try doing these outdoors if the weather’s nice.
To get the most out of your mental health day, spend some time actively considering what steps you need to take to improve whatever issues may have been affecting your mental health in the first place. It might be best to do this at the start of your day so that you can spend the rest of the day doing an activity you enjoy. Most importantly, focus on what you’re doing if you can – rather than continuing the cycle of worry or distress. This may take some practice to get the hang of though.
Regardless, taking a day when you feel you need it to actively invest in yourself, recharge your batteries and address any issues that may be troubling you is likely to have long-term benefits for your mental health. And if you keep these practices up in your daily life, it’s likely you’ll see continued mental health benefits.
Sandra Walker does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.