Long before I knew that there was a name for it, I was taking a Mental Health Day every once in a while in order to recharge and reinvigorate myself. I remember taking the occasional day off during middle and high school because I was feeling inexplicably exhausted and just didn’t feel like going to school. Because I earned good grades, my parents generally didn’t object to the occasional absence and would always write a note for my teachers claiming I was physically ill when I wasn’t— thanks mami y papi!
This behavior pattern continued in college and into my first job, with me typically taking a day “off” every 3-4 months or so. I didn’t have a name for it or why I was doing it, but I just knew that I needed a day off. I didn’t even call my day off “recharging” or “relaxing.” I just took it off, and that was that. What I know now, however, is that taking a Mental Health Day (as I had obviously been doing since I was 11 or so) is crucial to me being able to be my best self. But what is it, exactly? And how do you know if you need one? Let me explain.
So what is a mental health day, exactly? Well, according to Psychology Today, mental health should be treated just as you would treat physical health. Meaning: If you have a flu, you would stay home and rest. Sometimes you need the same when your mental health is suffering, but it’s really hard to do because we are afraid of being called “weak” or told to just “get over it.” The thing is, though, if you are feeling burnt out, depressed, or anxious to the point of collapse, you can’t just close your eyes, breathe deeply, and let it go. You need actual time to rest and recover.
Basically, when your mental health is suffering, you need to take an actual day off the same way you would if you were sick with the flu or a horrible migraine. You might feel guilty at first, but it’s really important to do this in order to beat burnout. In fact, according to NBC News, 45% of full-time workers in the U.S. would love for their jobs to offer paid time off for mental health days. If your office doesn’t allow this, though, you can do what I did and simply take a “sick day.” Your boss doesn’t necessarily need to know that your sickness is mental health, but they will be glad to see you recharged and working at your maximum productivity after a much-needed break.
In fact, being MORE productive after your Mental Health Day is the #1 reason why I always loved taking a day off every few months. In fact, I typically knew that I needed one because I was beginning to take twice as long to do something that would have usually taken me a LOT less time. I would have trouble focusing, procrastinate for hours, and ultimately stare at my computer screen until it was time to clock out.
According to Bustle, some other tell-tale signs of needing a mental health day include being tired all the time (guilty!), overreacting to minor issues and crying more than usual. Oh, and did I mention that your mental health troubles can manifest physically too?
“Recurring colds or other physical ailments are a signal that your body needs to slow down and that you’re in need of a mental-health day,” Marra Ackerman, M.D., director of women’s mental health in the department of psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, said to Women’s Health.
Basically, your burned-out brain might be lowering your immune system to the point that you’re seeing your doctor more often than you’re seeing your bestie. That’s when it is definitely time to take that Mental Health Day. The best part? Once you’ve picked the best day to do it (try not to take a day off when a coworker is on vacation or your big project is due), you can do pretty much anything you want with it.
My recommendation for your Mental Health Day is to sleep in, do some reading, take yourself out to brunch, take a stroll around the block, catch up on some reading, and cuddle with your favorite furry critter. At least that’s what my last Mental Health Day looked like. The next day, I was feeling GREAT and had one of my most productive work days all year. But best of all, my mind was clearer, I wasn’t feeling teary-eyed or stressed out, and I could fall asleep without being awake half the night with anxiety. Taking a day off for all of those benefits is most definitely worth it and, indeed, needed regularly.