The importance of taking a mental health day
If months spent under a Covid-19 cloud left you stressed and anxious, you’re not alone.
Nearly 40 percent of workers reported a mental health concern during the pandemic, according to a survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Think that’s on par with the past? Think again.
Anxiety symptoms were three times as high as they were in 2019, and symptoms of depression were four times as high pre-pandemic.
Now, more than ever, consider a mental health day before stress leads to burnout—or worse.
“People need time away from work to achieve a sense of balance,” says Kevin Condon, a Georgia-based licensed clinical social worker and a mental health advisor who works with first responders on mental health issues.
What is a mental health day?
You’ve been going and going and going like the Energizer bunny. Think of a mental health day as a time to recharge your batteries in a healthy way before you grind to a halt.
The goal of a mental health day is to step away from work and give your brain a break. It’s a way to take care of your mental health and improve your energy, motivation, and even boost your productivity when you return to work.
Your mental health day should include specific activities, including self-care, to achieve these goals. These can be reading/journaling, sleeping in or sleeping late, nature walks, and a hobby you enjoy.
Going to lunch with a friend is good, says Condon, provided you set ground rules so the conversation stays light and pleasant (no politics or work talk allowed).
Some activities to avoid during your mental health day include scrolling through any form of social media, wallowing in negative emotions, bingeing on junk food or alcohol and controlled substances.
But what about work?
You may be thinking a mental health day sounds good right about now, but there’s no way your company will agree to it. After all, your gain is your boss’ loss … right?
You’re not the only one who reaps the benefits of a mental health day. Your employer can too.
A study by the World Health Organization estimated that for every $1 spent on support for mental health, which includes mental health days, there is a $4 return in work productivity.
There’s a stigma around mental health in the workplace, but these are some tips for talking about mental illness on the job.
Signs you need a mental health day
It can be challenging to figure out when you need to give your brain a break, but there are some obvious signs that your body and mind need to decompress.
Here are some common signs of mental, physical, and emotional fatigue, according to our panel of mental health experts.
Your go-to coping mechanisms are not working
Yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, or a quick walk around the block are all ways people manage routine stressors. But when these typical tricks and tactics aren’t working, it’s time to take an extended break.
A daylong commitment to mental health is needed, says Sam Bernard, executive director of a Tennessee-based firm specializing in disaster psychology and crisis response, advisor to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and fellow of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress.
Your emotions are getting in the way
When emotional reactions are out of sync with the situation, it’s time for a reality check.
Short tempers, angry outbursts, apathy, and disinterest may be a sign your perception is distorted. Blame it on stress, says Condon. And left unchecked, this lack of awareness leads to damaged relationships and disruptive workplaces.
You have difficulty staying focused
Stress creates a mental fog that makes it difficult to concentrate, make decisions, or see the big picture, says Bernard.
If you find yourself fixated on small details that don’t matter, or flailing about with no goals or direction, a day away from stressors can help clear the brain fog.
You’ve been working long stretches with few breaks
As working hours increase, so do stress levels.
Lisandro Irizarry, MD, a physician in New York City, has witnessed firsthand the emotional toll overwork can take on staff during the pandemic.
“They had feelings of inadequacy because they could not control the situation,” he says. Some coped by simply shutting down.
Take a mental health day away from the workplace instead of mentally detaching from the situation.
You are a different person at work and at home
When your behavior changes significantly, and noticeably, between work and home, pay attention.
“People are good at putting on a game face at work, [but] when they come home, they take off the mask,” says Condon, who works with first responders on mental health issues.
Involve those closest to you as you deal with stress because they likely see your full picture.
You begin resenting your colleagues or work situation
As stress begins to build, you may see challenges or threats where they don’t exist, such as when a coworker questions or disagrees with you, says Dr. Irizarry. Those internal frustrations can lead to misplaced anger directed at colleagues, creating an unpleasant workplace.
Your emotional issues are leading to physical problems
If your emotional distress is manifesting physically, this is a sign you need a rest day to catch your breath. Some physical problems associated with emotional issues include:
Increased headaches, backaches, gastrointestinal distress
Dizziness, nausea, tightness in the chest
Physical symptoms are your body’s response to internal stress, says Bernard. As stress levels rise, your immune system starts breaking down.
You feel frustrated, helpless, or hopeless
It may sound simplistic, but positive thinking helps people out of a funk.
In a 2020 review paper published in Cureus, researchers recommend focusing on positive thinking, taking a mental health day, and reminding yourself that feelings of fear, panic, and anxiety will fade. Doing so, they say, can help people get through the Covid-19 pandemic.
The bottom line is if you think you’re broken, you’ll probably stay broken. So focus on where you want to be, and kick-start that plan on your mental health day.
When to seek help
If you feel a mental health day may not be enough to help restore your energy, mood, productivity, and so on, it may be time to seek out a mental health professional.
Mental health conditions like clinical anxiety and depression can linger well past a mental health day or a few days off. It’s best to speak with a doctor for a diagnosis and to find out whether you need treatment to help you deal with the day-to-day challenges.
If you’re stuck in a bad job, it may be time to quit—for the sake of your health.