The mental health day — that mysterious, elusive balm that helps surmount all challenges and overcome all struggles.
But I bet it’s easy for most of us to picture this: you’ve been struggling with your mental health, and you’re filled with a sense of dread every day you have to work. Following the advice of your friends and family, you take a “mental health day” to recharge. It feels good to take a day off — you relax and focus on self-care — but in the next few days, you’re feeling lousy again. Those dreadful sensations are back. Perhaps they even start that night when you realize your one shot, your mental health day, is almost over. Did the magic of the mental health day even work?
Often, a mental health day is just that. It’s one day, and it’s a very temporary solution. What should you do if it’s not enough, what if you need more?
Signs That a Mental Health Day May Not Be Enough
For some, taking a mental health day really is enough. These lucky folks may come back to work feeling rejuvenated and motivated. They just needed a little break from their inbox and a little extra rest.
For others, however, this may not be the case.
The first step to knowing whether a mental health day is enough for you is to check in on your self-awareness. Pay attention to the way you’re feeling; the way you’re feeling might be cause for alarm. As a society, we’ve gotten really good at ignoring stress and burnout, completely normalizing it in some industries, and continuously burying ourselves in work. However, this is not good for our mental health.
According to Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Derickson, MSW, LCSW, who specializes in mental health at work, there is an important difference between simply needing a day to decompress versus having significant feelings of burnout. According to Derickson, some signs of intense burnout are:
- Feelings of dread
- Obsessively thinking about work
- Negative thoughts about yourself and others
- Feelings of depression
If you notice that you are experiencing these signs, especially feelings of depression, Derickson says a mental health day isn’t going to be enough to recharge. In this case, you need to kick your self-care up a few notches and potentially seek professional care.
Why You Need to Prioritize Self-Care Every Day
A mental health day is a great time to indulge in self-care. Nevertheless, only practicing self-care once in a while, when you have a day off, isn’t enough, especially if you’re feeling super burnt out or depressed. Self-care should be an all-the-time thing, not just a day-off-I’m-stressed thing.
Make some time every day to do something that’s good for your overall wellness. Indulging in self-care in the evening is a great way to unwind after a long day of work and set yourself up for a restful and rejuvenating night. It can also aid in preventing further burnout and help you be better equipped to deal with future stress at work.
Some self-care ideas include:
- Taking a long bath
- Calling up a loved one
- Doing something creative
- Pampering yourself
Self-care isn’t one size fits all. Figure out what rejuvenates and soothes you, and then stick with it. If you’re new to self-care, be patient when looking for what works best for you. It may take time, but it’s worth trying different things and experimenting to figure out what is most effective for you.
When You Might Consider Seeking Professional Help
There’s no shame in seeking professional help, and doing so can be life-changing. Derickson suggests seeking counseling if you’re experiencing the following signs of depression and anxiety, especially if they don’t decrease after you’ve tried behavior changes and self-care.
- Lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Lack of motivation
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Racing thoughts
- Excessive worry
- Feelings of fear or impending doom
It’s important to seek help especially if these symptoms are getting in the way of your day-to-day functioning, including your performance at work.
Should You Consider Seeking Professional Help?
If you have been facing long term struggles, sometimes you need more time off than just one day. This is something that you can discuss with a licensed mental health practitioner or doctor. If you have someone you see regularly, a therapist, psychiatrist, or even primary care physician. Sometimes people need in-patient treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, or simply more time off to work on themselves before returning to their job.
However, it’s not always easy to talk to your boss about mental health issues. Derickson says many times, conversations of this nature depend on your individual relationship with your boss and level of comfort.
“Treat your mental health just like you would treat your physical health,” Derickson suggests. “What do you need to discuss? What is the information that your supervisor needs to know to approve your time off?”
If you have concerns about discussing this with your boss, Derickson recommends talking to human resources about this. “The most important thing to remember is that taking care of your mental health is the same process and deserves the same respect as taking care of your physical health,” she says.
Another option that can be used in lieu of, or in conjunction with, time off is asking for accommodations at work. Although it can be difficult to discuss this with your employer as well, employers are legally obligated to provide accommodations to employees with psychiatric disabilities. This is also something you can discuss with HR.
Better Mental Health Means Greater Productivity
Overall, we’ve come a long way with how we talk about and address mental health, including normalizing mental health days. That represents tremendous progress, however, we still have a long way to go. Mental health days are great, but we have to recognize that they’re not a cure-all. We need to normalize prioritizing mental health and ensuring that those who are struggling get the help and treatment they need.
In general, we need to emphasize employee well-being over productivity. Both employers and employees need to become more open about mental health to make these conversations easier in the first place. In the end — a happy and healthy employee will be more productive than one who is burned out.
After all, your health, including your mental health, is the most important thing. Remember, even though sometimes it may feel like work rules your life, you come first.