We seem to hear a lot about mental health days lately, especially given the stress of the last two years as we collectively faced a global pandemic. Yet, despite how common the term is, you may still find yourself asking, “what is a mental health day?”
Simply put, mental health days are time off work designed to give employees in all types of industries a break from the rigors and stress of their daily job. The truth is, it’s important to be able to get away from the demands of work to maintain a work-life balance. It becomes even more important if we hope to avoid potential stress-related health problems and want to prevent worker burnout and subsequent turnover issues.
In fact, the significance of mental health days is so important that the World Health Organization has deemed October 10th as World Mental Health Day, which is a day to raise awareness of mental health conditions around the world and to mobilize efforts in support of mental well-being. On that point, the month of May is also Mental Health Awareness Month, and has been observed in the United States since 1949. Everyone experiences mental health challenges in some capacity, and taking a day off to support positive mental health growth has many benefits.
Benefits of Taking a Mental Health Day
There are many benefits to taking a mental health day. Some of the more essential ones include:
1. Reduce stress and anxiety
The number one benefit of taking a mental health day is to reduce the amount of work stress and anxiety you’re experiencing. You also don’t have to work in a fast-paced, high-stress environment, like an ER or the stock market, to experience job stress and anxiety.
Almost all jobs come with at least some degree of stress. It might be from deadlines, a demanding boss, productivity requirements, or just having to get the kids ready and off to school so you can get to work on time every morning. Whatever the reason for your job stress levels, taking a day away from it can allow you to relax and re-energize.
2. Help you refocus
When you step away from a stressful situation, even if it’s just for a few hours, you can begin to look at your job more objectively. If you’ve been distracted, felt stuck, or have simply been unmotivated to perform at your best level, spending some time away from the office can help you turn things around.
Taking some “me-time” can do more than just recharge your mental state, though. It can also help you evaluate whether what you’re feeling is from being tired and overworked, or if there’s something more going on. If it’s the latter, it might be time to switch jobs or careers. A mental health day is great for giving you a better perspective.
3. Increase productivity
Workers are less productive when they feel tired and stressed. A recent study by the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita found that there’s a negative correlation between stress and productivity.
Essentially, what this means is the higher your stress level is, the lower your productivity might tend to be. By taking a mental health day to reduce the amount of stress you’re feeling, you can return to your job with an automatic increase in productivity.
4. Alleviate physical health problems
Other studies cite burnout as a likely contributor to somatic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and a lowered immune response. These potential consequences of a stressful job should be a motivator to take care of yourself and your mental health.
5. Combat job burnout
Lastly, taking a day off for your mental well-being every once in a while can help you feel rewarded and satisfied with your job. Feeling overwhelmed and undervalued isn’t just a job burnout culprit, though.
Research shows us that burnout can be linked to depression. It’s also become a legitimately acceptable reason for sick leave in multiple countries.
“A mental health day is beneficial because it provides a break from stress. These days can provide a much-needed break to recharge, destress, and come back with more energy and a fresh perspective. It can also help prevent burnout even from a job you love.”
How to Take a Mental Health Day
So now what? You’ve seen the signs you need a mental health day and want to know how to officially take one. Rest assured, figuring out how to take a mental health day doesn’t have to be another source of stress in your life. Mental health days are important — and beneficial — even if your job requires you to be there every day, if you feel like there’s too much to be done, or if your company is short-staffed in this post-pandemic environment.
Obviously, you need to give your boss some notice so you don’t leave your co-workers scrambling to make up for your absence. You also need to make sure there aren’t multiple people out of the office at the same time. Other than those two points, below are some tips on how to take a mental health day that won’t affect or impact your team in a negative way.
Talking to your work about it
How you approach your boss about your mental health day will likely be key to getting their support. If you work for a large corporation, your company may already have a policy about mental health days. They’ve become increasingly more common, and many employers offer “comp” (or personal) days that can be taken for any reason. You can usually find the policy in your employee handbook or by calling your company’s human resource department.
If you work for a smaller company, you might have to sell the idea to your boss. Planning out what you’re going to say ahead of time is always a good plan. That way, you won’t get nervous and forget your main points. If you need tips for this scenario, learn how to talk to your boss about mental health.
It’s also smart to let your boss know how you’ve covered your work for the day…let’s say you plan to work ahead. Then the time you’re out won’t cause any productivity issues when you return. If that’s not feasible, you might ask a coworker to cover your shift or duties for the day. Above all, don’t be afraid to share the many (proven) benefits of taking some time off.
Tips on how to spend your mental health day
Now that you’ve arranged your mental health day, it’s time to decide the best way to spend it.
- Don’t work! What you don’t want to do is spend your precious day off working from home or taking constant phone calls from your boss and co-workers. That’s not a mental health day.
- Let the kids keep their schedules. On that note, consider taking the kids to daycare or getting them to school like you normally would. The point of your day is self care, so do whatever you need to ensure that you have time to indulge or spoil yourself.
- Treat yourself. Think of some things you always want to do, but never seem to have the time for. Maybe it’s finally going to that exhibit at your local art museum, spending a day at the beach, or even just sitting on your back porch with that novel you’ve been meaning to read.
Looking for other ways to spend your mental health day? You can:
- Get a massage
- Go for a hike
- Ask a friend to lunch
- Hit the beach
- Do yoga
- Journal for mental health
- Take a bike ride
- Be creative – paint, draw, write
- Run errands
- Listen to music
- Go shopping
- Sleep in
- Take a bath
- Go to the spa
Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to use your time off. The aim of your day is to focus on you and your mental wellness, and to avoid thinking about or stressing over work.
The bottom line is this: taking a mental health day isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s actually quite the opposite. It’s a sign of a strong person who knows what they need to do to take care of themselves.
When you take time for yourself, you’ll be able to perform your job to the best of your ability in the long run. If you’ve been feeling burnt out and stressed over your job, talk to your boss about having a day away from the office. You’ll be surprised how much better you’ll feel when you return.
Better mental health is on the horizon, with Talkspace. With a host of licensed therapists at your fingertips, we give you the means to support your mental wellness from the comfort of your home. With the tools you learn from therapy, you’ll be better equipped to handle stress or anxiety at work.
Learn more about Talkspace online therapy today.
1. Bui T, Zackula R, Dugan K, Ablah E. Workplace Stress and Productivity: A Cross-Sectional Study. Kans J Med. 2021;14. doi:10.17161/kjm.vol1413424. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7889069/. Accessed April 27, 2022.
2. von Känel R, Princip M, Holzgang S et al. Relationship between job burnout and somatic diseases: a network analysis. Sci Rep. 2020;10(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-020-75611-7. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-75611-7. Accessed April 27, 2022.
3. Bianchi R, Schonfeld I, Laurent E. Is it Time to Consider the â€œBurnout Syndromeâ€ A Distinct Illness?. Front Public Health. 2015;3. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2015.00158. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4459038/. Accessed April 27, 2022.