Being the perfect spouse or parent.
Constantly being connected and available.
All of these things can contribute to feeling overwhelmed, anxious and burned out. The good news? The idea of preventing burnout by taking a “mental health day” has become part of the conversation, and people are starting to take note. We all could use a day to relax, recharge and rest. That’s why mental health days are so beneficial.
What is a mental health day?
What’s a mental health day? It’s pretty much a day that doesn’t involve engaging with major sources of stress or frustration. It’s a day to relax, decompress and take care of yourself overall. If you notice that you’re easily agitated, physically or mentally exhausted, anxious or unable to focus, you could probably use a mental health day.
Signs that you need to take a mental health day
“Mental health has been stigmatized for so long,” says clinical health psychologist, Amy Sullivan, PsyD, ABPP. “Fortunately, people are starting to realize that mental health is just as important as physical health, and burnout is a very real part of it.”
Sure, there are plenty of physical signs of burnout, but many clues also come from your emotional state. One of the biggest roles in preventing burnout is being insightful and honest about how you’re feeling.
Signs of burnout can include:
- Irritability and a quick temper.
- Withdrawal from things that used to be fun and meaningful.
- Constantly feeling anxious.
- Feeling detached from both work and others.
- Lack of motivation or focus.
- Feeling exhausted.
- Not taking care of yourself physically or emotionally.
- Feeling sick.
If you’re entering burnout territory, the next question to ask yourself is, “What do I need?” Do you need rest? Do you need a change of scenery? Do you need time alone or one-on-one time with your spouse? Or maybe you’ve been feeling so overwhelmed the past couple of weeks that you just need to have a little fun.
How to take a mental health day
Each person has a different and unique burnout cycle. The challenge is figuring out when you need to take action to prevent it and what you need to do to recharge.
“Pay attention and be insightful about your mental health,” says Dr. Sullivan. “Figure out when during the year you’re most prone to burnout. For example, I feel burnout about every four months, and so I am proactive about scheduling a day off when I hit that time period.”
Do you have a big project coming up at work? Are you racing to make a deadline? If you have a good idea about what’s coming up, start strategizing and scheduling some days to focus on yourself.
Preventing burnout is key. Don’t keep putting yourself on the back burner until it’s too late.
Things you can do during a mental health day
For most people, a mental health day should be a true 24-hours, notes Dr. Sullivan. But everyone is different in the aspect of what recharges and rejuvenates them. For those who haven’t reached burnout yet and are simply working to prevent it, an hour-long walk in the woods might be exactly what they need. Self-care can be whatever you want it to be. Here are a few examples of what you could do during your mental health day.
- Run errands or schedule appointments.
- Go to yoga or a spa.
- Meet a friend for breakfast.
- Stay home and watch your favorite shows.
- Go fishing or hiking.
- Take a bath.
- Listen to music.
- Work on an art project.
- Clean the house if it makes you happy.
- Curl up with a book and read.
- Go to a baseball game.
- Sleep in.
- Exercise if you enjoy working out.
“It’s about shutting down that sympathetic nervous system response (that’s what governs your ‘fight or flight response,’)” says Dr. Sullivan. “Whatever makes you feel most grounded and in control.”
What to do when taking a mental health day isn’t enough
“If you’ve taken a few days off and don’t feel better, be aware that there might be some underlying issues happening,” says Dr. Sullivan.
She says that depression could be a factor. Depression looks different for everyone, but a hallmark sign is loss of interest. When feeling “blah” starts to have no end — it’s time to talk to your healthcare provider.
Dealing with job stress
“Anxiety is on the rise and people are starting to take note and seek help for themselves,” explains Dr. Sullivan. “Many companies are proactive and understand that they need to protect and take care of their employees.”
Having regular check-ins with employees to see how everyone is doing is a great start. Employers need to be open and interested in preserving their workers and making sure everyone is healthy.
“We have to take a lesson from the airline industry,” says Dr. Sullivan. “When they go over the safety procedures, they instruct passengers to put on their own oxygen mask before they take care of anyone else. With burnout, this is first and foremost. There should be no shame in taking a mental health day.”
But if you find that your work conditions are causing more stress and talking to your boss hasn’t made things better, it might be time to look for another job.