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If you come down with the flu or a bad cold, you probably feel perfectly OK with staying home from work or school. When you have a fever, runny nose, or terrible cough, your symptoms are visible to everyone and that’s what your “sick days” are for…right?

Actually, sick days aren’t just for physical illness anymore. Your mind’s health is just as important as your body’s, and more employers and schools are encouraging taking time off for mental health days.

These are days that are dedicated to breaking away from your normal routine—and the pressure, stress, and anxiety that may be associated—and improving your psychological and emotional health.

But how do you know when to take a mental health day? And once you decide you need one, what is the best way to spend it to come back to work or school feeling much better? Check out these signs and suggestions to be well prepared to get your mental health back on track.

 

 1. You’re exhausted

Working long hours? An excessive workload and immense professional pressure can take a toll on your mental health. Add on your responsibilities at home and the stress can be overwhelming. And of course, most students are all too familiar with “all nighter” cram sessions before a big test or to churn out a paper due the next day. Burning the midnight oil so often can lead to both physical and emotional exhaustion, and burnout.

How to spend a mental health day:
A breakneck pace is not sustainable, and a mental health day for rest and perspective may be just what you need. A little R&R can go a long way, but be careful not to spend the day sleeping or binge watching TV shows on the couch. Focus on more restorative relaxing activities, like taking a hike, exploring a museum, spending time in nature, or reading a great book. They’ll feel more rewarding, and you’re more likely to go back to routine feeling refreshed.

 

2. You’re overwhelmed

Feeling frantic because there is so much to get done at work and at home? If you feel like you’re constantly treading water and barely staying afloat with everything you have to do, your focus and stress levels may be maxed out. Taking a break from the chaos can be a difficult step when you feel like you’re being needed in so many areas, but a necessary one for your mental health.

How to spend a mental health day:
If your priorities are feeling overwhelming, spending a mental health day evaluating them and seeing which you can eliminate and reduce may be a great use of your time. Consider making a list of everything you have going on professionally and personally. Are there any stressors you can cut? What might others be willing to help you with if you asked? Hopefully, going through this process will make your load feel more manageable. If you have time left in the day, consider knocking out a few of the “low hanging fruit” tasks that are easier and more enjoyable, like going to the grocery store, or just taking some time to relax.

 

3. You’re tense

Ever had a day where you feel like you’re being pulled taut and the slightest aggravation might cause you to snap? If you’ve lashed out, or even just realize you overreacted when you replay the situation, more than once to those around you in the last few days, a mental health day could help. Taking time to sort through and process your emotions for a day or two can put you in a better, healthier place.

How to spend a mental health day:
Just taking a day for yourself may be all you need to reset, but take it a step further and spend a little time tracking and unpacking your emotions. Write down how you’ve been feeling and elaborate as much as you can. For example, instead of just feeling “nervous,” maybe you write that you feel like your stomach is in knots. From there, unpack your feelings by examining why you’ve been feeling this way (learn more about this cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) method in the Feeling Better Guided Journey in the Sanvello app!).

 

4. You’re feeling alone

We often go through daily routines interacting with plenty of people, from coworkers and classmates to baristas and phone operators. Yet these conversations can be superficial, and we may still feel disconnected from meaningful interactions. A mental health day to reconnect with those who love and support you most may be just the thing you need to restore a sense of belonging.

How to spend a mental health day:
Check with your family and friends to see if there is a day coming up when they’re free to spend time with you. Make the most of that time together by planning an activity you both enjoy, and build in plenty of time for conversation. With this purposeful, quality 1:1 time, you’re likely to end the day feeling fulfilled and reconnected. Plus, you may be helping them improve their mental well-being, too!

 

How to take a mental health day

While these suggestions are not exhaustive and merely just a start, planning your mental health day is good idea to ensure it’s focused on what will be most advantageous to you and your well-being. Without a plan, it’s easy to slip into what’s typical for us, and we may not see the improvement we were hoping for. 

When you need a mental health day, I encourage you asking your employer or parent to miss work or school for just that. While it may seem small, the more people who are transparent about taking time off for their psychological well-being, the more we can collectively reduce stigma and prompt others to prioritize their mental health, too.

However you decide to spend your next mental health day, I hope it brings you calm, focus, and happiness. Remember to check in on yourself regularly and take this time as you need it. Your mental health is well worth it. 

 

 

By Monika Roots
Chief Medical Officer, Sanvello

Dr. Roots practiced as a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist. She was also a Clinical Adjunct Assistant Professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison and was most recently the Vice President of Health Services and Behavioral Health for Teladoc Health. In 2016, Teladoc Health acquired her business, CogCubed, a behavioral health analytics company. Dr. Roots earned her MD from University of Sint Eustatius School of Medicine and completed psychiatry residency and fellowship in child/adolescent psychiatry at the University of Minnesota.