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When we’re debilitated by a painfully sore throat, stuffy nose, and pounding headache, we’re quick to call out of work. When we’re injured with a broken arm or sprained ankle, we don’t think twice about taking a couple days off. But when we’re stressed out of our minds or struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other mental roadblock, we’re quiet. We go to work as normal and do our best to deal with (and hide) our difficulties.

This is a result of the stigma that’s tacked onto mental illness. For some reason, physical health is easy to understand and talk about, but mental health is far from it. And so, we’re hesitant to take a day off of work to tend to our mental health because we’re afraid of the judgment that’s sure to follow. We suck it up… until we break down further down the road.

In reality, the best thing you can do for yourself is take a mental health day when you feel you need it. And better yet, to scream from the rooftops about it. Not only will you benefit from taking this much needed time to care for yourself, but opening up about this topic will help others feel comfortable doing the same. The only way we can stop the stigma surrounding mental health is to be unapologetically real and open about it.

Stop the Stigma

It might be scary or hard to be candid about your need for a mental health day, but it’s so incredibly important: “Taking a mental health day is one of the smartest, but also most stigmatized things that an employee can do,” says Mark Henick, a mental health advocate and speaker. “There’s a common misconception that resilience means avoiding stress and never struggling. In reality, resilience is not about avoidance, but rather how you bounce back. It’s very difficult to bounce back if you’re still under the pressure that’s causing the burnout,” he explains.

Still, “taking a day for your mental health is seen as a weakness. In reality, you can absolutely take a sick day for depression, anxiety, stress-related illnesses, or any other diagnosed mental health problem. In fact, your exercising these rights will serve as a model for others to take better care of themselves too. That’s in your workplace’s interest, since a well-rested and calibrated worker is a productive and happy worker.”

Ultimately, Henick says that everyone should use those sick days and vacation days as they see fit—if they need to take a day off for mental health, then so be it. “You are paying for these opportunities to maximize yourself and your performance. Don’t let stigma or what others think dictate how you take care of your health,” he says. “Your body, your mind, your family, and eventually even your boss will thank you.”

Make the Most of Your Mental Health Day

Okay, so you’ve successfully asserted your need for a mental health day! Congrats. But now what? Well there aren’t any rules governing how you must spend the day. You can really do whatever you want—but I have a few recommendations that will help you return to work mentally refreshed and ready to get down to business:

    1) Take a digital hiatus.
    You’re not really taking a day off if you’re checking your emails every minute, are you? Not at all. Unplug from your devices—log off, close your laptop, set your phone down. And focus on the present moment.

    2) Spend time outside.
    Get out into the sunshine if you can! Spending time outside has some incredible benefits. Studies have shown that doing so can ease anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. So, take a walk around the block with your dog, go for a little hike, or sit outside and catch up on your reading.

    3) Fix that leaky faucet.
    Okay, you might not really have a leaky faucet. But if you do, today’s the perfect day to finally fix it! You can use mental health days to accomplish other things that you’ve been putting off or haven’t had the time to do. This will give you a self-esteem boost and sense of accomplishment that you can carry with you into the rest of the week.

    4) Catch up with a friend.
    Doing something fun with a friend is another refreshing way to spend your time off. You could do something as simple as grabbing lunch or make a whole day of it. Spending time and socializing with others (especially the people we love and care for) boosts feelings of wellbeing and also decreases feelings of depression, making this the perfect plan for your mental health day.

    5) Journal.
    The best way to connect with and get to know yourself better is to journal. This easy self-care technique unveils suppressed thoughts and emotions that are important to address and manage. If you spend just a little bit of time with a piece of paper and a pen on your mental health day, I’m confident that you’ll feel relieved and one step closer to returning to work at 100 percent.

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