When we have a sore throat, a runny nose, or a terrible cough, we often feel inclined and even encouraged to stay home from work: we don’t want to exacerbate our symptoms, our boss knows our productivity will be hindered, and nobody wants to catch whatever gross sickness we have. So, we take a sick day or two and rest up—we take it upon ourselves to recharge and oftentimes return to work within the next few days feeling good as new.
But what about when we’re feeling a different kind of sick? Anxiety, stress, depression, and just pure exhaustion can catch up to us before we know it and demand we take a mental health day to recuperate—except we’re much more hesitant to do so. We worry that it’s not an acceptable excuse to miss work thanks to the stigma around mental health and do our best to push through it… which, like every other sickness, typically makes us feel worse. But what if we were to take the viewpoint that mental health and physical health are of equal importance? Therapist Cara Maksimow explains how staying home from work for a mental health day is virtually equivalent to staying home for an outward illness, as related to the points from earlier:
- Worsening of symptoms: “Coming to work and ignoring warning signs of stress, depression or anxiety can increase symptoms. Knowing yourself and how to reduce emotional reactivity and/or unhealthy responses to stress by taking appropriate breaks can go a long way to maintaining healthy mental and emotional wellness.”
- Hindered productivity: “Productivity is also negatively affected. When we are overly stressed out, depressed, or anxious, it can be very challenging to stay on task, stay focused, or communicate effectively with others.”
- Contagion: “You may think that getting other people sick in traditional terms may not apply, but that’s not exactly true. We as human beings are affected by the mood, attitude, and emotions of those around us. Going to work when feeling depressed, negative, or with poor emotional regulation absolutely affects the mood and productivity of those around you.”
What Exactly Does a Mental Health Day Entail?
Now that we understand taking a mental health day is not only important but necessary, what exactly does a mental health day entail? Laying on the couch all day? Channeling our deepest thoughts and emotions? Sure, if you want or need it to. But it could also be spent at the gym, running errands, or with a loved one. “A mental health day is about unplugging from something that uses the bulk of our mental energy and is ultimately draining—not about ignoring all elements of life (though it can be that for some),” explains Life Coach Desiree Wiercyski. “A lot of my clients take time out of their mental health day to clean, work on a passion project, or get back to the gym. Others take the opportunity as a brief staycation and visit something in their city they haven’t seen before.”
So in sum, a mental health day is all about allotting time for our overall wellbeing. We might have a lot of built-up anxiety or wake up one morning in a depressive state; we may just feel really stressed out or the nagging need to simply take a break. Whatever the reason—a mental health day is absolutely warranted.
Why Are Mental Health Days Important?
There’s an endless list of reasons why mental health days are important, starting with why foregoing them is just as harmful as going to work with a physical illness, as explained earlier by Maksimow. But that is just the beginning. Here are a few additional reasons taking mental health days are important, as explained by the professionals:
1) They give you the chance to refuel.
The very reason we take mental health days: to replenish our mind and soul. “As many people learn the hard way, if you don’t slow down and even stop occasionally, your body will stop you. Either you will run out of gas, or you will crash, but you weren’t designed to go non-stop,” explains Mental Health Counselor Mark Henick. Therefore, “taking a mental health day is one of the smartest things that an employee can do,” he says.
2) You’ll recognize your worth.
We may begin these days on the downside, but come out of them feeling truly appreciated—and by none other than ourselves. “Attending to your wellbeing and needs is important and by doing it, you reinforce for yourself that you are a person worthy of being cared for and attended to,” explains Therapist Emma Steiner.
3) They help you prepare for and handle future problems effectively.
Dr. Jude Miller Burke, therapist and executive coach, recognizes the stigma surrounding mental health and strongly supports taking mental health days. In fact, she says that, “mental health requires a focus each and every day.” Burke goes on to say that, “if you make it a routine to practice good nutrition, adequate sleep, exercise, healthy relationships, good communication, and mindfulness, then when problems arise you will be more resilient in managing them.”
4) All areas of life will improve.
We’ll see positive effects across a variety of mediums: “Being kind to ourselves and acknowledging when we need to slow down will have a positive ripple effect for our own health and those around us,” says Holistic Psychologist Ellie Cobb. “Prioritize your health and happiness, and simply tell your boss you will be taking a day to recharge your mind, body, and soul—so that you can return to work a more productive, more compassionate, and more balanced employee.”