Regardless of how much you usually like where you work or what you do for a living, at some point you may be tempted to “call in sick”, so to speak. You may feel the urge to reach into the bank of vacation days even if you’ve been reserving them for an actual vacation. Feeling burnt out can subtly make its presence felt and accumulate over time. Gradually, the sensation starts creeping in that you seem to be hitting a wall. You may catch yourself performing at less than an optimal level, knowingly putting in a reduced effort, or having a heightened difficulty to focus, for no other reason than you are needing a break from your work routine.

Certainly, other non-work stressors may contribute to any or all of these symptoms that end up surfacing at work. Whether you’re struggling with symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other stress-related conditions or there is an event in your personal life that is currently requiring much attention and energy, your focus and productivity at work can be affected. Conversely, a distressing work-related situation may seem all-consuming and fully drive the feeling that you need a break. Or it might be that the stressful commute and long hours are finally taking their toll. More than likely, it is any combination of the above.

It’s OK to take a mental health day (and here’s why)

It’s OK to take a mental health day!

All these signs point toward feeling like you need to take a break, even if for a day. But is taking a ‘mental health day’ really going to help? In short, it definitely could! Here are some reasons why:

  1. If you are feeling the desire to take a mental health day, you may be feeling overworked. A small amount of time off (especially time that you have allowed yourself to take) can actually boost productivity and increase mental clarity once your return to your job the next day.
  2. Taking a break from your daily routine can help reinvigorate your desire to go about your routine going forward. It is natural to fall into a rut over time; taking a short break can help you appreciate that routine once you re-enter it the following day.
  3. The same can be said about igniting creativity. Deviating from the regular routine every so slightly or for even a short time facilitates a new perspective. Sometimes that new perspective can spark a new idea or a new approach to a current problem.
  4. You may have truly reached your limit and feel you are over the edge. Whether it be work-related stress or something unrelated to work, one key way to achieve some degree of instant stress reduction is to remove yourself temporarily from the situation. Think of a pot of water on the stove that is boiling over the top; when you remove the pot from the heat source, the water settles down. You may find that whatever it was that was setting you over the edge is much easier to handle after a little breather.
  5. By taking a mental health day, you are taking charge. YOU can decide to “escape” (for the day). As a (very) occasional way to handle problems, having the knowledge that you are doing something for you by taking this day for yourself can be therapeutic in and of itself.
  6. If, on your mental health day, you are in some way reconnecting with yourself or your loved ones, you will feel the benefits tenfold. This can have lasting benefits in a variety of ways, or simply because you are taking the time to appreciate or celebrate yourself and the relationships you value.

Are there caveats to this broad prescription of advice? Absolutely. It goes without saying (but it should be said) that if there are known significant consequences for playing hooky, proceed with caution. Be honest with yourself about your motives for taking a day to yourself. Are you avoiding conflict or responsibility at work by playing hooky? Did a friend offer you a ticket to a once-in-a-lifetime special event that was simply too hard to pass up? Is a loved one being honored at school or work and it would mean a lot to be there with them? Regardless of the motive or the activity for the day, recognize why you’re taking the day, and be mindful of potential work-related consequences for this action.

Will a “mental health day” cure all of your problems? Absolutely not, of course, but it could help you hit a reset button for yourself and/ or put things in perspective. You’ll have given yourself permission to attend to YOUR need, which for any of the reasons listed above can have positive benefits in the workplace when you return.

When is a mental health day not enough?

Taking a day off as the primary method of coping is certainly not realistic, and would eventually have employment-related consequences (bringing about its own set of challenges). Longer periods of time away (i.e. vacation) are significant to our health and well-being, and perhaps this is time to start planning for vacation.

Escaping, while a valuable coping behavior to rely on at times, is rarely productive as the primary way of coping (however much reflection and reframing is also going on while escaping).  Consider other actions that you could take, if taking a mental health day is not enough.

1) Is this a sign that you should look for a new position, work for a different company, or explore other career options? Is this a sign that you should reduce your hours or make another quality-of-life change within your current job? Would you benefit from taking a leave of absence from the job or the workforce, if this is an option? Certainly work-related change can be scary or filled with uncertainty. That said, after you’ve weighed the risks and benefits of other options, making that change may help ease the unease that you have been feeling.

2) Consider what else might help you feel better or bring more balance into your life and regularly implement these changes. Carve out some time to integrate some physical activity, relaxation practices, meditation, or time to journal into your day. Join a group or a team. Volunteer. Make a date with friends. Anything you’ve been “meaning” to do, do it!

3) Is your level of stress still overwhelming you after your time away? When things are uncomfortable, therapy is an option to help reduce discomfort and teach more adaptive coping.

The take away, take that day!