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How to melt your stress away with a mental health day

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I noticed a headache creeping on, my shoulders getting tense, and that I was taking short shallow breaths. Yes, it was one of those days where nothing was going right. Yet, it seemed like those types of days was happening more and more often. After having yet another sleepless night, I realized that I needed to take a mental health day before I had a major meltdown at work or experienced total burnout.

Why mental health is important

So much attention is placed on our physical health, but very little on mental health.

Contrary to popular belief, your mental health is equally important, sometimes even more important, than your physical health.

How our body keeps us in survival mode

Your mind and body are designed to keep you functioning and operating. In worst-case circumstances, they will do whatever is necessary to help you survive.

Thanks to your brain, and sympathetic nervous system, your body is flooded with stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to keep you going.

A stressed out woman looking at her laptop

However, too often people rely on their mind and body to be in survival mode for far too long. As a result, you wreak havoc on the core elements that are actually trying to help you.

Inflammation is the enemy

Ultimately what happens when you’re in survival stress mode for a prolonged period of time is that you will suffer from major inflammation. This is due to the influx of cortisol and adrenaline in your body.

Inflammation is highly correlated to several mental and physical illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, obesity, depression, and anxiety.

Mental health day to the rescue

To function at an optimal level, practicing self-care, mindfulness, and wellness activities are crucial in helping you stay balanced, happy, and healthy.

Cup of coffee

So before you reach for another cup of coffee to sludge through the day or pour yourself another glass of wine at night, consider taking a mental health day (or two) to get back to your equilibrium.

What is a mental health day?

A mental health day is a day that you take off of work and all your responsibilities to dedicate to caring for your emotional, psychological, and mental health. The goal for this day off is to engage in activities to relieve your stress.

“By taking mental health days, you’re placing equal value between your mental and emotional well-being and your physical well-being. It’s an acquired skill to be able to determine when you need a mental health day, but well worth the effort.”

Amy Cirbus, Talkspace Therapist

Although a mental health day isn’t the cure-all for someone who is experiencing severe burnout, it is one step towards taking time to care for yourself.

15 signs you need to take a mental health day

Stress, anxiety, and burnout show up differently in everyone, but you should look out for some common symptoms.

Some of the signs that you need to take a mental health day include:

  • Sleeplessness at night
  • Chronic daytime fatigue
  • Over-reliance on caffeine or other stimulants
  • Excessive difficulty focusing and concentrating
  • Decrease in productivity
  • Feelings of depletion and low energy
  • Mood swings, especially irritability
  • Isolating yourself from colleagues
  • More anxious than usual
  • Dreading mornings
  • Frequently being reactive and negative
  • Feelings of resentment toward your work, workplace, or co-workers
  • Blurred lines between work and home life
  • Personalization of work frustrations
  • Recurring headaches, colds, or other physical ailments

Experiencing many of these symptoms at once, or even just one or two on a regular basis is a good indicator that you need a mental health day.

Don’t wait until you have full-blown burnout, consider scheduling a mental health day as soon as possible.

How to ask for a mental health day off

From my experience, it is best to plan your mental health day off in advance rather than calling in sick the day of.

When you ask for the time off in advance, you are less likely to feel guilty about taking the day off or adding extra work burden on your colleagues who have to cover for you in your absence.

A stress lego man who needs a mental health day

If you looked at the 15 signs above and checked off more than 2 signs, I suggest you schedule your mental health day as soon as you can.

Don’t wait a few weeks or months because you won’t feel better…you’ll feel worse and it’s a LOT harder to get back to equilibrium when you have burnout.

Schedule to take your mental health day

Look at your schedule and find a day that would work best for you to schedule off. Perhaps you would like to have a 3 day weekend so you schedule to take off a Friday or Monday.

Or you would love to take a day off in the middle of the week so you can finally get to the appointment you’ve been meaning to schedule.

A colorful monthly planner

Whatever you do, evaluate which day is the best to take for your mental health day, and request to take it off.

Inform your supervisor

Take into consideration your relationship with your supervisor and if you feel safe and comfortable, tell them that you are requesting a day off to care for your emotional and mental health.

If you don’t feel safe or comfortable, then you do not have to explain why you are requesting a day off of work.

As far as I know, employers are not privy to what we do on our day off, so you can just put in your day off the request and that’s that. No explanation needed.

In case of an emergency…do this

If you’re at the end of your rope and don’t think you can schedule your mental health day off in advance, when you call or email your employer the day of, I suggest just saying something simple like “I am not feeling well today and will not be able to make it into work.”

A guide to a mental health day

Great, so you have your mental health day scheduled off of work…now what?

“I would say that my ideal mental health day would be one of balance and equanimity. No matter what happens, I would want to move through the day with presence and acceptance. I would want to be truly myself, genuine in all my interactions with others. I would want to have a mix of meaningful activities from the following categories: creativity, conversation, contemplation, and physical movement.

Above all, my ideal mental health day is one of intention, and seeking to always become better.”

Jordan Brown, The Mental Health Update

Here is what I recommend from my own experience of having a scheduled mental health day.

Morning mental health day gratitude practice

In the morning when you first wake up, (before you look at your phone) take a few minutes to quietly reflect and express gratitude for what is going well in your life. This is a simple exercise, yet it reaps numerous benefits according to positive psychologists.

Next, take a few deep breaths and really feel your body centering. Relax your neck and shoulders, and just lie there for a few minutes.

If you want to learn more about my morning self-care routine check out this video:

My daily morning self-care practice

Lastly, take a moment to smile. Smiling naturally releases endorphins (our feel-good chemical) so you are starting off your day in a good place.

Plan to unplug from your phone

We are constantly plugged into technology and on our phones or computers. If you’re in line at the grocery store, you’re looking down at your phone. When you’re lying down in bed, you’re likely scrolling through your social media account. At work, you’re likely looking at a computer screen…all day.

I get it, you have work to do, you have texts to respond to and the list goes on.

Ask yourself, what would happen if you unplugged for a few hours? Or if you’re really brave…the whole day?

A person holding their mobile phone

I turned my phone on airplane mode for two whole weeks when my husband and I were in Fiji for our honeymoon and guess what?

It was spectacular.

I just used my phone just to take photos and the rest of the time it was resting peacefully in my bag while I truly embraced our time on two remarkable islands. My memories from this experience are so rich and full because I was truly present and not busy looking at my phone to respond to text messages, emails, or social media.

Pantea and her husband at Matangi Island, Fiji

So make a plan to disconnect and unplug (for a few hours at least). If you want to learn more about how to do a digital detox, check out How your life changes when you stop social media.

It’s rather easy to disconnect, simply notify the people that you communicate with on a regular basis that you’re going to unplug that day. As a result, your loved ones don’t fret that you’re not responding. Then you switch your device to airplane mode.

If you’re really brave, just turn off your phone. You’ll thank yourself later for doing this.

Engage in wellness activities

Since you’ve set aside this time for yourself, use it to help you reset.

Here are a few examples of activities you can do on your mental health day:

  • Sleep in
  • Make a nutritious breakfast you wouldn’t normally eat on a workday
  • Schedule and get a relaxing massage
  • Take a nap
  • Spend time outside in nature
  • Go on a hike or walk at the beach or mountain
  • Take a yoga class
  • Bake some treats to enjoy by yourself or with friends
  • Paint, draw, or color
  • Read a book
  • Get a cup of coffee or tea and drink it slowly
  • Go to the movies
  • Complete a few errands
  • Get lunch with a friend you haven’t seen in a while
  • Meditate

Remember, you don’t need to plan a day full of activities and events to keep yourself busy while you’re taking a mental health day. Actually, it is better if you do less…not more.

In fact, since self-care looks different for each of us, think about what types of activities help you feel your best.

Perhaps you want to set aside time to complete a few errands or chores that have been stressing you out.

“Errands, chores, and other tasks can pile up when we’re buried in our work, and having that hanging over you is stressful as hell. Sometimes you need a day to handle the things you’re not handling.”

Anna Borges Editor at SELF

My ideal mental health day involves taking a yoga class, reading a book, going on a walk with my puppy friend Rylee, meditating, and spending some time journaling.

Maybe you want to engage in an intense workout, watch an episode of your favorite TV show and then rest with a relaxing bubble bath.

Whichever activities you do, you want to try to feel relieved, refreshed, relaxed, and ready to return to work.

Wrap-up

I absolutely love setting aside time for my mental health day since it is a day that I look forward to and I completely immerse myself in my favorite self-care activities.

I wish we could all have 4 mental health days as part of our employment contract…one day each quarter. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Since we don’t live in a perfect world, we need to maximize what we do have within our control to care for our mental, physical, psychological and emotional well-being.

Ideally, you should take the time to practice self-care daily. Dedicating as little as 10 minutes to practice meditation or yoga helps regulate your nervous system, increases your focus, and helps enhance a feeling of calm in your mind and body.

In addition, you should engage in mini-mental health activities throughout your workdays like going outside to take a walk, taking your lunch break, and paying attention to signals from your body.

You will notice a big difference and decrease your overall stress level when you effectively integrate these small habits of workplace wellness.

Schedule a mental health day off as soon as you notice any of the 15 signs I listed. Plan to unplug that day (especially from social media), practice a morning gratitude practice, and engage in a few wellness activities.

Your mental health day is an excellent time to practice self-care which will help you feel more balanced, centered, and relaxed.

When was the last time you took a mental health day from work? What activities do you engage in that left you feeling super relaxed and recharged? Please share your comments and stories below.

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