The Case for Taking a Mental Health Day

Imagine waking up to your alarm in the morning and lying in bed for a few moments dreading the day. You already know how it’s going to go. This morning, your kids will probably resist getting ready for school, your clothes will feel like they’re strangling you, and you’ll spill coffee down your shirt. Once you’re at work, you’ll jump from task to task like a game of whack-a-mole while accomplishing little of what’s on your list, and you’ll skip lunch to try and keep up. 

After work, you’ll play chauffeur to a pile of tiny humans and cook dinner while drinking wine from a bottle you won’t bother resealing. You’ll try to catch up on work after the kids are in bed, but you’ll fall asleep on your keyboard.

When every day starts to feel the same – and that same old same old is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting, it’s a sign you need to attend to your own needs for a bit rather than caring for everyone around you. Taking a mental health day is good for your well-being and can help you be a better parent, partner, and friend.

What most people don’t realize, though, is that an unscheduled day off can improve your performance at work. Improved well-being is tied to better engagement at work and higher productivity levels. In this blog, we’ll uncover the benefits of taking a day off for self-care, so the next time you feel close to burnout, you don’t hesitate to give yourself the gift of time.

Let’s Define Mental Health Day

A mental health day is not a day off work to catch up on household chores, attend appointments, or care for your children. While those are all valid reasons to take time away from work, they won’t give you the benefits of a proper mental health day. A mental health day is a day you take away from any source of stress or frustration. The goal is to turn off your stress response cycle. Taking a single day off is often enough to shut down your flight or fight response and combat the effects of chronic stress.

When Should I Take a Mental Health Day?

Are you sitting at your desk at work with your mind wandering to your to-do list? Do you log onto your computer to write a report and endlessly scroll through all-inclusive resorts in the Dominican Republic instead? Are you snapping at your partner or children, having trouble relaxing, or dealing with relentless fatigue? Those are all signs of impending mental health issues. It’s vital to pause and take care of your mental health when you’re

  • easily agitated or constantly irritable
  • not taking care of yourself
  • your physical health is declining
  • restless
  • anxious
  • unable to focus
  • physically, emotionally, or mentally exhausted

Many mental health conditions are caused or exacerbated by constant stress. Taking an occasional day away from stressors may help you stay grounded and avoid worsening health symptoms. Many people feel it’s acceptable to use a sick day for a mental health day, while others think it’s best to take it out of vacation or other paid time off. Whatever you decide is between you and your employer.

How to Take a Mental Health Day

The structure of your mental health day depends on your life. If you’re employed, you’ll need to notify your employer, and if you’re self-employed, it’s a good idea to let clients know you’re taking the day off and won’t be available via phone or email. You don’t need to tell your loved ones about your mental health day. This day is about your needs – not theirs.

If you enjoy structure, you may want to plan an activity or two that help fill your cup and recharge your mind. If you enjoy spontaneity, you can simply choose items from this list (or your favorite activities) depending on your mood and which way the wind blows. Here are some ideas for your mental health day activities.

  • Take that yoga or fitness class you never have time for.
  • Make yourself delicious food if you like to cook, or subsist on takeout if that’s your thing.
  • Stay home in your pajamas, or take your time dressing in your favorite outfit.
  • Read books while sipping tea (or your favorite beverage).
  • Work on a home improvement project (As long as it isn’t a source of stress!).
  • Watch TV and eat your favorite snacks.
  • Visit one of your favorite places: the beach, an art museum, a hiking trail, a golf course, or a random historical site.
  • Have lunch with someone who makes you feel good.
  • Listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks.
  • Create – draw, paint, write, or play!
  • Plan a vacation.

What to Avoid on Your Mental Health Day

A mental health day is a day away from stressors, so the short answer to what to avoid is to avoid anything stressful. However, there are plenty of things that can worsen stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues that you may be unaware of.

Social Media

Social media can be a huge source of stress in our lives, but also one we have trouble getting away from. While social media has plenty of psychological health benefits, there are also some ways it negatively impacts your mental health. If social media causes any of these symptoms for you, it’s best to stay away from it during your mental health day.

  • Feeling bad about your life or appearance.
  • Anxiety about missing out on what others are doing.
  • A decrease in healthy social interaction.
  • Depression and anxiety due to cyberbullying, upsetting world events, etc.
  • Distraction from the things you want to or need to do.

Chores and Caretaking

It can be tempting to use your day off to address the mountain of laundry that needs washing or take care of the seeds of others. Resist that urge and spend the day absorbed in self-care activities that fuel you. Taking a single day off


Do whatever it takes to turn work off if you’re taking a mental health day. Silence your phone, or at least silence any work contacts. Don’t check your email, and consider leaving your computer in another room.

What if a Mental Health Day Isn’t Enough?

Sometimes taking a mental health day isn’t enough to turn off your stress response cycle. There are a variety of reasons that can happen. If you find your behavioral health symptoms don’t improve, you may need to address stressors directly, so your physical health isn’t affected.

Talk With Your Employer

If your workplace culture is supportive, your supervisors will welcome an honest discussion of your struggles. If coming to work every day requires you to numb your feelings and leaves you in a constant state of stress, it’s vital to change your work/life balance. Consider asking about flexible work schedules, a work-from-home situation, or reduced responsibilities.

If your employer is not receptive to these conversations, or if the situation doesn’t change, you may consider finding a new job. Taking steps to send out your resume and begin interviewing can help you feel empowered and reduce your stress because you’re taking control of your life.

Reduce Your Mental Load

Often, the cause of chronic stress is a massive mental load. Your cognitive load includes all the daily decisions, the list of to-dos for your kids and household, your work tasks, the fight you had with your spouse, and planning for events, vacations, etc. Reducing your mental load can help you lower stress and anxiety. Some tips for lowering your mental load include: hiring help if you’re able for household tasks, getting your spouse more involved in household management, and creating to-do lists complete with assigned times to think about those tasks.

Talk to a Therapist

Mental health care is not just for people with diagnosed mood disorders or clinical depression. Often, seeing a mental health professional when you first notice signs of chronic stress can help you avoid a more significant problem. Choose a mental health provider who can best meet your needs. LCSWs, psychotherapists, clinical psychologists, and psychiatrists all have different ways of helping improve your mental health, so choosing the right provider is vital.

At SMPsychotherapy and counseling services, we have a variety of providers with multiple specialties to help meet the needs of our clients. Whether you need talk therapy, are interested in medication options, or aren’t sure what you need, call our office today and schedule an appointment. We’ll help you create a life that fills you up, and that you don’t want to escape from.

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