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Whether My Health Is on Track or Not, It’s Still Important to Take a Mental Health Day

Mental Well-Being

August 23, 2022

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by Nandini Maharaj

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Vara Saripalli, Psy.D.

Medically Reviewed

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by Nandini Maharaj

•••••

Vara Saripalli, Psy.D.

Medically Reviewed

•••••

•••••

Mental health care is healthcare — the two are inseparable.

To some people, the idea of taking a day off work to focus on your mental health might seem impractical, and maybe even a little indulgent. But if you’re like me and use work as a coping strategy, you may have noticed that overworking can add to your stress rather than reduce it.

If you live with one or more chronic conditions, it’s easy to see the connection between your mental and physical health.

I’ve had chronic migraine most of my adult life and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as far back as I can remember. When I’m anxious, I can feel the emotion in my body in the form of bloating, abdominal pain, and restlessness. In turn, these IBS symptoms increase my stress level, leading to a greater chance that I’ll have a migraine episode. Stress and anxiety set off a vicious cycle of symptoms.

That’s why when I’m free of stomach pain and migraine symptoms, it’s hard to justify taking a mental health day. I feel like I need to save these days for an unexpected illness.

While taking 1 mental health day isn’t going to fix everything, it can help you develop healthy habits that sustain you when you’ve exhausted other coping mechanisms. Overdoing anything, even exercise, only provides temporary relief. It’s important to take breaks, whether it’s a full day off or taking a few minutes to rest and reset.

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What mental health days can look like

A mental health day doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone, but the overriding purpose is to relax and do something that brings you joy. For me, it’s sitting on the couch with my dogs and catching up on reality TV.

Being with my dogs provides warmth and comfort. And, somewhat ironically, reality TV is an escape from reality. These shows let me zone out and get lost in someone else’s life.

You can take a mental health day spontaneously or plan it in advance. For instance, I know how depressed I feel on certain anniversary dates, like the day of my dad’s death or the week when my dog fell ill and passed away. Planning a mental health day on a specific date helps me block off time to reflect, cry, and express my emotions without having to explain to people why my grief continues beyond a loved one’s passing.

Other times, you can’t anticipate when you’re going to need a break. You might need to clear some commitments from your calendar and leave the chores for another day.

Personally, while I’m not a fan of cleaning, I do love getting rid of clutter. Throwing things away or at least putting them away helps me clear out some mental space too. Decluttering my space can help declutter my mind.

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Why taking a day off is beneficial

Depending on your job, it can feel as if you don’t have a lot of say in how you organize your day. Think about how often you’ve skipped lunch or worked longer hours to meet a deadline.

Deciding when and how to take a mental health day can help you reclaim some control over your time. If you notice yourself becoming impatient, unmotivated, or unable to concentrate, a mental health day can help you avoid damaging your relationships with colleagues and loved ones.

It’s also important to listen to your body. Long before nausea and stomach pain set in during the prodrome stage of migraine, I can hear the negative self-talk ramping up, which usually includes some combination of doubting myself and thinking that nothing I do is ever good enough.

If you struggle with self-esteem like me, a mental health day can also be an opportunity to take inventory of your accomplishments and what you value about yourself as a person. Remember that your successes deserve to be celebrated, but ultimately, they don’t define your self-worth.

The risk of not taking a mental health day

If your workplace generally discourages taking sick days, it might not be possible to communicate to your manager the need for a mental health day. What your employer might be overlooking is how stress can affect your performance and productivity at work and, in some cases, lead to job loss.

Workplace wellness initiatives like lunchtime yoga, while helpful for some people, aren’t a substitute for taking time to decompress and reset. For me, overworking is an avoidance strategy meant to distract me from other things that are causing stress.

Over time, loading up your plate with work can lead to physical and mental exhaustion known as burnout. Burnout can be attributed to prolonged exposure to stress, especially if your employer expects you to be available outside of regular work hours or sacrifice your breaks to respond to clients.

Common signs of burnout include feelings of dread, pessimism, and hopelessness, which can have a harmful impact on your health and career. Taking mental health days when needed can help you avoid burnout.

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The takeaway

Taking a mental health day allows you to recharge your batteries. If you don’t notice any change in your mood or stress level after taking a day off, it may be a good time to seek help. This can include talking with a mental health counselor or a career coach.

If you can’t take a full day off, try building in moments of rest where you can. Even something small like a change of scenery can help, like taking your lunch break outside or going for a walk after work. Getting more sleep is also a good way to physically reset your batteries.

Whether you’re in the middle of a flare or managing your symptoms well, it shouldn’t stop you from prioritizing your mental health. Taking a mental health day can even help prevent future migraine episodes or other condition flare-ups.

Mental health care is healthcare — the two are inseparable.

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About the author

Nandini Maharaj

Nandini Maharaj, PhD is a freelance writer covering health, work, identity, and relationships. She holds a master’s degree in counseling and a PhD in public health. She’s committed to providing thoughtful analysis and engaging wellness content. Her work has appeared in HuffPost, American Kennel Club, Animal Wellness, Introvert, Dear, and POPSUGAR. She is a dog mom to Dally, Rusty, and Frankie. Find her on Twitter or her website.

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