Everyone has to deal with varying levels of stress. This can be particularly difficult to manage if you also have symptoms of depression or anxiety. When you feel like your stress levels have reached their peak, spending some time focusing on yourself can be a life-saver. Knowing when to take a mental health day for yourself is crucial to maintaining your overall health and well-being, both inside and outside the workplace.
Balancing Work and Mental Health
If the months spent under a COVID-19 cloud have left you stressed and anxious, you’re not alone. According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during the summer of 2020 when compared to that same timeframe in 2019. Nearly 41% of those who answered reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition.
Additionally, a survey conducted by the HR Exchange network showed that employee self-reports of burnout increased from 42% before the pandemic to 72% by August of 2020. 30% of respondents said that blurring work and personal life was a major challenge.
These statistics paint a harrowing picture: People are working more and feeling increasingly stressed.
October 10th, 2021 has been designated by the World Health Organization as World Mental Health Day in an effort to help raise awareness of the necessity of self-care and mental health services in the modern workforce. With COVID-19 changing the way that many employees work, being aware of the dangers of excessive stress and burnout is more important than ever.
Feeling some level of stress related to work is normal, but if it begins to affect your everyday mood, your personal relationships, or your mental health, it may be time to take a mental health day—a day to focus on yourself and decompress in a healthy way.
How Do I Know When to Take a Mental Health Day?
It’s important to remember that your mental health is just as important as your physical health. It can be challenging to figure out when you need to give your brain a break, but there are some obvious signs that your body and mind need to decompress.
- You’ve been working long stretches with few breaks. The more your working hours increase without any kind of relief, the more time stress has to build in your system. Time off gives you a chance to decompress and refocus yourself.
- You begin resenting your colleagues or work situation. As stress begins to build, you may see challenges or threats where they don’t exist. Externalizing this frustration to the people you work with is a sign that maybe you need to blow off some steam in a healthy way.
- You have difficulty staying focused. Stress doesn’t just lead to frustration with others—it can make you more harsh with yourself, too. If you find it difficult to focus on your work without feelings of anxiety or frustration distracting you, it’s a good sign that you should take some time for yourself.
- You feel frustrated, helpless, or hopeless. Going long periods of time without feeling like you have any control over your work-life balance can cause feelings of hopelessness and an inability to escape from the stressful situation.
While one day might not solve some of the underlying problems that lead to burnout, a mental health day can provide a much-needed break to pause, regroup, and come back with greater levels of energy and a fresh perspective.
Activities to Help Relieve Stress on your Mental Health Day
When you take a mental health day, you should be practicing self-care, but self-care looks different for everyone. Whether it means going for a jog in your favorite park or sitting in bed all day watching Netflix and eating cereal, it’s important to treat a mental health day like any other sick day and use the time to do whatever makes you feel better.
If doing mundane things like laundry or cleaning is therapeutic for you—either because of the actual chore itself or the feeling of accomplishing a task—then knock yourself out! Just make sure whatever you’re doing makes you feel more at ease and relaxed. Some things you can try include:
- Trying out a yoga class, meditation, or other self-focused relaxation activities
- Engaging in a hobby you enjoy, or one that you’ve always wanted to try out
- Getting a massage, haircut, or skincare routine- treat yourself!
- Going swimming, hiking, or jogging- any kind of exercise that makes you feel accomplished and refreshed
- Getting out and experiencing nature
You know yourself best, so spend your mental health day doing things you know are beneficial to your mental and physical health. You don’t have to learn how to knit or go for a hike if you aren’t sure whether it will make you feel better. Try making a list of activities that bring you joy and lift your spirits.
If you’re concerned that your overall stress levels need more than just a mental health day, consider talking to a therapist or other mental health professional. A single day off is not a prescription replacement, nor is it a cure-all for all your mental health symptoms. Mental health conditions like clinical anxiety and depression can linger well past a mental health day or a few days off.
Any person, whether they have been diagnosed with a mental health condition or not, should be on the lookout for warning signs that they’re not coping with things well. This past year has been anything but usual, so give yourself some grace. You deserve to take a breath and recenter yourself.
It may feel weird at first to do things like getting a massage or sitting in the park on a day that you’d otherwise be working, but these activities can go a long way towards helping you feel better.
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