From time to time, everyone needs what many have coined a “mental health day.” It’s a day off from work, a day away from screens and other obligations, or a little time to escape the pressures and frustrations of everyday life.
“We all have a point at which we get overwhelmed, we’re engaging in unhelpful behaviors, and our thought processes become very negative,” said McLean’s Andrew M. Kuller, PsyD, ABPP. “If you’re feeling stressed out and drifting away from a healthy set of behaviors, those are things you could think about and try to rectify by taking a mental health day.”
Despite the positive effects of a mental health day, many people do not take them. Some individuals do not want to be thought of as weak or unable to handle daily pressures. Some do not want to be thought of as having a mental illness.
“There is definitely stigma associated with mental health, and some companies don’t advocate that people take a day off to focus on self-care,” Kuller stated. Company culture dictates how you request time off for mental health. In some cases, you talk directly with your supervisor, and in others you, work with the human resources department. “I think you have to use discretion and really understand what type of work environment you are in,” he said.
Regardless of your job climate, it’s still beneficial to find a way to focus on your mental well-being.
Getting Back on Track
So how do we make sure that we are getting the most out of our mental health day? What can we do to truly calm down and get back on track?
For Kuller, a senior clinical team manager at McLean’s Behavioral Health Partial Hospital Program, the key is mindfulness. “For somebody to get the most out of a mental health day, being mindfully present is very important,” he said. “You don’t want to just listlessly drift through the day.” This doesn’t mean making a to-do list, but rather, putting in effort to have an intentionally low-stress, relaxing day.
Kuller recommended “trying to use all the skills that you use on normal days, but really concentrating on those skills and using them purposefully.” This, he said, involves “practicing good self-care, like socializing with people, exercising, eating a healthy diet, or taking part in other activities that are pleasurable or meaningful to you.”
The goal of a mental health day, Kuller stated, is to “reclarify what your values are and try to bring your day in line with those values so you can get back on track.”
A Few Hours Can Help Too
Taking a single day off for self-care may be all some people need to reset their thinking and behaviors. For many, however, taking any amount of time off feels almost impossible. “The boundaries between work and personal life have been blurred for a long time now,” Kuller explained. “With the internet and social media, people are expected to respond to emails at all hours of the day. Even if people take a day off, they have a hard time getting completely away from work.”
For these constantly connected people, Kuller recommended unplugging as much as possible. “Staring at screens all day can be exhausting, and it can slow down your functioning,” he said. “Try unplugging and getting back in touch with what’s going on in the environment around you. This can be as valuable as taking a sick day or a personal day.”
“Try unplugging and getting back in touch with what’s going on in the environment around you. This can be as valuable as taking a sick day or a personal day.”– Dr. Andrew Kuller
Despite the benefits of mental health days, Kuller pointed out that a single day off is not a prescription replacement, nor is it a cure-all for anxiety, depression, or other mental health symptoms—especially for individuals with diagnosed mental illnesses. “Any person, whether they have severe mental illness or not, should be on the lookout for warning signs that they’re not coping with things well. If people feel they need more than a single day to reset their thinking and behaviors, they should talk to a doctor.”