The subject of “mental health days” has been a hot topic ever since Madalyn Parker’s story went viral. When Parker told her co-workers she needed to take a few days off to care for her mental health, her supervisor commended her for helping break down the stigma associated with mental illness.
Since many supervisors wouldn’t have had such a positive reaction to an employee taking a mental health day, the story has gone viral. And it’s led to a lot of discussions in the media about when, why, and how to take a mental health day.
As a psychotherapist, it’s a subject I’ve addressed regularly with patients over the years. Some of them feel guilty about taking a day off even when they aren’t able to function on the job. Others want to take time off any time they feel stressed out or stretched too thin.
There are plenty of ways a mental health day can be good for you. But if you take them for the wrong reasons they could backfire—and actually make your mental health worse.
If the reason for wanting a mental health day falls into these three categories, you’d be better off going to work:
Whether you’re hoping to binge watch your favorite Netflix show or you just want to keep your head buried under the covers, passively passing the time won’t do anything for your mental health. In many cases, it can make you feel worse.
I’ve never met anyone who said, “I laid around for 24 hours in a dark room and now I’m feeling really happy again.” Instead, inactivity usually leads to a worse mood.
What to do instead: Force yourself to get up and get moving. Pushing yourself to accomplish something can help you feel better. If you think you may be struggling with depression, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away.
If you’re afraid your boss is going to yell at you over a mistake you made or you’re anxious about a project that you’re struggling to complete, it’s normal to want to avoid work. After all, if you stay home, you won’t have to confront those anxiety-provoking issues.
But, avoidance is a short-term solution that leads to more long-term problems. Eventually, you’re going to have to face the issue and the longer you avoid doing so, the harder it will be. It’s best to just go to work and face the music to get it over with sooner rather than later.
What to do instead: Take a few deep breaths, develop a few healthy affirmations, and convince yourself to face the music. You might find it’s not as bad as you predict and you’ll spare yourself from hours of dread.
Listening to a chatty co-worker, attending a luncheon, and entertaining clients can feel overwhelming if you’re not in the mood to socialize. But staying home may not be your best option. Carving out some alone time in your schedule is key to good mental health. But withdrawal and isolation could cause you to feel worse.
When you go to work, you have opportunities to have positive social interactions. And a few positive interactions—even a friendly conversation with a stranger—can do wonders for your mental health.
What to do instead: Give out a few genuine compliments, smile at your co-workers, and make eye contact—even if you don’t feel like it. You’ll proactively increase the chances you’ll have positive interactions. Additionally, carve a little bit of alone time into your schedule each day so you have time to be alone with your thoughts and you’ll be less likely to need a whole day to yourself.
If you’re going to take a mental health day, use your time wisely. See your therapist, schedule an appointment with a doctor, do some yoga, or reconnect with nature. But make sure you’re doing something that will improve your mental health over the long-haul.
Just like you should be exercising to take care of your physical health, you should also do mental strength exercises to care for your mental health. A proactive approach to self-care will help you stay in better shape physically and mentally.
If you need a day off once in a while to care for your mental health, don’t be afraid to take it. Sometimes slowing down and caring for yourself can go a long way to helping you become mentally stronger.
Want to learn how to give up the bad habits that rob kids of mental strength? Pick up a copy of 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do.