Emanuel Maidenberg Ph.D.

Belief and the Brain

Bring the Benefits of Time Off Back to the Office

Big payoffs come from a “mental health day” well-spent

Posted Mar 06, 2018

By Emanuel Maidenberg, Ph.D., and Michelle Dexter, Ph.D.      

An estimated 14 million Americans planned on staying home the Monday after this year’s Super Bowl. Last year, 16.5 million people did the same thing (Hayes, 2018; Workforce Institute at Kronos, 2018). Clearly, there’s a need for time off.

Jobs require energy and effort. They also may bring on acute or chronic stress. Numerous studies link chronic stress to poor mental and physical health outcomes (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 2002).

However, we can reduce the impact of stress by ensuring we are taking care of both our physical and mental health.

If you take a day off work unrelated to physical illness, there are ways to optimize this time – and bring its benefits back to work with you. Days off work can be used to increase resiliency and improve functioning. Although it requires being deliberate and putting in effort, the results can be worth it. Here are some suggestions.

1) Maximize physical health: planning and accountability

You have heard it before: limiting substance use, exercising, eating healthy, and getting optimal sleep all lead to better overall mental and physical health. You can use your time off to improve in one of these areas.

Start by asking yourself: what behavior do I want to change? What is the first reasonable step that is in my control?  How will I track this? Once you decide, recruit a buddy. This may be someone with a similar goal or just someone with whom you are willing to share. Set regular times to check in and make sure you acknowledge your efforts, regardless of the outcome.

2) Take in the good

There are always errands to run and tasks to check off a list, yet spending a day doing these things may not be restorative. The purpose of fully engaging with positive and pleasant experiences is to fortify yourself to cope with what comes next.

First, choose an activity you enjoy doing. This can be done alone or with friends. It can take ten minutes or five hours. Next, fully take in the moment by being present and focusing on what you are doing.

Approach the experience with curiosity using your five senses to take in all aspects of the moment. What do you see, feel, tastes, smell, and hear? Observe your surroundings and your responses as they unfold. Expect your mind to wander to thoughts about work, previous events, or possible future outcomes. When it does, just refocus your attention on the moment as many times as you need.

Avoid urges to multitask. Although it takes an effort to be in the moment, practicing this during both pleasant and challenging times often leads to greater emotional resiliency and less suffering (Strategies adapted from Linehan, 2015).

3) Get outside of your comfort zone

Is there something you have been avoiding? A big task that you don’t know how to start? A phone call that you want to make but know might be uncomfortable? Avoidance makes sense in the short-term. People get temporary relief. But in the long-term, people typically experience some sort of distress.

Identify if there is something important that you have been putting off. If this doesn’t apply to you, create a new goal. What are you willing to try in service of new learning and increased confidence? Consider something attainable yet still challenging. Track what happens. What did you expect? What did you learn? How do you feel? (Strategies adapted from Linehan, 2015)

4) Prepare to return to your routine

Taking time out of your normal routine can also be used to outline a strategy for success when you return to daily life. What are typically sources of distress? If we go back to the Super Bowl, think of this as half-time. What did you learn from the first half and how can you coach yourself to increase the likelihood of success in the second half?

It can be helpful to identify solutions that have been successful in the past or try new solutions to help you cope effectively. In addition, identify if there are other things you need to learn or acquire to adequately navigate your daily life at work and at home. Finally, rely on your team. Identify and connect with validating individuals who can provide other perspectives and skills (Strategies adapted from Linehan, 2015).

Sometimes a day or two to restore your mental and physical energy is not enough. Psychological treatments based on scientific evidence can be helpful in treating various mental health disorders. It is another way to ensure you are getting the most out of the effort you put in, and anytime you choose to take off.

References

Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K., McGuire, L., Robles, T.F., Glaser, R. (2002). Psychoneuroimmunology: psychological influences on immune function and health/ Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70(3), 537-47. DOI: 10.1037//0022-006X.70.3.537

Linehan, M.M. (2015). DBT skills training manual, second edition. New York, NY: Guildford Publications, Inc.

Workforce Institute at Kronos (2018, February 2). Super sick Monday alert. Retrieved from https://workforceinstitute.org/super-sick-monday-alert/

Hayes, C. (2018, February 2). Millions will take off work for ‘super sick Monday.’ USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/02/02/millions-take-off-work-su...

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