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30 Ways to Take Advantage of a Mental Health Day

Here's how to make sure you don't waste the day worrying about what to do.

Key points

  • Mental health days can prevent burnout.
  • Many people don't know what to do with their mental health day.
  • You can plan a mental health day, or follow your natural instincts of what you need on that day.

I take a Mental Health Day (almost) every Friday.

It means that my four-day workweek schedule is pretty packed. It means that I run my errands on the weekend. It means that I say "no" a lot.

And it also means that I often have to remind my boss that I need this, I want this, and it will make me a better professional, parent, partner, and person. (Yes, I’m my own boss, but still.)

I was recently offered a teaching position at a leading business school and it could have meant working on Fridays. I told the head of the program that Fridays are my mental health day, so I’m not available. And you know what she said? “That’s terrific. Good for you. Let’s figure out a different schedule. We want you here.”

Talk about walking the talk!

Writer Elizabeth Scott, Ph.D., writes that, while "one day might not solve heavy 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, less-stressed perspective.”

Whether you have one day a week, or just one day, for a mental health break you don’t want to waste it worrying about how to leverage it.

One option, of course, is to wake up and follow your natural instincts about what your body, mind, and soul need that day.

I often do this and find myself savoring my first cup of coffee, sitting in the sun on my deck, cutting fresh flowers for the house, petting my dog patiently, cooking something I’ve never tried making before, and catching up on episodes of This is Us. Sometimes I take a walk or an online pilates class, meet a friend for lunch, and get a pedicure. It just depends.

But if not having a plan will make you more anxious than less, then here are 30 options to consider to make the most of your “you” day:

  1. Walk, run, swim, stretch or do some other physical activity
  2. Cook something special (or order something special)
  3. Light a new candle or spray a fragrance in your house
  4. Call a friend or family member who makes you feel happy and important
  5. Put on a playlist of songs that lift your spirits
  6. Declutter one small area of your home or office
  7. Take an online course on something you’re interested in learning more about
  8. Look through old photos that remind you of people and places you love
  9. Watch a comedy special with a favorite or new comedian
  10. Meet up with someone in person who has nothing to do with your work
  11. Schedule an appointment with your company’s Employee Assistance Program, or another mental health professional
  12. Have a session with a coach, healer, energy worker, etc.
  13. Pray
  14. Meditate
  15. Hire a personal organizer for a few hours
  16. Visit an acupuncturist
  17. Spend some unstructured time with your kids
  18. Have someone else take the kids for a few hours so you can have some unstructured time for yourself
  19. Get your hands dirty (paint, plant, bake, etc.)
  20. Get a manicure, pedicure, or haircut
  21. Have someone clean your house while you put your feet up
  22. Get a massage
  23. Read a book you’ve been saving for a special day
  24. Spend extra time with your pet
  25. Walk around a new neighborhood, museum, park, or store
  26. Take yourself to the movies, theater, or live music
  27. Nap in the middle of the day
  28. Go be near a body of water
  29. Finish one or two small projects that have been keeping you preoccupied, so that you can have closure
  30. Turn off your phone and email for an hour, the afternoon, or the whole day, so that you can really relish this time that just for you.

As actress and mental health activist Glenn Close shared, “What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.” And the first unashamed conversation you need to have is with yourself, as a reminder that you can and should take a mental health day.