Give Yourself The Day Off!

The benefits of taking a mental health day.

Posted Apr 17, 2018

Americans are sleep deprived. We are also overbooked, over-stressed, and under pressure to get everything done yesterday. We are obsessed with taking prescription medications—probably to help our bodies—and minds—get through the anticipated stress of our work days. In fact, research finds that work is one of the leading causes of stress (Holmes, 2016).

So I know this may sound contrary to all of our cultural conditioning, but I am here to advise you: take the day off.

In fact, I took it upon myself to take today off as a mental health day. Now, mind you, I didn’t have any classes scheduled for today, but as part of a grant that I received, my Tuesdays are usually dedicated to research. However, I decided to take the day off in service of my mental health and well-being.

Research shows that Americans are not apt to take days off of work, let alone use their vacation days. In fact, Project: Time Off reports:

Despite this encouraging sign [the tide regarding attitudes may be shifting in favor of taking time off of work] taking time off continues to be a challenge in America’s always-on work culture. American workers hold fast to the belief that the path to career success requires sacrificing vacation time and embracing work martyrdom. But the data is unmistakably clear: planning for and taking time off benefits individual well-being and professional success, business performance, and the broader economy. (“The State of American Vacation 2017", 2017, para 2).

In fact, in 2016, American workers gave up $66.4 billion dollars in benefits alone by forfeiting vacation days (“The State of American Vacation 2017,” 2017). While this is bad for the economy, it is arguably even worse for the mental health and well-being of employees. It is no coincidence that Americans are taking more prescription medication than at any other time in our history (Carr, 2017). Americans are stressed out—our lifestyle habits are leaving us overworked, tired, vulnerable to obesity, and dissatisfied with our lives. Meds can oftentimes be turned to as a quick fix for what ails us, but they oftentimes mask our problems—be it sleep deprivation, anxiety or sadness—rather than treating them.

Vacations can help in reducing stress, enabling couples or families to reconnect with one another, and in helping individuals get recharged and return back to work more energized and focused. In fact, in one survey after returning from vacation 94 percent of respondents reported feeling as if they had as much or more energy for work than before their trip (Sifferlin, 2017). Other studies have found that for men who were at risk for coronary heart disease, those who took vacations frequently were 21 percent less likely to die from any cause and specifically 32 percent less likely to die from heart disease (as reported by “Numerous Health Studies…”, n.d.).

Similarly, women who reportedly vacationed less often were found to be more at risk for depression, while vacationing was associated with lower blood pressure and smaller waistlines for both sexes (as reported by “Numerous Health Studies…”, n.d.). Other studies have identified increased life satisfaction, physical improvements, such as in quality of sleep and blood pressure, mental health improvements (e.g. boost in mood and lessening of anxiety) and increases in creativity due to vacationing (Clark, 2017). In fact, many of these reported benefits can persist for months after a vacation.

I understand that not all of us have the privilege to take vacations depending on the specifics of our job circumstances. Or perhaps the timing isn’t right to take extended time off right now at work. Which is why I am advocating an occasional mental health day, even if the constraints of the job only allow you to take a half day off.

Time off in and of itself may not always work, as a high percentage of vacationers report working remotely even when they take time off work. So the time off is just the first step, how you use the time is also important.

I confess, in addition to allowing myself to sleep in later than I would had I gone to campus today, I also checked email remotely, graded papers and was available had I been needed by my research team. Nonetheless, the deliberate act of allowing myself the day off for my well-being also enabled me to focus on myself, enjoy time alone, tackle some errands on my to-do list I wouldn’t have time for after a full day of work, and decompress after the start of a stressful work week. Indeed, as Holmes (2016) reports, “Ultimately, mental health days allow you to unplug from your inbox and refocus—and that can make you a healthier, happier employee” (para 20).

So in whatever capacity you are able to, take a step back from your overworked tendencies and evaluate the extent to which you may feel burned out, and plan accordingly. If at the end of your assessment you determine no amount of time off will fully enable you to feel refreshed and restored and ready to return to work, that may indicate a toxic work environment and trigger further lifestyle changes. But for most of us, a mental health day—or longer, if we are able to take a vacation—can be just what we need to recharge and reset for our next day on the job. Time off may even replace some of those prescription meds with a more long-term solution for what ails you.

Copyright 2018 Azadeh Aalai

References

Carr, T. (2017, August 3). Too Many Meds? America’s Love Affair With Prescription Medication. Consumer Reports. Retrieved on April 17, 2018 from: https://www.consumerreports.org/prescription-drugs/too-many-meds-americas-love-affair-with-prescription-medication/

Clark, C. (2017). How Vacations Really Boost Physical and Mental Health. PsychCentral: Blog. Retrieved on April 17, 2018 from: https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-vacations-really-boost-physical-and-mental-health/

Holmes, L. (2016, June 21). 6 Very Good Reasons to Take a Mental Health Day. HuffPost: Sleep & Wellness. Retrieved on April 17, 2018 from:  https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mental-health-day-benefits_us_5767f4d0e4b0853f8bf15a33

Numerous Health Studies Prove Time Off is Good for us. Project: Time Off. Retrieved on April 17, 2018 from:  

https://www.projecttimeoff.com/research/numerous-health-studies-prove-time-good-us

Sifferlin, A. (2017, August 7). Here’s How to Take a Perfect Vacation. Time: Mental Health/Psychology. Retrieved on April 17, 2018 from: http://time.com/4881326/vacation-health-happiness/

The State of American Vacation 2017 (2017). Project: Time Off. Retrieved on April 17, 2018 from: https://www.projecttimeoff.com/state-american-vacation-2017

Source: Pixabay/Daria Shevtsova