If you are a workaholic like many, taking a mental health day may feel like you are “cheating” on your job. After all, do you really and truly need a mental health day when you should be putting in 12 to 14 hours instead? Medical experts contend that in order to remain productive and perform, workers should take a mental health day every now and then. In fact a survey conducted by ComPsych found that 82% of employees said that they took a mental health day in order to recharge their mental battery. However, although most people may need a mental health day many still feel guilty being away from work to rest their brain. How can you take that much needed day off without adding guilt and pressure to your decision?
Identify the signs that you need to take a mental health day. Everyone wears down at some point so knowing the signs of when you may require a day off is important to alleviate some of the guilt.
- Your sleep pattern has changed. Whether you’ve experienced nightmares that have been waking you up at night or overall insomnia, a disrupted sleep pattern can signal stress and a feeling of anxiety.
- You “over react” to new stresses. Perhaps three weeks ago you may have simply attacked and adjusted to a new project, but today you are upset and completely anxiety ridden. If you are already feeling stress, new stresses may become blown out of proportion and even more upsetting.
- You have a short fuse with family or friends. Biting off your husband’s head because he wants you to choose where to head for dinner tonight is a good example of being snippy with family or friends. If the ones you love are walking on eggshells around you, it may be time to take a mental break.
Determine what you will do on your mental health day. To some, the term “mental health day” translates into a day you and your BFF run amok in the shopping malls or spend the day on the golf course. However, to truly glean the benefits of a mental health day and remove the guilt you should take it seriously.
- Catch up on sleep. If you’ve been exhausted or not sleeping, your day off should be spent in bed, resting your body and brain.
- Spend the day in a quiet area with a good book. If you’re being constantly sought after at work all day, you may need some alone time. Resolve to find a peaceful place to relax where you don’t have to talk to anyone or be on call.
- Reconnect with important people. If work has taken you away from the ones you love, spend the day making time to be with those important folks. For example if you’ve been working endless hours, seven days a week and haven’t had a chance to spend time with your daughter, plan an entire day around what she wants to do.
Make a resolution that you will not work on your mental health day. If you are going to “go for it” truly commit to taking it. If you end up working, you won’t accomplish what you set out to do and will still need another day to recharge.
Turn off your cell phone and set up an automatic email reply. Let colleagues and clients know that you are away from your desk throughout the day but will returning the following day. Don’t include why or what you are doing but just leave a brief notification that you are unable to receive emails or calls during the day but will return messages the following day. Also, if you may be needed urgently, talk to a coworker about backing you up that day and leave the coworker’s name and email address for emergencies.
Leave any work at the office. Don’t bring home reports so you can glance through them or try to attend one meeting via conference call, leave work at work so you aren’t tempted to even try.
Don’t tell coworkers or clients that you need a mental health day. You’ll only feel more guilty or silly taking the day if you wistfully explain that stress has taken over then you’ll have to explain what is going on, which may push you further over the edge.
Plan your mental health day during a slow time at work. Make you’re your day off doesn’t bring stress on others so check the calendar and your schedule to ensure your day off works for everyone.
- Schedule your day off in advance during a slow time. The fastest way to “Guiltsville USA” is to dramatically storm out of the office for your mental health day during a huge project or during the busiest time at work. Give everyone else a break by making sure that the office isn’t overly busy.
- Let your boss know well in advance you plan to take a day off from work. Instead of saying that you are stressed, just tell your boss that you have a few important personal appointments or matters to address and would like the day off from work. Be calm and confident in your approach and reassure him/her that you will have your work covered and/or deadlines met in time.
- Don’t say you are sick, especially if you are not. If your boss doesn’t believe that you are sick, he/she may imagine a slew of scenarios such as that you are interviewing for another job or just simply playing “hooky.” Also, the fake stuffy nose and pretend cough only works for Ferris Bueller– most likely you will not be able to pull that one off.
- Have a backup plan. Don’t leave your clients or coworkers high and dry during your mental health day. If you have a coworker that works closely with you ask if he/she could cover for you on that day and then pledge the do the same when he/she is out of the office. Make sure he/she is up to speed on your deadlines and let the coworker know when it might be important to contact you at home (for emergencies that must be dealt by you). Even though the goal is to disengage that day, you certainly don’t want to return to the office to find a total fiasco that could have been averted with a simple phone call.
Consider treating yourself to a massage, day at the spa, and hiring someone to clean the house.
If doing chores and housework will make you feel a little saner on your day off, go for it. A mental health day doesn’t mean that you “have” to just sit around relaxing. In some cases, restoring order to your surroundings will bring you to a place of peace.
Consult with human resources to figure out how to categorize your day off. In some cases, the company may have actual “mental health” days built into your benefits–another reason why you should not feel guilty.
Although checking out completely may be best, allow yourself a few minutes to check email or voicemail if you start to feel jittery or disconnected from work. Do whatever will be most comfortable for you.