We all have times when we need a break from work. It’s not always easy looking after our mental wellbeing, but taking a day off to recharge and regroup often means returning to work energised and reinvigorated.
Here’s how to invest in your overall wellbeing and feel confident taking a mental health day.
The purpose of a mental health day
Lots of us are under stress at work and this can impact our mental health. Research by SEEK found 72% of Australians believe that workplace factors have negatively impacted their mental health, with most people agreeing (83%) that their colleagues should be allowed to take a day off for their mental health. But despite this, more than half of us (55%) who have felt the need to take a mental health day, haven’t done so.
A mental health day is a day off where the aim is to reduce stress and prevent burnout. “We all feel mentally fragile and vulnerable sometimes,” says psychologist Sabina Read. “And mental health days are as normal and valid as sick leave days for ‘physical’ illness.”
Depending on the individual, there are several aims of a mental health day. “They include downtime and rest to gain mental clarity, reflect or relax; mindfulness to bring the mind and body back to a place of stillness; connecting with others to create a sense of belonging, physical activity to re-energise, or time to re-think how best to move forward,” says Read.
A mental health day without the guilt
With SEEK research finding that one in four people (24%) have lied about taking a day off for their own mental health, taking a mental health day isn’t always straightforward.
“It’s important to recognise that a mental health day is a way to effectively give back to yourself, put your own needs on the map, and prioritise the mind and body that enables you to live and work in ways that are important and meaningful to you,” says Read. “Taking a mental health day and being riddled with guilt negates the purpose of taking time away from work.
Getting the most out of your mental health day
Many of us prioritise the needs of others above our own, so the first step in getting the most out of a mental health day is the recognition and self-awareness that if you’re not feeling 100% emotionally, psychologically or physically, then it’s best that you are not at work.
“It may help to think of yourself through the lens of someone you care deeply about and consider ways they would benefit from taking time to fill up their emotional, mental and physical cup,” advises Read.
There are many ways to spend a mental health day:
- Catching up on sleep
- Seeing a friend or family member
- Having a bath
- Going for a bike ride/doing exercise
- Booking in a massage
- Seeing a movie
“Your mental health day may also include thinking about strategies to address unmet needs at work, but definitely will not involve working remotely or stewing in guilt,” Read says.
One or two days away from work is not a quick fix for long-term or complex issues, but taking a mental health day is the first step in ensuring that you are prioritising and valuing your own needs by creating new boundaries and practising self-compassion.