By now, you’ve probably heard that mental health days should be a part of your self-care arsenal. For one, there are a million reasons why you might need a mental health day. Maybe you deal with a mental health condition that comes with symptom flare-ups that render you unable to get out of bed. Maybe you don’t love your job. Maybe you’re coming off a high-stress project and need to reset. Or you’re going through a breakup! Or dealing with grief! Or need to catch up on the mountain of errands weighing on your mind! Or just can’t today! An effective, restorative mental health day will mean something different to everyone, and you have to personalize it to your needs.
1. Think of mental health days as a regular tune-up—not damage control.
In an ideal world, mental health days would be something you automatically work into your schedule to prevent you from getting to a place where you desperately need a break, David Klow, licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Chicago’s Skylight Counseling Center, tells SELF. We’d notice signs of work fatigue early and, instead of pushing through it, proactively take care of our mental health, including the occasional day off filled with restoration and self-care.
2. Consider scheduling ahead.
Proactively saying, “Okay, next Friday, I’m going to take off for a mental health day,” gives you more of an opportunity to plan exactly how to spend it. There’s a time and place for a day of burritoing up in a blanket and streaming TV, but sometimes (and often), those aren’t the makings of a good mental health day. “In periods of stress, we’re driven toward self-soothing behavior that might not be restorative for us,” Paul Lavella Jr., licensed professional counselor and training and development specialist at Delphi Behavioral Health Group, tells SELF.
3. Actually unplug from work.
Way too many people take time off work only to stay engaged with it in little ways anyway, says Lavella. They check their emails, keep their Slack notifications on, or even just...spend too much time ruminating about their jobs. Which, understandable. If you’re taking a mental health day, it’s likely you’re feeling some sort of way about work. But resist the urge to stay plugged in or stew.
4. Honor the need to do nothing.
With everything I just said in mind, sometimes a mental health day can be nothing more than weathering the storm of your mental health symptoms and practicing self-care in whatever small ways you can manage. And that’s okay. If you’re dealing with mental illness or really going through something, a strategically planned mental health day—even if it’s filled with soothing activities—might not be in the cards on bad days.
5. Connect with other people.
Social connection is a huge pillar of self-care in general, but I often forget it’s an option for mental health days, given that mental health days often feel synonymous with “hiding from the world.” But reaching out to others, whether that’s by hanging out with your friend who works from home or calling a loved one on their break at work, can be a direct antidote to work-related angst.
6. Tackle your to-do list.
Taking a break from work with more work might not sound like the best use of a mental health day, but honestly, it might be for you. Errands, chores, and other tasks can pile up when we’re buried in our work, and having that hanging over you is stressful as hell. “Feeling like we can’t keep up with our life causes an overflow of anxiety that’s hard to shake,” says Lavella. “Sometimes you need a day to handle the things you’re not handling.”
7. Remember mental health days aren’t all or nothing.
As great as mental health days are, remember that they’re not going to work miracles. “People hope that if they can load up on restoration all at once on a mental health day, they’ll return to work completely reset,” says Klow. And when that inevitably doesn’t happen, your mental health will take that hit of disappointment. Instead, keep your expectations in check and don’t put too much pressure on these days. “They are only little scoops of wellness,” says Klow. “You have to make a practice out of it.”
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