Everyone occasionally needs a day off to rest. Even if your job is fun or you have a flexible schedule, it's still nice to get a break. On the other hand, if your job is incredibly stressful or you just finished an important project, you may need more than your usual time off. You may need a mental health day.
Recognize the Need
Stress is a normal part of life, but when it starts to affect your sleep patterns, mental acuity or relationships, it can be problematic. Look for the telltale signs that you need a day off:
- Lack of focus
- Decreased productivity
- Increased irritability or sadness
- Sleep disruptions
- Stress headaches
These aren't the only cues that a mental health day is in order. Any major change in your mood or ability to function as you usually do may be a cause for concern. Your doctor or therapist is likely to recommend that you prioritize rest before the small changes become larger problems.
Assess Your Needs
Many people will advocate treating time off to recharge like a sick day. The specific details of your mental health day don't have to look like anyone else's plan, though. It may be helpful to you to stay inside with your favorite cozy beverage and watch TV or read. Maybe what you need is to take a longer run than usual on your favorite trail or spend extra time outside in your garden. Go see a matinee or the museum exhibit you've had difficulty fitting into your usual schedule. The activity (or lack thereof) that helps you relax the best is the right way to spend the day.
Avoid Known Stressors
Even if you choose the most relaxing activity you can think of, it doesn't do you a lot of good if you don't also remove as many stressors from your day as possible. You know better than anyone else what your worst triggers are, so trust your judgment. Common things to avoid include social media, email, unhealthy food and drink and wallowing in negative thoughts. A good mental health day is one that doesn't add any extra stress to your life.
Avoiding stressors may be more complicated than it seems, especially if it requires the cooperation of other people. Let your family know not only that you are taking a mental health day but also what you need from them in order for it to be successful. This may be simple if they go to school or work, leaving you with the house to yourself for the day. If your partner works from home or you have very young children, however, it's likely that your plans also need to include a change in theirs.
Release Yourself From Expectations
Finally, give yourself the gift of an expectation-free day. You may have grand plans to attack a creative project you've had on hold or to finish that novel that's due at the library next week. If you wake up that morning and your plans don't sound appealing to you, don't try to force yourself to stick to them. Holding yourself to these expectations is likely to become more of a hindrance than a help, thus negating the whole point of taking a mental health day. Allow yourself to be as spontaneous as you need to be.
Sometimes, your regularly scheduled time off from work just isn't enough, particularly if you have a tendency to fill your free time with more to-do lists. Taking a day for the express purpose of relaxing and recharging is a responsible way to avoid burnout or other stress-related problems. Safeguarding your mental health is an important part of caring for your overall well-being.