Say you get the flu. You’d likely take a sick day to recuperate, right?
But what about when stress and anxiety rear their ugly heads? Have you ever considered taking a mental health day — a day off dedicated to stress relief?
You may be tempted to power through, but simply ignoring stress doesn’t make it go away, and worse, long-term stress can have repercussions on your health.
“Over time, continued strain on your body from routine stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, as well as mental disorders like depression or anxiety," according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
That’s why it’s important to treat mental health as seriously as physical health.
“Sometimes mental health days are necessary because you need a chance to debrief and take a deep breath,” said Erin Schaefer, director of operations at Catalyst Life Services.
What are your go-to de-stressors? Going for a stroll? Getting a massage? Practicing mindfulness meditation? Whatever it is, carve out some “me-time” to do something enjoyable.
“Being able to take time off to relax and do things that can be calming can really be helpful to people because then it feels like a chance to slow down and regroup,” Schaefer said.
If you’d like to make a day of it, try planning ahead, ensuring, of course, that your time off doesn’t negatively affect your employer/co-workers (missing an important meeting or deadline, for example).
Figure out what you can benefit from most, whether that’s catching up on your sleep, immersing yourself in a good book, or spending time with a friend. What are activities that can boost your mental wellness?
If the pile of laundry mounting in the hamper is stressing you out, you may want to knock out a few chores around the house before you can relax.
“I think what can be helpful is to plan. Allow yourself to do some of those (chores), but only for a certain period of time — that way you feel like you've accomplished something, but then you don't feel like the whole day has been used just for that,” Schaefer said.
Taking the occasional mental health day can provide a much-needed break to come back feeling refreshed and reenergized, but red flags are raised when it becomes the main coping method for ongoing stressors.
Perhaps a mental health day isn’t enough to solve heavy underlying problems that can lead to burnout, in which case speaking with a therapist could help with developing healthy coping strategies.
Or what if you’re unable to take a mental health day?
“Not everybody, unfortunately, has the ability or the the good fortune to take mental health days,” Schaefer said. "For some people, those stresses are there constantly because even if they plan to take a mental health day, then there could be a crisis that pops up that they have to take care of.”
If a whole day is out of the question, perhaps there are moments scattered throughout the day when you can devote some time to self-care.
“I think paying attention to mental health every day is important, so giving yourself permission every day to do something that allows you to tune into your own self regulation is important, whether that be taking a walk, taking a break, unplugging for a little bit of time — all of that will help you to manage your stress longer term,” Schaefer said.
Ideally, you begin to incorporate mental health practices into your daily life in an effort to be proactive and avoid burnout.
If you’re overwhelmed by stress and feel as though you cannot cope, ask for help from a health professional. The area is home to a number of local resources (see below).
Related reading: Take control of stress