Taking time off from work to recharge when you feel burned out is important. In this Everyday Health article, Mindpath Health’s Leela R. Magavi, MD, discusses tips for doing it right (and how to talk to your boss).
Are you in need of a mental health day?
Mayo Clinic defines it as a “limited time away from your usual responsibilities to recharge and rejuvenate your mental health.”
A single day of trying to recharge and reset if you’re in the midst of mental and emotional exhaustion may seem like it’s far from enough to come back to work (or another role) feeling refreshed, explains Leela Magavi, MD, a psychiatrist for Mindpath Health.
But taking a day off before you reach that stage (and ideally somewhat regularly) can help prevent you from getting to the point of burnout, she says.
Mayo Clinic notes that a mental health day doesn’t have to be a full day. Taking a few hours or half a day helps, too. And it can be an effective strategy for kids and teens who are feeling stressed. Illinois passed legislation in 2021 to give students up to five mental health days off school.
“No matter what your situation or profession might be, burnout is a significant problem right now,” Dr. Magavi says. “It can affect sleep, energy, focus, self-esteem, and the ability to enjoy activities with loved ones.”
She adds that strategically taking mental health days before you become burned out is important.
Signs you should consider taking a mental health day
Ideally, we’d all have plenty of time for regular self-care practices so that we’d never feel overloaded.
Research shows thtps://www.mindpath.com/resource/10-strategies-to-help-you-relax/at longer working hours are linked to increased anxiety and depressive symptoms, as well as worse sleep or poorer mental health overall.
And before you become completely burned out, it’s important to recognize the warning signs that you’re becoming mentally and emotionally depleted or exhausted, according to Hannah Paull, PsyD.
These red flags include:
- Feeling physically run down (or noticing you’re catching colds easily)
- Daytime sleepiness (feeling as if you could nap at any moment, no matter how much caffeine you have)
- Feeling resentful or highly irritable
- Tending to react negatively to minor changes or requests
- Low self-confidence, self-efficacy, or self-esteem
- Feeling foggy, like it’s hard to concentrate
- Being easily distracted and restless
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feeling disinterested in activities you once loved
- Skimping on physical self-care like showering or brushing your teeth
“When you start feeling like your day-to-day functionality is adversely affected, that’s a major sign that you need to prioritize your emotional well-being,” adds Magavi.
How to plan for a mental health day (including how to mention it to your boss)
Think ahead when it comes to mental health days.
Magavi says that it’s important to address potential burnout even if you’re feeling engaged and enthusiastic now.
She says some practical strategies might be:
- Consider how often you might need a recharge. For some people, that might be one day per month, but someone else may need two or three days, depending on their current circumstances.
- Look at your calendar and identify days in advance. Maybe there’s a day coming up when you don’t have any meetings or appointments, or when a specific project gets wrapped up. If you’re in school, it might be after a big test, like a midterm.
- Don’t just schedule one mental health day. Create several in advance. That can give you a welcome sense of a break coming up, says Magavi. Sometimes, she adds that knowing you’ll have that day soon can offer some mental refreshment.
- Talk to your employer. And possibly talk with HR to discuss whether mental health days are part of your company’s paid time off (PTO) policies.
- Bring up the issue with your boss as part of a larger conversation around schedules. Magavi says that can reduce feelings of awkwardness and create more normalcy about the request. She adds that you’re not obligated to go into details about why you need a day — similar to saying you have a doctor’s appointment, but don’t have to talk about the reason — but it is helpful to let your boss know that you feel it’s needed.
Magavi says many companies that didn’t have mental health PTO in the past have pivoted recently in response to increasing attention on mental health and the serious ramifications of burnout (specifically that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic).
So, if your company didn’t offer this in the past, check again, she suggests.
Magavi suggests creating more consistency by setting a specific day on a regular schedule and telling clients in advance.
3 tips for making mental health days count
While it may be tempting to use this “time off” to catch up on errands or not make any plans for the day, you may not come back feeling refreshed afterward.
1. Be intentional about your plans
Mental health days tend to be most beneficial (in terms of helping you come out to whatever’s stressing you out feeling refreshed) when you’re really intentional about how you spend them or actively choosing what you want to get out of them, Paull says.
She recommends choosing activities that you already know help you alleviate stress. Mayo Clinic also recommends avoiding excess caffeine, alcohol, or eating too much to help tame stress.
2. Practice prioritizing your emotional needs
Think of mental health days as time spent learning and practicing prioritizing your emotional health.
Start by checking in with yourself the morning you wake up on your mental health day. See how you feel and what you might need most, whether relaxation, shopping, spending time with loved ones, or participating in your favorite hobby, advises Gundersen Health System.
3. Schedule follow-up mental health ‘moments,’ too
Recognize what works for you on mental health days (in terms of helping you come back after them feeling refreshed) and make time for mini mental health moments in your regular schedule.
Even 15 minutes a day to take that mental health time can help. These little bursts shouldn’t replace full mental health days altogether, but they can help you space them further apart and work on those self-care skills along the way.
And if it’s not enough, go back to that list of red flags you’re becoming emotionally depleted and consider if it’s time to schedule a full mental health day sooner rather than later.
Read the full Everyday Health article with sources. Want to learn more about your mental health? Visit our Patient Resources for articles, tips, and education from Mindpath Health’s expert clinicians.