Whether you work for a company that has designated mental health days or open-ended “take-what-you-need” days, we applaud you for taking a day for yourself.
And if you’ve experienced mental health issues in the past (or currently are), you know that it can impact every facet of your life. According to research, depression can impact cognitive performance at work about 35% of the time.
Basically, it’s hard to kill it at work when you’re experiencing mental health issues.
So you’re taking a mental health day. But what should you do on your day off?
First, let’s determine why you are taking a mental health day. Are you feeling burnt out from your day-to-day job responsibilities? Are you dealing with personal mental health issues? Are you experiencing an imbalance between work and home? Whatever it is that’s prompting you to take a mental health day, it’s important to structure that day off in a way you’ll benefit from and ultimately lighten the burden of the negative experience you’re having.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking a mental health day and planning nothing. Sadly, this has the opposite effect of what a mental health day is intended to accomplish and in some cases can amplify your feelings of stress or anxiety. That’s because you’re not being intentional. So, yeah — how you spend your mental health day actually matters.
How to Plan Your Mental Health Day
Set a goal.
Step one for planning your mental health day is obviously taking the day off at work. Step two should always be setting your intentions for that day. The night before your mental health day, take some time to determine what you need and then plan out the activities that will fill that need (ideas below). However, there is a caveat to this step. If you wake up on your mental health day not feeling the way you expected, listen to your body and give it what it needs, whether that be rest or something more active than originally planned. Be flexible. This day is about you.
Somedays, “nothing” is the answer. If you’re feeling sleep deprived, or dealing with a particularly bad stint of anxiety or depression, you may just need to rest. Sleep until you naturally wake up, ask your partner to get the kids up that morning, or plan a nap during the day. Take the time to truly do nothing but rest your body.
If you’re looking for a little more than “nothing”, active rest — like meditation — could be the answer. You don’t need to be an expert to reap the benefits of mediation, which makes it a great practice for relaxation and disconnecting. It could be as simple as setting aside time to do some deep breathing in a quiet room, or you could use a guided meditation. Apps like Headspace and Calm offer massive libraries of guided meditations to help you through your practice. They offer anxiety-, burnout-, and even stress-specific guided meditations to really home in on your particular issue.
Countless studies have shown that spending time in nature improves your mental health. And if you’re the type of worker that spends 8+ hours a day inside in front of a computer, you could definitely use time with the trees. A Stanford study showed that those who live in dense cities are 20% more likely to experience anxiety disorders than individuals who live in more rural, or “green”, areas. So take a walk or sit on a park bench and enjoy the world around you.
If you have the energy to move your body, taking time to exercise on your mental health day is a great option. Studies have shown that exercise can decrease the amount of poor mental health days, pretty significantly in some research. What’s the link? “Physical activity may help bump up the production of your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins.” Find a form of exercise you enjoy, and get moving!
Talk to Someone.
One of the most obvious ways to spend a mental health day: schedule time with your therapist! If you have a licensed therapist you see regularly, take this day as an opportunity to have a session with them and spend some time on any “mental homework” they may give you. No distractions, just focus on yourself. If you’re in need of a licensed therapist, there are a few places to find one, including your employer if they provide an Employee Assistance Program. And if it’s one of those days you’re struggling to get out of bed, online therapists now exist in droves through apps like BetterHelp and Talkspace.
Do your chores.
Taking a day off from work to do more housework probably sounds counterintuitive at first, but if your overwhelm comes from feeling like you don’t have enough time for everything, this could be the answer. Some weeks there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish our full to-do list. This could be the perfect opportunity to run those errands, clean that garage, plant those flowers, or whatever else you’ve been “meaning to get to”.
It’s also important to reflect on how often you feel the need to take time away from work specifically. If your job is the motivator behind this frequent occurrence, it may be time to find a new one. In this case, your mental health day chores could be job search-related. Taking the day to rewrite your cover letter, update your resume, and revamp your LinkedIn profile will set you up for success in finding the right move. We recently highlighted 15 companies that offer mental health days for you to check out. Bonus points: they’re hiring!
Disconnect from work.
Don’t take a mental health day to work from home, check your emails, talk to your coworkers over Slack, or anything else in connection with work. Unplug. Sign off. Delete your work apps from your phone if you have to. This time is for you. Don’t waste it.
How you spend your mental health day all comes down to what you need. Take the time to dig into what you’re experiencing so that you spend the day in the best way possible. You’ll only benefit from your mental health day if you put a little work into it. Even if all you do is turn off your alarm.