What to do on your mental health day

Man sitting on a couch reading and petting his dog beside him

If you’re feeling on edge, losing sleep or regularly lashing out at your spouse instead of calmly disagreeing, you just might need a break from work.

It’s not always easy to know when you need a “mental health day." When you have a fever, jet lag or an aching throat or stomach, you know you need a sick day. But emotional exhaustion? That can be harder to detect.

And how do you tell your boss?

It's best to be honest, but it's also OK to maintain some boundaries. You don't have to share every detail of what's contributing to the stress in your life to justify taking a day for yourself to recharge. You might say something like, "I've had a lot going on lately, and I need a day off to help me reset."

Tips for using your mental health day:

Know your goal

Is your goal only to relax or do you need to fit in some tasks you've put off that are giving you stress?

I tend to be a really busy person, so if I'm going to be intentional about taking a day off, my goal is to relax and go at a slower pace. I’m going to really try not to have a lot of goals to accomplish.

However, if some of your stress stems from not having had enough time to accomplish something important on your to-do list, such as renewing your driver’s license, doing that during your mental health day off makes sense.

Create some structure in the day

Having at least a little bit of structure in the day is probably going to be better for you than having nothing at all planned, then lying around bingeing on Netflix.

You can create a loose structure. Maybe you plan a nature walk, some quiet time to write in a journal, a yoga class, a trip to the gym or a massage in the morning, then meet a friend for lunch. The rest of the day you might wing it and see what you feel like doing. That could include any number of leisure or self-care activities: reading, biking, listening to music, playing a game, cooking a meal, watching a movie, or finishing the art project you started a few months ago.

Don’t over-schedule yourself with tasks

Our society puts a premium on productivity. So, you may feel the need to fill every waking moment doing something — even on your mental health day off.

Know that there’s value and purpose in downshifting. Slow down and find some time for yourself. Try not to go to your to-do list and feel compelled to finish a lot on it.

No need to feel guilty for taking time for yourself

Giving yourself the gift of down time is not giving in to laziness. But sometimes it can be hard to convince yourself of this.

If you catch yourself feeling guilty for taking time for yourself, reframe your thoughts and consider your mental health day off to be necessary to replenish your energy in the same way that a sick day gives you time to heal. A mental health day is restorative self-care. It’s not selfish, it’s self-maintenance. And it can lead to better productivity when you return to work.

Consider talking to a counselor

You’re not supposed to have all the answers. And it doesn’t mean you’re broken or weak or damaged if you seek help from a mental health professional. Going to counseling is a very good way to use part of your mental health day.

Putting off seeking help can prolong your suffering. Often, people don’t get support until they’re in a crisis. You don’t have to wait that long.

Depending on your circumstances, taking one day off to relieve your stress may not be enough, especially if you don’t take them on a regular basis. Just like many plan a vacation in advance, some find it very helpful to schedule mental health maintenance days ahead of time. That could be once a month, once a quarter or once a year.

If you’re experiencing an accumulation of stress, you might need to give yourself more than one day off to re-center yourself and return to work with a clearer, less-harried mind. Tune in to your needs. It’s okay to prioritize yourself alongside your other responsibilities and obligations.

Help for mental health conditions

Ohio State offers personalized, compassionate care for your mental health concerns.

Learn more


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