If Monday dread is consuming your thoughts, maybe you just need a break with a mental health day off.
Taking a mental health day isn’t silly. And it isn’t selfish. Just like a sick day gives your body rest, a mental health day — aka a “sad day” or wellness day — gives your brain a break.
Here’s when and how to take a mental health day off from work.
Tips for taking a mental health day
- Acknowledge that, yes, you deserve it!
- Understand your right to time off and figure out how many sick days you have.
- Call it in (no long explanation needed).
- Decide what you need most — to rest, recharge, or reset?
- Sketch a loose plan for the day (even if it’s just a nap, a stroll, and takeout).
- Self-care the day away. ✨
- Evaluate if you need more time.
If you feel like you just can’t take more bad news in this world of *gestures everywhere,* you’re not alone.
Results from a 2020 survey of more than 5,000 American adults found:
- 31% of folks reported symptoms of anxiety or depression
- 26% reported symptoms of trauma– or stressor-related disorder related to the pandemic
- 13% said they’d boosted their substance use to cope
Unfortunately, some folks still believe mental wellness isn’t as important as physical health. That’s probably why nearly half of workers say they wouldn’t take a sick day to cope with stress. If you’re one of the hesitant ones, it might be time to reframe your idea of a sick day. Mental health is still health. And chronic stress can have long-term consequences.
Chronic psychological stress can dial up your risk of several conditions later in life like:
To sum it up: Margins are a little thin these days. And there are real, research-backed reasons to focus on stress management. A mental health day can help you rest and reset.
It’s not always obvious when your brain needs a break. Physical symptoms of stress are easier to pinpoint, but there are other signs too.
- You’re moody AF. Chronic anger, irritability, or feeling sad most days? You need a mental health day.
- Your cold just won’t go away. Frequent sickness = a stressed immune system. Chronic headaches, nervous stomachaches, and general tension also indicate the need for a break.
- Your sleep is messed up. Trouble sleeping *or* frequent oversleeping can hint at your need for a day off. Same goes for exhaustion that doesn’t change whether you sleep or not.
- You can’t focus. Stress leads to brain fog. Stepping away from work for a day could help you shake off the fog and low productivity.
- You’re relying on substances for help. Increased alcohol and substance use are classic signs that something’s gotta give. But even if your “drug” of choice is a slew of energy drinks every morning, leaning on stimulants or depressants to get through a workday means you need a break.
If you feel like you need a mental health day, you probably do.
So, take 👏 the 👏 day 👏. Your brain and body deserve it. The office won’t stop functioning if you step out. Self-care is crucial, friends.
One of the best ways to avoid nagging coworkers or interrupting work is to schedule your mental health day in advance. That gives you time to delegate your workload or find a substitute if your work requires it (hat tip to the teachers!).
But if you wake up one day and can’t even because of stress and mental overwhelm, it’s also OK to take a last-minute mental health day off. Do what you need to do. The world won’t end if you step away for a day.
It’s also a good idea to know your rights and workplace policies. According to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, if you’re at a company of 50+ or have a federal job, you can’t be penalized for taking time off for mental health.
A few ways to request a mental health day:
- Schedule it. Plan your personal day or sick day in advance. Depending on your relationship with your boss, you can explain the reasons — but you’re not obligated to.
- Call it in. Remember, mental health is health. If you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, or extreme stress, you can call in sick. That’s a mental health day too.
You take a sick day to feel better, right? The same goes for mental health days. This is *not* the time for running errands or squeezing in a dentist appointment. Those are legit activities, but unless that bubblegum-flavored fluoride sparks immense joy, save it for another day.
How you spend your mental health day depends on what you need.
If you need to rest…
You’re tense. Tired. Oh-so-depleted. Here are a few ways to take back your Zen:
- Try a yoga flow.
- Get a massage.
- Pack a picnic lunch for the park.
- Stroll through nature.
- Take a nap (there’s *no* shame in a good snoozefest!).
- Head to a coffee shop with a good book.
- Soak in a bubble bath.
If you need to let loose…
Do you need to just forget work and shake things up, Ferris Bueller-style? Sometimes de-stressing requires a little bit of fun or socialization.
- Grab lunch with a friend.
- Blast your favorite tunes.
- Get physical — kickboxing, dance, HIIT, you name it!
- Try a new recipe.
If you need to make some changes…
Do you feel stuck on a major life decision? If your stressors are related to identity questions or big-picture issues, a mental health day is a perfect time to recalibrate your priorities.
Taking a mental health day is a temporary fix. It’s not going to solve big, bad issues like a toxic workplace, lackluster work-life balance, or burnout.
And BTW, burnout is an actual medical term. Signs include:
If your work life needs a radical rebuild instead of a single mental health day, there *are* ways to move forward. And they don’t all involve walking out the door.
- Request flex time. If your work environment is causing more damage than the work itself, ask your boss about occasionally working from home. (Psst! It helps to emphasize how it might benefit the company.)
- Talk with your boss. There’s nothing wrong with asking for reasonable project deadline extensions or help from a coworker if you’re overloaded.
- Contact HR. It can be scary to go up the chain at work. But if your boss is abusive or unreasonable, it’s time to talk to HR. Boost your chance of successful negotiation by bringing specific details of toxic incidents or an outline of everything you’re asked to do in a week.
- Take a vacay. If one mental health day off isn’t enough, consider a vacation or staycation. A week away from the office (and doomscrolling, while you’re at it!) works wonders.
- Quit. Toxic workplaces eat away at you mentally, emotionally, and physically. If you’ve been denied reasonable requests or you just can’t imagine your job changing enough to work for you, it’s probably time to look for a new workplace. Yes, change is hard and hella scary, but it could be the beginning of a happier, healthier you.
If you’re hesitant to call in sick for your mental health, remember that being healthy and whole requires physical *and* mental wellness. Make self-care a priority.
There are many, many legitimate reasons to take a day off of work for your health:
Whenever possible, look for ways to manage stress before it becomes an emergency. Prioritize sleep, nourishing foods, and daily movement. And if stress, anxiety, or sadness are interfering with your daily life, don’t hesitate to ask a healthcare professional for help.