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Whether you’re burned out from work, emotionally drained from a break-up, or just mentally exhausted, there are endless reasons why you might want (or need) a mental health day. In fact, you don’t need any “reason” at all. And while a day off isn’t a bandage for larger issues surrounding mental health, it can give you the rest or space you desperately need—if you do it right.
But what is the right way to spend a mental health day? That can be a bit tricky. You already know it’s important to regularly partake in self-care—and no, you don’t need to drop hundreds of dollars on spa treatments to do it—but there’s certainly a difference between getting lost in social media scrolling and taking time for more mindful practices.
Here, we break down everything you need to know about mental health days—from when to take them to how to ask for one to how to spend your much-deserved time off.
When should you take a mental health day?
Treat your mental health days like vacations—plan them out in advance as much as you can. Rather than waiting until you’re at your breaking point, try setting aside one day per month to take care of yourself. Amber Benziger, a psychotherapist based in New Jersey, says it’s important to be proactive—not reactive. “[We should be] making it the norm, instead of something we’re doing because we’re being reactive to being really burnt out,” she says. “Because if we get in a pattern and habitual state for ourselves of adding in that self-care, you’ll [be] less likely to have that burn out.”
Depending on your situation, you may be able to take a day off from work or dedicate a weekend day to pampering yourself. However, if you’re not able to take time off right now, that’s OK! Benziger recommends spending a few hours in the evening doing something just for you. You don’t need to dedicate a full day to self-care for it to positively benefit your mental health.
OK, but how do I ask my boss for a mental health day?
Here’s the thing—you don’t have to. (Yes, really.) Benziger says when we’re anxious, we feel as though we owe those around us an explanation. “But they’re your [time off] days, you can use them however you want to use them,” she says. “So, honestly an explanation isn’t needed if you don’t feel like you have that relationship with your management or your supervisor.”
Still looking for some verbiage to use? Short and simple is best. “It could just be, ‘Hey, I need Friday off, something has come up,’” Benziger says. She also suggests communicating over email, which gives you space to send the message without an instant reaction from your supervisor.
How should I spend a mental health day?
Unfortunately, for us type-A planners, there’s no standard guide for taking a mental health day. You should spend your day doing whatever you need or makes you feel good. Need to rest your body and lay on the couch all day? Totally fine. Want to head to brunch with a good friend? Also fine. Craving complete detachment from all other humans and want to roam the outdoors? Cool with us.
If you’re having a hard time figuring out exactly what you needs, Benziger suggests asking yourself what you feel like you’re currently lacking in your life—and what makes you feel good. “So, really checking in with yourself and saying, ‘What do I need in this moment?’ and then allowing yourself to do that guilt-free,” she says. “A lot of the time, when we do take that time off, and we feel like it’s not productive, we kind of shame ourselves.” Instead of scolding yourself for not running errands or crossing things off your never-ending to-do list, Benziger says you should view rest as something that is also productive.
Rest can feel unproductive because we aren’t producing anything, she says. But rest comes with its own set of benefits. Benziger says focusing on yourself—and what you need to do—is the most helpful self-care tool in the long-term. So, that extra hour of sleep you’re craving or that phone call to your best friend? This is your sign to go to do it. (Hey, it’s for your health.)