How to Know When it’s Time to Take a Mental Health Day

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Plus how to ask for one.

If your throat is sore and your nose is blocked, you take a sick day – that’s a given. But if your mind is foggy, you’re completely overwhelmed, and it takes the vigorous efforts of a willing partner to get you out of bed, you go to work. What’s wrong with this picture?

Mental health struggles carry a disturbing amount of stigma, despite widespread efforts to combat this. The way you approach feeling unwell physically and mentally when it comes to heading off to work is the perfect example. So, we suggest taking a mental health day. How do you know it’s about time to take one?

“Stress, anxiety and low mood are indicators that your wellbeing needs attention,” explains psychologist Cushla Hammond. “Symptoms may include excessive worry, difficulty unwinding, reduced ability to focus, irritability, loss of motivation and problems sleeping.”

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After a particularly draining project, or a few months’ worth of burning the candle at both ends, you might feel like the human equivalent of a wet towel that’s being wringed out for water on an hourly basis. At that point, you could really do with a day off, but in future, remember that the key to keeping your mental health in check is to work on preventative, not reactive, treatment.

“Don’t wait until you are at the end of your tether before taking action,” Cushla urges. “Taking time for yourself reinforces the notion that your wellbeing is important. It is easy to get into a habit of constantly ‘doing’.”

So, the antidote being not doing, of course. And that doesn’t mean that a mental health day is all about taking in a whole series of Riverdale – it’s about prioritising tasks that don’t require you to “achieve” anything.

“The key to optimising a mental health day will be to ensure you actually do things that are relaxing,” Cushla echoes. “These might include sleeping in, getting a massage and mindfulness practice… don’t fill the day with jobs around the house, and avoid technology where possible.”

Half the hurdle to your mental health day, however, will be how to approach the subject with your workplace. According to a report from Beyond Blue, only one in 10 people believe their company leaders take mental health seriously.

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“When it comes to approaching your boss or manager about taking a day off for mental wellbeing, it will be important to have a sense of their emotional IQ and their likely views on mental health,” Cushla advises. In other words, if your boss is the kind of manager that guffaws at you taking a day off for anything other than a limb removal, you might have to reconsider the way you frame the issue: this discussion featured on the NDIS website is particularly useful. More importantly, though, if you’re becoming increasingly partial to mental health days, consider whether it’s time to take a little more affirmative action.

“Taking a mental health day can be helpful in the short term, but if your symptoms are ongoing, it would be a good idea to get some therapy. A therapist can suggest strategies to improve your symptoms, build resilience, improve boundaries and provide support.”

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