How to Take a Mental Health Day

A “mental health day” is when an employee takes sick leave to focus on his mental well-being. Mental health days can be controversial if management perceives them to be a misuse of sick leave or just an excuse to play hooky. Some employees are reluctant to take a mental health day because they believe it is a sign of weakness; they should not need a day off to focus on themselves.

However, if you are feeling run down and experiencing characteristics of low resilience, you are just as impaired as if you have a cold or the flu. Taking a mental health day will help you recharge and improve your resilience, resulting in higher productivity at work. Supervisors who encourage mental health days will find their employees are more effective in the long run.

Here’s some advice on how to spend a day away from work recharging:

Plan Ahead

Schedule your mental health day at least a week in advance, so your boss and co-workers are prepared. Plan your mental health day during a slow time in the office. Check the calendar and your schedule to ensure your day off works for everyone.

Be Honest

Don’t violate your organization’s HR rules or lie to your supervisor. If your office frowns on taking sick leave for mental health reasons, explain why you need the day off and how it will positively impact your performance once you’re back at work.

Plan Your Day

Unstructured free time is not always relaxing. Use your mental health day to engage in resilience-enhancing activities instead of doing errands and chores. Pursue a hobby, go to a museum or exercise. Focus on yourself. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel once you’re back at work.

Banish Your Guilt

You may feel uncomfortable or guilty during your day off. Brush this feeling aside. Using sick leave for a mental health day is legitimate and restorative.

Three-day Weekends Are Great

If possible, try to pick a Friday or a Monday if you don’t work on weekends. Three days without working can do miracles. If that isn’t possible, taking a day off mid-week can also be beneficial.

Keep It to Yourself

If you post your mental health day activities on social media, you may be disturbed by unwanted attention. Think twice before posting.

Do you take mental health days? How do you make them work for you?

I help individuals and teams thrive in adversity by providing practical skills and tools I developed over several decades as a U.S. diplomat in challenging environments. Visit my website to learn more about how I can help you and your team better adapt to stress and adversity. With resilience skills and tools, you and your team will be more creative, innovative, and collaborative. Resilient individuals and teams are less likely to suffer from burnout and are more open to change. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter at @payneresilience.

Beth Payne is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is an experienced resilience trainer and consultant. In 2016, she created the U.S. Department of State’s Center of Excellence in Foreign Affairs Resilience, where she designed resilience tools and resources for foreign affairs professionals. She served as a U.S. diplomat from 1993 until 2016 with assignments at the U.S. Embassies in Senegal, Rwanda, Israel, and Kuwait and as the U.S. Consul General in Kolkata, India. In 2003, she opened the Office of the U.S. Consul in Baghdad, Iraq, where she received the State Department’s award for heroism. You can read her posts here.

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