Written by Julie Morris

In a society where being overworked and overstressed is worn like a badge of honor, it’s easy to feel guilty for needing a mental health day. Instead of taking time to care for ourselves when we feel overwhelmed, we all too often power through, only to feel twice as worn out when we come out the other side. But taking a sick day to care for your mental health is just as valid as taking one when you’re stuck in bed with a fever. Your anxiety may not be communicable, but a bad mental health day can impact your work and well-being just as much as a physical illness can.

When to Take a Mental Health Day

So how do you know when you really need a mental health day? Everyone has days they don’t feel like getting out of bed — after all, 82 percent of Americansadmit to taking mental health days — but wanting to hit the snooze button a few more times doesn’t mean you should take the whole day off. However, if any of these feelings resonate with you, you could probably benefit from a day to relax and reset:

  • You feel mentally foggy and can’t concentrate.

  • You’re extremely anxious or irritable.

  • You can’t sleep due to stress.

  • You’re constantly on the brink of tears.

  • You feel apathetic about just about everything.

What To Tell Your Boss

As awareness of conditions like anxiety and depression grows, taking mental health days is becoming increasingly socially accepted. However, your boss may not agree. In fact, seven in ten bosses say that anxiety, stress, or depression aren’t valid excuses for taking a sick day. So what should you tell your boss when you desperately need that mental health day?

Lying to your supervisor and saying you have the flu could lead to an overly-complicated web of lies, so instead of fabricating an excuse, just keep your reason for taking a personal day vague. It’s best if you can plan your mental health day in advance so you don’t leave your coworkers in a bind. If you’re able to do so, plan it for a Friday, and let your boss know you have some personal matters to attend to.

However, you can’t always predict when you’ll need a day for self-care. If a bad mental health day hits you by surprise, it’s perfectly OK to call in sick. You’re not obligated to share your health history with your boss, so just be direct and say you’re not feeling well enough to come in. You don’t need to explain, justify, or defend the nature of your illness.

How to Spend Your Mental Health Day

When you take a mental health day, make a point to disconnect from all the things that are stressing you out. Don’t check your work email, and turn off your phone for a few hours if you need to.

The best thing to do when your mental health is suffering is to change your environment. Spend time in nature, go to a museum, or curl up at your favorite coffee shop with a latte and a good book. Do something that makes you feel connected with your inner self. That may mean doing a creative activity, meditating, or getting a pedicure and buying yourself flowers. Separating yourself from your everyday stressors will help you recharge and make the most of your time off.

When you make the decision to take a mental health day, don’t spend the day feeling guilty about playing hooky. Even if your boss doesn’t recognize it, mental health days are good for employers as well: Untreated mental illness costs the U.S. economy billions in lost productivity every year, and can even lead to more serious issues that will require you to take extended periods of time off to address. By taking mental health days when you need them, you’re able to re-energize and return to work as your best self.

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