- Should You Lie About Your Reason for Taking a Mental Health Day?
- 8 Signs You Need To Take A Mental-Health Day Right Now
- Related: The Internet Is LOVING How This CEO Responded When His Employee Took A Mental Health Day
- Related: 5 Women Share How They Disclosed Their Mental Illnesses At Work
- Related: 5 Surprising Signs You Might Be Struggling With Depression
Should You Lie About Your Reason for Taking a Mental Health Day?
You wake up so drained and mentally exhausted that the mere thought of getting dressed for work sends you into a panic. But figuring out how to go about taking a mental health day is so stressful that you reluctantly put yourself (semi) together, and head to the office. The result: eight (or more) miserable hours at your desk, feeling unfocused, anxious, and irritable. Sound familiar?
If you’ve ever been reluctant to tell your boss you’re staying home to tend to your emotional well-being, you’re not alone.
“In fact, 95% of employees who have taken time off due to stress named another reason, such as an upset stomach or headache,” says Bernie Wong, senior associate at Mind Share Partners, a nonprofit whose mission is to transform the workplace so that those suffering from mental health conditions can be heard, get treatment, and thrive. And in a recent survey from Mental Health America, 55% of people admitted they were “afraid of getting punished for taking a day off to attend to their mental health.”
These findings, at a time when stress and burnout is a global crisis, are disturbing. And while the occasional mental health day surely can’t “fix” these bigger problems, learning to recognize — and honor — when we need a mental health break is an important key to our well-being.
To help you navigate the tricky business of mental health days, Wong as well as Shanna B. Tiayon, Ph.D., social psychologist and H.R. professional, Camille Preston, Ph.D., founder and CEO of AIM Leadership, and Vicki Salemi, career expert for Monster, answered our questions:
Q: When requesting time off for mental health reasons, should you be upfront with your boss about why you need the day(s) off?
Wong: In an ideal world, everyone would be able to be open and transparent — if they want to — about their mental health without fear of judgment or repercussions. However, that’s not the reality in most workplaces.
In Mind Share Partners’ Mental Health at Work 2019 Report, we found that less than 30% of employees feel comfortable talking to their managers about their mental health, and even less (25%) to H.R.
Consider the culture of mental health at your company or organization. For instance:
- How do people talk about mental health, if at all?
- Is mental health viewed as a normal, human experience (considering that 80% of people will manage a diagnosable mental health condition at some point in their lives)?
- Have your leaders openly supported mental health at work? Have leaders and managers modeled healthy self-care and working habits?
- What is your relationship with your manager? Is it clear that a conversation about mental health will be supportive?
- Has your company invested in resources that truly support mental health at work, benefits and flexible working — not just happy hours and ping pong tables?
Ultimately, it is up to the individual to evaluate the payoff of such transparency.
Salemi: You don’t need to disclose the reason. You’re under no obligation even if you have a close relationship with your boss. You can say something as simple as, “I need to take a day off this Monday.” Or, if you want to, you can say, “I need to take a mental health day.” But you don’t need to say specific reasons beyond that.
Tiayon: So here’s the challenge with this one: My knee-jerk response is, Yes! You should be upfront about why you want to take time off, because otherwise we’re never going to change workplace culture if most employees decide not to be honest about needing mental health days.
But I also understand there is a professional and reputational risk for doing so in some workplace cultures.
Workplace cultures that reward working long hours and grinding it out at all costs are ly to frown upon these types of requests from employees, and there is the possibility for formal and informal punishment in the form of being overlooked for opportunities, straining the relationship with your manager, etc. In those cases, I’m completely an advocate for employees taking care of themselves — do what you have to do to take care of your own mental health needs; put wellness before work.
Q: Should a mental health day be considered paid time off (PTO) or a sick day, as many corporations still make this distinction?
Tiayon: Organizations can empower employees by recognizing mental health days (not specifically tied to clinical mental illness) as a valid use of sick leave.
For companies that still separate PTO and sick leave, PTO often has a cash value for employees, because they can cash out on it when they leave the organization, so there’s more of an incentive to save it and stock up on it.
Salemi: It’s important to know your company’s policy of paid time off, including whether sick days, floating holidays, and PTO are pooled together. In that case, you don’t need to allot a day under a specific bucket.
Q: I’ve read the advice that taking a mental health day is OK, but we shouldn’t do it without advance planning. This advice, quite honestly, confusedme. Are we really expected to know in advance when we’re going to desperately need a day to tend to our emotional well-being?
Salemi: The purpose of mental health days is to refuel and tend to yourself. They’re not always something you can plan in advance.
Tiayon: There is a difference between proactive versus reactive mental health days, but one shouldn’t be privileged over the other. An employee should feel empowered to integrate both types of mental health days into their well-being strategy.
Wong: Is the best advice really to encourage employees to “plan for” when they need to take a day to manage a panic attack or the fatigue from working 60-hour weeks? Ultimately, micromanaging whether employees can take a day off and how they should expense their time off communicates your values as an individual and organization — it’s the hours, the resources, the output, but not the individual. Forward-thinking companies are instead combining their vacation and sick days, or implementing unlimited days off. They are focusing less of their time on asking for a doctor’s note and more on creating a more holistic and comprehensive approach to a culture of work within their organization driven by flexibility to accommodate the diversity of life experiences a workforce faces, rather than a rigid template of what it means to be productive.
Q: Any other shifts you’d to see in the conversation around mental health days?
Preston: Leaders need to step up and start to talk openly about mental health in the workplace. This is beginning to happen, but more leaders need to come forward and take a stand.
To break the taboo around mental health in the workplace, change needs to start at the top and trickle down.
You can put a program in place, but if people don’t see their leaders openly backing these wellness programs, nothing will change.
Also, in an ideal world, all businesses would offer sick days and mental health days.
After all, sometimes, things hit us a brick — it could be news of a friend’s or relative’s death, or a period of high stress and uncertainty at work that is taking its toll. Whatever the reason, having the option for a self-care day could have a huge impact.
Given that there is evidence people often underperform and even make poor decisions when under stress, this practice may save organizations far more money than it costs.
Wong: Mental health days can be an effective tool at the individual employee level to help manage any challenges they are experiencing, whether that be mental health-related or other things happening outside of work.
That said, at the organizational level, companies must consider other effective and complementary strategies for supporting mental health beyond a day off, including mental health benefits, flexible working options, a culture of support, and many other mental health resources.
Ultimately, while mental health days can reduce stress, they do not address factors in the workplace that have actually been shown to cause the development of mental health conditions and burnout. These include poor management, lack of recognition or compensation, low social support, and high job strain.
Mental health days are good for business, but what’s even better is a comprehensive culture shift.
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8 Signs You Need To Take A Mental-Health Day Right Now
Are you hoarding your sick days? If you’re most workaholic Americans, you probably refuse to take a day off unless an unexpected illness forces you to stay home or see a doctor. But those days aren’t just there for when you’re feeling under the weather.
Sometimes it’s just as important to take a mental-health day, a day off solely dedicated to giving your psychological and emotional health some TLC, to break away from the draining stress of everyday life—stress which, over time, could lead to major health problems if not properly dealt with.
Unfortunately, however, you may opt to keep your nose to the grindstone instead, not realizing—or wanting to admit—how desperately you need that mental-health day until it’s too late.
In fact, mental illness is way more common than you think: According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, about 43.8 million adults in the U.S. experience it in any given year.
Only 40 percent of those adults, however, received treatment last year.
“If you had the flu, you would stay home and take care of your physical health. Why wouldn’t you do the same for your mental health?” says Amy Sullivan, Psy.D., director of behavioral medicine, training and research at the Cleveland Clinic.
“Mental-health symptoms are often thought of as a weakness, and people may say to get over it or move on. But if you don’t address these mental-health issues, they will consume all other areas of your life. When the mind is healthy, so is the body.
Truth is, we can all benefit from a day to clear the fog from our heads: “Taking a mental-health day can improve energy, motivation, mood, and one’s ability to manage stress, and time off might actually increase overall productivity rather than decrease it,” says Shannon Byrne, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at Duke University Health System.
But how do you know when to give your brain a break? As things start to become too much for the mind to handle, your body could throw you a number of subtle, but important, hints. Here are eight major clues that it’s time to cash in some time off for a mental-health day.
Overworking yourself mentally can lead to physical exhaustion. Severe exhaustion can lead to two things: the need to sleep all the time, and the inability to fall asleep when you go to bed. And when your sleep suffers, so does your health.
“The part of the brain that interprets our thoughts, feelings, and impulses is particularly sensitive to the impact of sleep,” says Alicia Clark, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C.
“The average person needs seven to nine hours of sleep per night.” But when you’re consistently facing high stress levels, according to Marra Ackerman, M.D.
, director of women’s mental health in the department of psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, you can develop insomnia—difficulty falling or staying asleep despite exhaustion.
Taking a rest day to sleep in, take a good, long nap and get to bed early could be just the remedy you need to get your head and body straight again. “Sleep can be a powerful tool in bolstering our cognitive and emotional resources, and a day spent drifting in and sleep can be powerfully healing,” says Clark.
When anxiety knocks at your door, it can show up under a variety of disguises that range from racing thoughts to panic attacks, says Ackerman.
It can also lead to physical symptoms chest tightness, abdominal discomfort, or shortness of breath.
If you’re feeling particularly uneasy and you’re having a hard time snapping back into your usual laid-back mood, you might be in need of a mental breather.
“[Taking a mental-health day to] spend time with loved ones or engage in relaxing activities such as massage, yoga, deep breathing, or meditation can reduce anxiety and help improve your performance when you return to work,” says Byrne.
Watch a hot doctor explain whether your anxiety is serious:
Always feeling a squirrel scrambling to gather its acorns? When there’s just so much going on at work or at home that your brain can’t seem to keep track of anything, it could lead to you make careless mistakes and possibly experience even higher stress levels. Taking a day off from the madness can help you regroup your thoughts and sharpen your focus.
“Concentrating on emotional well-being could allow for some mental rest and improve work-related morale,” says Ackerman. “Practicing mindfulness meditation [during your mental-health day] is one tactic you can use to improve your concentration.”
Related: The Internet Is LOVING How This CEO Responded When His Employee Took A Mental Health Day
Whether it’s personal or office drama dragging you through the mud, an invigorating day of all play and no work can help you reboot. “Watch a funny movie. Spend time with family. Read a book. Do a fun activity, a craft or hobby. Do anything that makes you feel good about yourself,” says Byrne.
But if you find that what you’re feeling is something a lot more serious than the typical blahs— deep sadness, irritability, or a loss of interest in activities you normally love—you might be experiencing symptoms of depression.
“A mental-health day to rest and spend time doing something pleasant could be helpful, but it also may not be enough,” says Ackerman.
“Clinical depression often indicates the need for a psychiatric evaluation, psychotherapy or medication.”
No one is a perfect angel, and we’re all guilty of getting testy from time to time.
But once you start getting into rumbles with your friends, family members, or co-workers for no reason other than the fact that you’re constantly on edge, it could be that your nerves are fired up and you’re mentally shorting out. Spending a day away from the everyday hustle could ease up some of the aggressive pressure.
“Feeling physically tense, restless, and achy is often a sign that you have too much pent-up energy and emotion,” says Clark. “Time during a day off spent moving your body in a gentle but exhilarating way can be hugely restorative.
A brisk walk with a friend, a yoga class, or a bike ride in nature can do wonders. Exercising to the point of sweat can help you think better and more clearly, which in turn can help you feel better.
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“Massage therapy can also be very helpful in breaking through muscular tightness that is contributing to stress and irritation,” continues Clark. “A hot bath or a steam shower can wise be helpful in relaxing sore and tired muscles, as well as reduce irritating inflammation. Pampering your muscles can promote relaxation that in turn promotes a sense of wellness.”
Related: 5 Women Share How They Disclosed Their Mental Illnesses At Work
Can’t seem to shake the sniffles? If you’re seeing your doctor more often than you’re seeing your friends, that could be a pretty clear-cut sign that your health is paying the price for a burned-out brain.
“Recurring colds or other physical ailments are a signal that your body needs to slow down and that you’re in need of a mental-health day,” says Ackerman. Taking a beat to catch some Z’s, enjoy a massage or reevaluate your diet will help you boost your immune system and get started on the path to better health.
You might think that guzzling multiple cups of coffee daily will help you power through the work week. But, on the contrary, fueling your days with caffeine will only make you feel more sluggish over time.
“Consuming too many caffeinated beverages and too little water leads to your body getting dehydrated,” says Clark. The cure? Step away from the coffee room at work and spend a day at home replenishing your system.
“Drinking as much water as possible can help flush toxins and give your system the hydration it needs,” Clark continues.
“Taking time to nourish your body with healthy food and plenty of water can go a long way to perk up your body and mind.”
If there’s one thing that can make you feel detached from the rest of the world, it’s sitting in front of a computer, buried so deeply under a pile of to-dos that you hardly have time to come up for air.
“It isn’t hard to feel lonely while coping with the demands of modern life, and pushing ourselves too far can sometimes cause us to withdraw from friends and family who love and support us,” says Clark.
When you find yourself unwittingly withdrawing from the people that you love thanks to growing demands at work, a mental-health day may be in order to reconnect with your social circle—and yourself.
“Connecting with people who understand and help us feel strong can be a powerful tool in restoring a sense of connection and belonging,” continues Clark.
“wise, helping a friend in need can help us restore a sense of social purpose that can go missing when we are too consumed with our own lives.”
Whatever you do on your day off, it’s only going to work if you do it wholeheartedly: “When you take time for yourself, really take time for yourself,” says Byrne. “We are often not in the moment, but rather are distracted by other things and thoughts.
This applies to mental-health days, too, and it is possible to take a break without reaping the benefits because we are not truly present. Turn off your phones and other technology, and redirect your mind when it wanders to other things.
Let go of any thoughts about what you ‘should’ be doing instead of taking care of yourself.”
And finally, if a mental-health day doesn’t seem to be doing the trick, it could be a loud wake-up call that you need professional help. “Clinical levels of anxiety and depression don’t tend to go away with a single day off—sometimes not even with a vacation,” says Clark. “A professional can discuss with you the various treatments that can help you navigate your situation more effectively.”
Related: 5 Surprising Signs You Might Be Struggling With Depression