This year is reshaping how we take vacation days and how we spend our precious free time. If our current reality is teaching us anything, it’s that that taking care of ourselves mentally and emotionally is imperative. So many things we cannot control affect our lives, especially at work. Even if we focus our energy on the things we can control, day-to-day stress still takes a toll on our mental health. As a result, it’s important to prioritize our mental health just like we would any other responsibility. And sometimes that comes in the form of a much-needed day off. Taking a mental health day is important and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for one when you need it.
Caring for Your Mental Health is Not Weak
I think a lot of us are afraid of looking weak. I know I am. It’s uncomfortable to talk about mental health, especially at work. However, by asking for a mental health day, you’re demonstrating self-awareness. Being able to identify that you need a break to protect against a larger issue also shows emotional intelligence. To that, being able to communicate that these needs to your manager or team shows great strength.
We Need Time to Reenergize and Recharge
What we don’t realize is that by being in the workplace, previously, we were surrounded by our coworkers, who brought energy into the environment. Good or bad, there was energy flowing in the workplace. Others would receive the energy you brought into the office each day just as you would receive theirs. Even though you couldn’t physically see it, energy was flowing.
Now, absent of that in-person contact with team members, we don’t have that same level of energy to receive. However, we’re communicating over the phone/over video more than ever to compensate for the physical distance. In doing so, we are constantly expelling energy. But without having others around us, we aren’t receiving energy. So what was once a day full of energy give-and-take is now give-give.
And it’s exhausting. No matter how much you enjoy your job or the people you work with.
By the end of the day, I want nothing to do with any device and I have zero desire to talk. The only thing I want to do is sit quietly in a dark room with a glass of wine. I need that quiet, alone time after a day of work to recharge.
Everyone has their own ways of recharging after a day at work. It’s so important to seize any daily opportunity you have to reinvigorate yourself. But sometimes, that after-work, dark wine room isn’t getting the job done. You need something more. And that’s ok!
When to Ask for a Mental Health Day
When you feel like your fuse is short and you’re a slave to your calendar that’s jam-packed with calls and videoconferences, it’s time to step a back. This is when you need to ask for a mental health day. Finding and taking these little breaks as you recognize you need them is so important. We all need a break and it’s much easier to take a mental health day here and there than it is to reach the point of burnout.
Will Taking a Day Off Backfire?
You may be wondering: “People are being laid off and furloughed, why would I ask for a mental health day? I need to be proving my value to the company now more than ever.”
Job security is a scary thing, especially right now – that’s valid. But here’s the deal. If you’re coming to the end of your rope, you’re already not firing on all cylinders. So, any of this “value” you’re working so hard to prove is probably not landing the way you’re intending.
And, more importantly, if your employer doesn’t understand that a day away can be hugely beneficial in terms of productivity, attitude and (hello!) mental health – you don’t want to be working for this organization anyhow.
How to Ask for a Mental Health Day
Use discretion and consider the team’s workload when making your request. If you’re only 1 of 2 people not on PTO on a certain day and you’re up against a deadline, I’d recommend asking for a different date.
Your request can be as simple as, “I’d like to take a day for myself to renew and recharge.” Or, “I need a personal day to reenergize.” You don’t have to mention mental health or get into any personal details if you don’t want to.
As long as you’re thoughtful in your approach, your manager will most likely approve your day off. And if they don’t, you should seriously consider why you were denied. In my experience, this response is a sign that your company doesn’t value its people. Again, in that case, you don’t want to be working for this organization anyhow.
What Should I Do with My Day?
I hear the following statements a lot:
“I don’t have any plans. Why would I waste a PTO day to stay home?”
Just because you aren’t traveling anywhere, that doesn’t mean you’re wasting a day off. Your day isn’t less valuable if it’s spent at home. By not traveling and truly unplugging, you remain in total control of your schedule. You get to do what YOU want.
Think about it: When was the last time you spent an entire day taking care of you and you alone?
Coordinate whatever details you need situated so that you can really relax. This day is all about YOU – what you want and what you need. I personally prefer to loosely plan out these days so that I can make the most of it. Nothing is worse than, at the end of a day off, feeling like you didn’t get to do any of the things you wanted. On the other hand, feeling like your day was so jampacked you didn’t get to relax is equally as bad.
This is where a little loose planning can make a big difference. For example, I like to write down what my ideal day would entail. Then, I minimize anything that would require me to be at a certain place at a certain time. When you’re in meetings all week, a full agenda on your day off might as well be a calendar full of conference calls.
The Bottom Line
Everyone has their own way of recharging. We must allow ourselves time to reinvigorate so that we can function at a high level, both inside and outside of the office. That does not always mean a big vacation. Taking advantage of small opportunities to relax and unplug are just as important, because they help you successfully recharge in between those larger breaks. It can be as simple as one mental health day, focused on you.