Self Care

The Telltale Signs You Need a Mental Health Day + How to Take One

Because taking time for YOU is more than ok.

By: Nicole Lippman-Barile Ph.D., N.T.P.

Although the steady rise in stress and anxiety over the past few years is nothing to celebrate, if there’s a silver lining we can take away, it’s the increased awareness toward mental health. And given the global mental health epidemic, awareness, and action are needed now more than ever. According to 2023 research from Mental Health America, an estimated 50 million people are living with a mental illness. From anxiety and depression to PTSD and substance use disorders, the prevalence of mental illness is increasing. What does this tell us? Taking action and prioritizing mental health is critical.

Mental health and self-care should be a top priority for all humans. And the thing is, there is no emotion too big or too small — so please don’t write off your feelings as unimportant because you think “things could be worse.” It all matters. Whatever you’re feeling matters. YOU matter. We all experience emotions differently — it is more than okay not to be okay. 

So, acknowledge your feelings, check in with your mind and body, ask for support when you need it, and know there is absolutely nothing wrong with needing a mental health day. And maybe you need a mental health week, or month, or year. And guess what? That’s perfectly okay, too! The important thing is your health — mentally, physically, and emotionally. So please, be kind to yourself and honor whatever it is you’re feeling. With technology, social media, and our incessant need for “doing the most” many of us have unhealthy work-life boundaries (if any boundaries at all). Let’s change that, okay? And a great place to start is recognizing when we need a mental health day. 

Ahead, more about the benefits of a mental health day, signs it may be time to take one, and some effective ways to spend your time off that will leave you feeling recharged.  

RELATED: 25 Ways to Beat Burnout When Taking Time Off is Difficult

But First: Know That It’s Ok to Take Time Off For YOU 

It’s important to know that taking a day to take care of yourself is ok — it’s more than ok! Sure, we can all squeeze self-care into our day, but sometimes you need to take a full day off from work and other responsibilities to give yourself the care you need. However, it’s not always easy to ask for support. When you have a job, kids, or other pressing responsibilities, expressing the need to take a mental health day can be challenging — especially if you lack adequate support. That said, if your mental health is taking a hit, I want you to know that requesting the day off is only appropriate and completely fair. In fact, it is necessary. You need to take care of your mental health to be healthy and effective in anything you do. 

And you know what? You’re not the only one who will benefit from this much-needed (and deserved) day off. If you’re feeling your best, you’ll perform your best — you’ll have more mental clarity, focus, productivity, and creativity. We’re willing to bet your relationships at work will improve, too. So really, it’s a win-win. If you’re struggling to approach your boss or find the right words to say, keep reading.

RELATED: ​​21 Day Mental Wellness Challenge

What is a Mental Health Day?

A mental health day is a day specifically dedicated towards addressing your psychological and emotional needs. It’s not that one day off is going to solve everything, but self-care has been shown to reduce stress, reduce the risk of illness, and boost energy and mood. Thus, a day to yourself can make a significant difference when it comes to improving your overall mood and levels of stress and overwhelm

What’s important is being able to acknowledge and be aware that you need to take a mental health day. And what you do with your mental health day is completely up to you! There’s no right or wrong answer here (more on this ahead). Maybe you stay in your pj’s all day and catch up on some sleep, maybe you hit a workout class and spend the day in the sunshine, or maybe you enjoy an afternoon with friends accompanied by some therapeutic belly laughs.

Signs You Need a Mental Health Day

There are a variety of signs and symptoms that indicate when you need to take a mental health day. Some of these include the following: 

Feelings of increased stress and overwhelm, interference and impairment with daily functioning including work, school, and other responsibilities, feelings of burnout, irritability and increased frustration, low-stress tolerance, disruption of sleep or other activities of daily living, as well as feelings of depression, and fatigue. 

Other signs may include feeling disconnected or dispassionate about your work and/or other interests and hobbies. It’s important to take inventory of any changes you are experiencing that are different from your typical baseline behaviors and feelings. This will help give you an idea that something may be off, indicating a need to take care of your mental health.

RELATED: How to Take Better Care of Yourself When You’re Stuck in a Funk

The Benefits of a Mental Health Day

There are innumerable benefits to taking a mental health day. Some of these may include feeling less stress and anxiety, feeling more connected to yourself and your values, feeling more energized and rejuvenated, feeling less irritable and more joyful, as well as being able to be more productive as it relates to work and other responsibilities. 

Stepping back from your responsibilities temporarily can allow you to see things more rationally and objectively, allowing you to feel more in control and effectively problem solve issues at hand. 

RELATED: 15 Powerful Ways to Protect Your Mental Health

How to Talk to Your Boss About Taking a Mental Health Day

While there is more of a movement to help destigmatize mental health, some employers may not support mental health concerns as a valid reason to take off of work. If this is the case, you can call in sick or request a vacation day. If your employer is someone who is more attuned to psychological and emotional needs, and if you feel comfortable, you can simply request a mental health day. It is up to your discretion if you want to provide any sort of reason. Personally, I don’t think you need to. Requesting a mental health day assumes that you need time for yourself due to stress and other potential negative factors. 

It’s not your job to convince someone why you need one — you only have to do the requesting.

A recent World Health Organization-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US $1 trillion each year in lost productivity. Not surprisingly, it turns out companies who invest in mental health for their employees actually end up saving money in the long term.

Effective Ways to Take a Mental Health Day

Many times, taking a mental health day means you need rest and relaxation. There are a few ways to achieve this as well as engaging in activities that will help you feel less fatigued and more energized.

#1 Get Outside

Spending time outdoors and in nature is an excellent way to help you feel more relaxed and less stressed. Research further supports spending time in some kind of green space to achieve these mental health benefits. For example, one study showed that walking for 90 minutes in a natural setting experienced lower levels of rumination and reduced activity in a brain region associated with risk for mental illness. Plus, spending time outdoors will give you a natural mood boost thanks to increased levels of vitamin D.

Mental health benefits can also be achieved simply by viewing pictures of nature. One study demonstrated that those who watched videos with a diverse mix of flora and fauna had reported better mood and lower anxiety. 

RELATED: The Surprising Mental Health Benefits of Bringing Your Workouts Outdoors

#2 Unplug

You might already notice that the less time you spend on your phone, scrolling through social media, or even on your computer, the better overall mood you may have. Research supports this as well. One study reports that reducing social media use to 30 minutes a day resulted in a significant reduction of anxiety, depression, loneliness, sleep problems, and FOMO. 

The same study further concluded that simply being more mindful about your social media consumption can have beneficial effects on your mood.

The night before your day off, consider logging out of your social media and email accounts, so when you wake up, you’re less likely to start scrolling. This can help set the tone for a lower tech day on your designated mental health day. And, if possible, try making this a weekly habit! Deem Sunday’s (if that’s your day off) a tech-free day, and avoid all technology for 24 hours. This includes TV, emails, Instagram, TikTok… all of it! We’re willing to bet you’ll head into the workweek feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. 

RELATED: The Main Causes of Unnecessary Stress + How to Avoid Them

#3 Engage in Your Hobbies

Spending time engaging in your hobbies and activities you truly enjoy helps you feel less stressed and more energized. It helps you experience positive feelings and allows you to be present to the enjoyable task at hand. And if you don’t have something in mind, use this as an opportunity to try something new! Maybe you sign up for a cooking or pottery class or go horseback riding at a local ranch. And it doesn’t have to be costly, either. Maybe you give gardening a try, or cozy up to a new book. The idea is to find something you love and consume yourself in that for the day!

#4 Find Time For Calm 

No matter how you choose to spend your mental health day, consider setting aside some time to find some calm. This could mean doing a 10 minute morning meditation, an evening yoga flow, or a combination of both. 

Maybe you use the day to indulge in extra self-care — take yourself to the local spa and sweat it out in an infrared sauna. Or, bring the spa to you! Spice up your skincare game with a DIY face mask or draw yourself a soothing Epsom salt bath.

At the very least, taking a few minutes to just deep breathe is another wonderful way to promote an overall sense of calm.

Find What Works For You

We all need mental health days — you’re not alone in this! Check-in with your feelings often, and don’t be afraid to ask for support. And when you do take a much-needed day off, see how you’re feeling at that moment. What would fill up your cup? What would bring you joy and ease? Find whatever it is that will help you destress and feel rejuvenated again. Be mindful of the things that energize you and help you feel calm. Those are the things you want to practice on a regular basis to help you manage feelings of stress and anxiety. Prioritize taking care of your mental health and make sure to take days off when you need.