On a Monday morning, when I just couldn’t bear the thought of going into the office and facing that same white wall again, I took my first mental health day. I knew I needed it, but it was an uncomfortable decision. I wondered, was this really a legitimate use of a sick day? Was I being unprofessional? Was there something wrong with me if I needed this?
I spent the day anxious, terrified I’d get caught. A knot settled into my stomach when my boss didn’t answer my text saying that I couldn’t make it in. At the 49ers game that night—my fun night out, which I then felt guilty for going to—I started receiving texts that read, “Just saw you on MNF!” and realised, somehow, I’d made it onto TV. And instead of wow, that’s kind of cool, all I could think was: how many of my colleagues are watching this game? (None, I later found out.)
Did I miss the point? Perhaps a bit. Truth is, most of us need an occasional break. The American Psychological Association has found that three-fourths of Americans have experienced physical symptoms resulting from stress—from headaches to more severe chronic illnesses—and most people list work as a top source of stress.
You won’t be alone, either: 82 per cent of Americans admit to taking mental health days. David Campbell, a senior vice president at ComPsych Corp, makes a compelling case for it: “Taking a mental health day is responding to a crisis. We’re running at 120 mph with work and family, and […] you need to re-energize and re-focus. If you don’t, you’re going to get burnt out.”
So take the day if you need it! Just don’t make it too often—a few times a year is about the limit. And make the most of it:
- Don’t spend the day feeling guilty. It won’t help you recharge.
- Pick your day smartly, and be respectful of your team. It is unprofessional to take a mental health break on the day of a big meeting or presentation, or on a day where your absence will be particularly hard on your team.
- Call (or email, or text) early. Your boss may need to plan, or re-plan, the day given your absence. This is easier for to do if he or she knows first thing, not late-morning. Plus, you’ll be worrying about the call until you make it—so get it over with!
- Don’t lie. You don’t have to call it a mental health day. But rather than making up fake medical conditions, symptoms, or family crises, you can tell your boss you aren’t feeling great, and you believe you will be most effective if you stay home for the day and return to work after some rest. And leave it at that.
- Make sure you recharge. You know yourself best. Whether it’s lunch with a friend, a pedicure, a day outdoors, or curling up with a new book or the entire first season of Glee, do something for yourself. Don’t make it a work-from-home day, and don’t compulsively check your blackberry. Remind yourself: you’re taking a break.
- Come back ready to go. Chances are you’ll have a bit to catch up on after a day off, but show up ready for it. Your boss is much more likely to excuse your day away from the office if you are, indeed, re-energized when you get back.