Do You Need A Mental Health Day? How To Take A Self-Care Day With Some Grace

August 11, 2021

Do you or someone you love need to take a mental health day? An (albeit cliché) expression comes to mind: it is sometimes difficult to see the forest through the trees. So I ask, can you see the forest through the trees? Because sometimes life can be all consuming. The state of the world alone is enough to sadden even the happiest of folks. The present task, workload or problem at hand can feel daunting. And there just simply isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish everything that needs to be done. Consequently, acts of self-care are demoted to the back burner.

But during these times, self-care should be at the forefront of our minds and actions.

Some signs you need a mental health day:

You are emotional. You are less patient and more irritable. And note, this may not be overtly clear and may require some introspection to identify. For example, recently I was feeling less patient with my dog Nitro. A tender senior dog, he sought me out for some extra cuddles. And in that moment I sighed. I promptly realized, it is out of character for me to sigh about my sweet animal companion wanting affection. Normally I welcome animal snuggles. But I sighed because I was stressed and busy. If your kindness and tolerance are waning, or you are feeling abnormally angry or tearful, it may be a sign you need to take some time for yourself. (P.S. Nitro gets all the cuddles, never fear, dumplings).

Your physical body hurts. Some physical indicators may include knotted muscles, tightness of the chest, headache, grinding teeth/clenching jaw, increased heart rate/chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, fatigue, insomnia or appetite changes. Every individual body reacts differently, so it is helpful to know what feels “right” or “normal” for you. Then, during periods of increased stress, it becomes easier to recognize the ways in which your personal body is suffering.

You are spiraling.

If a negative event or interaction sent you spiraling into the realm of pessimism and you can’t snap back, it may be an indicator you need a break.

How to take a mental health day with grace:

If you are in a position to take a mental health day without consulting anyone else, that is excellent for you. The reality for many others is they will need to make arrangements at work and/or home to accommodate their absence. Unfortunately mental illness remains highly stigmatized, and unplanned absences can foster the stigma. While it is technically illegal for employers to discriminate based on mental health conditions, it is worth considering, objectively, how an employer may prefer to employ an individual who does not miss work on short notice. Regardless of the reason.

The following are viable options to help you take a mental health day with grace:

If you must take a mental health day unplanned, consider being honest with your supervisor and colleagues as to why you need the day off. No need to go into explicit detail, either. Just saying, “I need to take some time for myself” is sufficient. They will likely appreciate your honestly and may even respond with sympathy. And I get it, this option isn’t easy. But our honesty and bravery can help destigmatize mental illness.

Alternatively, schedule a mental health day. Look ahead at the next week or two, and use PTO or vacation. An upside to this option is that your motives for taking the time off can remain unspoken.

If both these options aren’t realistic for you, consider setting aside your next scheduled day off for yourself. If you have caregiving responsibilities, reach out to your support network and try to arrange for assistance.

How to spend your self-care day:

I recall taking 3 (unplanned) mental health days over the past five years. To be sure, I am in no way boasting about that, but there is no utility in arresting my own development. From what I remember, I ate breakfast in bed, lay around with my animals, did yoga and wandered around a forest with Nitro.

And perhaps some variation of that will suit you, too. A mental health day isn’t going to provide much benefit should you schedule the day away. However, I find it helpful to have a general idea of how to spend the time, lest I find myself feeling guilty for my unproductive behavior, which ultimately may contribute to anxiety all over again. So here are a few suggestions:

Putter around your home or garden.

Take a bubble bath.

Practice yoga.

Walk in a forest.

Cuddle with those you love.




No matter how you spend your day, mindfulness is crucial to feeling better and getting back on track. Breathe deeply and be present.

Hoping you can see the forest through the trees again soon.

Also by R. Coker: Enhance Your Meditation By Incorporating These Two Simple (Free!) Practices

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Photo: via Unsplash

R. Coker
R. Coker is an animal lover, runner, writer and yogi. She is passionate about leaving the world better than she found it.


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