Many employees are afraid to call out when they're feeling emotionally ill. This typically is not the company's fault, but more of a personal struggle stemming from guilt and shame. Sometimes, workers believe they should push or distract themselves. But there's a fine line between "giving in" and looking after yourself.
"Self-care is vital to your success, not only on the job, but in life," said Vicki Salemi, a Monster career expert. "If you’re not sleeping well, feeling depressed, sad, alone, overwhelmed … it's completely acceptable, and in fact should be encouraged, to take mental health days to take care of yourself."
Mental health should be treated with as much importance as physical health. If you'd call out for a fever, why not for a panic attack? Here's how to benefit from mental health days.
1. Acknowledge your thoughts and emotions.
Your mind is going to scream at you. Or, if you're lucky, it'll merely whisper in your ear throughout the day, telling you your emotions and reactions are invalid. Let those thoughts exist. Don't actively invite them in, but don't kick them out either.
"A common reason why many refuse to take mental health days is because they feel guilty, ashamed, weak and a million other overwhelming emotions," said Salemi. "Their thoughts convince them that they're giving in, playing victim, being dramatic, when really, it's quite the opposite."
By taking a mental health day, you are choosing to help yourself get better. If you woke up with a migraine, would you force yourself to follow the routine of your day when you can barely keep your eyes open without vomiting? (I hope not.) Odds are, you'd acknowledge the pain, call out sick and do whatever it takes to feel better.
2. Give yourself what you need.
Admitting you're struggling, and being aware of your struggle, is the first step. From there, be your own best friend and do only what you think will ease your emotional strain.
Ask yourself what will make you feel better in this moment. Is it rest? A good book? A shopping spree? Lunch with your sister or old friend? Whatever it may be, focus on what you need and how you can fill that void in a healthy way.
"If you’re doing what you need to take care of yourself in a way that matters most, that is how your mental health day should be spent," said Salemi. "There’s no right or wrong answer on what you do with the time. The point is you are taking one and you’re recharging your batteries."
3. Don't worry about judgment.
You might be concerned what your colleagues or managers think. Do they believe you're slacking on a project? Do they think you used your mental health as an excuse to skip work?
But their opinions are none of your business. No one can fully understand what you're dealing with except for you. Be willing to accept that, and be willing to accept yourself. "Normal" is not universal – it is unique to every individual.
Additionally, you don't need to label your day off. If you're uncomfortable calling it what it is, simply tell your employer that you're under the weather (because you are!) and treat it as you would a physical illness.
Mental health days are efficient and encourage overall health and wellness, helping maintain work-life balance. Taking advantage of them will help both you and your company in the long run, so don't let anyone (including yourself) convince you that you're making a poor choice.
"If you’re reluctant to take a mental health day, just know it’s highly unlikely you will ever regret taking one," said Salemi. "Go for it and realize that your employer also reaps the benefits when you return to work feeling more clearheaded, less stressed and more refreshed."