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It’s still a form of time off that faces stigma.
But if you take a sick day for the flu or a nasty cold, why wouldn’t you do the same with your mental health?
Nearly 53 million people in the US live with a mental illness. But mental health exists on a spectrum—and we all have mental well-being to nurture and protect. According to a poll by the American Psychological Association, stress levels are on the rise. Beyond stress about the war in Ukraine, inflation, uncertainty, and more, nearly two-thirds of people report their lives have forever changed since the pandemic.
“Take a shower, wash off the day. Drink a glass of water. Make the room dark. Lie down and close your eyes. Notice the silence. Notice your heart. Still beating. Still fighting. You made it, after all. You made it, another day. And you can make it one more. You’re doing just fine.”
Charlotte Eriksson, author
We know that mental health days are crucial to our well-being. At BetterUp, we practice Inner Work®, the practice of looking inward to ourselves and our experiences. And the science behind Inner Work® tells us that it helps protect us from burnout and increases productivity. It helps us improve our relationships and communication skills. It also holds the power to help transform the outer world.
In a lot of ways, Inner Work® and mental health days are synonymous. They serve the same purpose and ask us to pause our day-to-day lives. It’s a deliberate stop to give our minds — and our well-being — some love and attention.
So, when it comes to taking a mental health day, what are you waiting for? If you’re looking for ways to spend your mental health day, here are 12 ideas.
12 ways to use a mental health day
There are plenty of ways to use a mental health day. We’ve compiled twelve ideas to help you find what works for you.
There’s something cathartic about working outside with your hands. I recently spent an afternoon pulling up weeds in my backyard, planting flowers, and tending to my herb garden.
It was a relaxing and rewarding way to spend my time—one where I noticed a noticeable change in my demeanor and mood.
As a writer, I find journaling to be extremely soothing. It helps me figure out how I feel.
3. Go to a movie
When’s the last time you went to a movie in the middle of the day? Doesn’t that sound pretty nice?
Go treat yourself. Get a big tub of popcorn, lather up the butter, sit back, and enjoy the show. An afternoon matinee could be just what you needed.
4. Go on a hike
I’m biased. But this is my favorite way to spend a mental health (or Inner Work®) day.
There are incredible health benefits to getting outside. Studies show that being in nature helps us relax, reduces our stress and cortisol levels, alleviates muscle tension, and helps our heart rate.
5. Take a yoga class
There are plenty of health benefits to yoga beyond the physical exercise. A yoga practice can help you become more self-aware, become a more mindful and present person, and can help reduce stress.
6. Declutter your space (and your mind)
I’m one of those people who can think more clearly if my space is decluttered. Tidying up is actually good for you, too.
7. Get a massage or facial
One of my teammates recently spent a mental health day at the spa. Her report back? It was wonderful.
Give yourself the much-needed rest and relaxation that you deserve. A massage or facial helps you pamper yourself in ways you didn’t know you needed.
Some of our BetterUppers spend their Inner Work® days doing good for others. The science behind doing good also tells us that we reap mental health benefits, too.
9. Go out to lunch
With a good chunk of the workforce working remotely, I’m guessing you probably don’t go out to lunch very often. In fact, I would most of us scarf down leftovers or whatever else we can find in the fridge at our desks.
Take the time to go out to lunch. Maybe you go by yourself or maybe you meet up with friends or family members. But there’s something endearing about sitting down for a meal in the middle of the day without the stress of a to-do list to return to.
10. Get coffee with a friend or loved one
Kind of like going out for lunch, when’s the last time you spent time getting coffee with a friend or loved one?
Sometimes, our mental health needs some social nurturing. Is there someone you’ve wanted to catch up with for a while? Can you schedule a coffee date with someone you care about?
Oh, sleep. How we love you so.
Mid-day naps are such a treat. But on a mental health day, the world is your oyster. You can conk out on the couch for an hour at 1 p.m. and catch up on some much-needed snoozing time.
12. Plan a vacation or trip
You may feel like a mental health day isn’t enough time off. And that’s OK. If you need an extended period of rest, try planning it out.
Maybe you’re long overdue on using your unlimited PTO and need to plan a vacation. Or maybe you simply need a staycation and want to spend some time away from your home office.
10 signs that you should take a mental health day
The body and the brain work in mysterious ways. Sometimes, our bodies know we need to rest before our brains register it. Here are ten signs that you should take a mental health day:
- You feel increasingly distracted and unable to focus
- You wake up feeling fatigued and tired
- You feel stressed and overwhelmed
- You’ve been getting sick more often than you usually do
- You’ve noticed increased tension and soreness in your body
- You’re irritable and noticing mood and demeanor changes
- You’ve lost interest and motivation, especially in things you love
- You’re starting to not care about the quality of your work
- You’re having more trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep
- You’ve withdrawn from relationships you care about
If you’re feeling symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions, seek support. A trained mental health professional will be able to help you pinpoint your care and treatment plan.
5 tips to get the most out of your mental health day
So, you’ve decided you need to take a mental health day. But before you call in sick to work, make sure you make the most of your mental health day. Here are five tips to keep in mind:
A digital detox can help you stay present. To reap the benefits of your mental health day, you need to fully experience it. Consider putting your phone, email, and texts away for the day.
If you know social media impacts your mental health, consider deleting your social media apps for the day. Soak in the day uninterrupted.
2. Hold yourself accountable
Let’s say it’s Monday morning. You’ve decided that you need a mental health day this week. You’ve asked your manager for Wednesday off. But Tuesday creeps around and a big project falls on your lap. Now, you’re stressed about meeting your deadline for this project (even though you already have approved time off).
What do you do? Prioritize your mental health. There’s no amount of work that’s worth sacrificing your mental health. Hold yourself accountable, especially if you have your manager and team’s support.
3. Take note of how you’re feeling
Pay attention to your emotions, feelings, and even your body. For example, if you’re taking the day to go on a hike or get outdoors, how do you feel after your hike?
Try to get in tune with your body and your mind. What do you notice about how you feel?
4. Practice gratitude
Sometimes, the last thing we want to be grateful for is our mental health. But establishing a gratitude practice has incredible mental health benefits.
As you move through your mental health day, what are you grateful for? It can be small things, like the ability to pay for a coffee or for lunch. Or, it can be big things like a relationship you care deeply about. Whatever you’re grateful for during your mental health day, take note.
5. Commit to a mental fitness practice
A big part of taking care of our mental health comes from building mental fitness. While mental health and mental fitness aren’t synonymous, a strong mental fitness practice can help us take better care of our mental health.
What are some ways you can commit to yourself to stay mentally fit? Could you commit to taking a mental health day regularly? Find ways to build mental fitness and stick to it.
"I have improved my work-life balance and put more emphasis on my well-being. This has improved my emotional balance and stress levels inside and outside of work. I also have been more intentional in my actions, understanding when and where I should use my strengths or superpowers, as my coach calls them."
BetterUp Member, engineering manager
Enjoy your mental health day
A day off to address your mental health issues is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, spending time caring for your mental health is something to be proud of. It takes a certain amount of courage and bravery to check in with yourself and notice when you need support.
Whether you’re spending your mental health day with a good book or with some self-care, it’s important work. Your stressors can wait. Your mental wellbeing is critically important. And if your work-life balance is off-kilter, what are ways you can balance it out?
With BetterUp, you can build a strong mental fitness practice that puts your mental wellbeing first. Your coach will be able to help you de-stress, relax, and focus on what’s going to help you reach your full potential. Get started today.
Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.