If you get hit with the flu, you likely know that it'd be wise to take a sick day instead of showing up, overexerting yourself, and spreading illness to your coworkers.
But Marni Amsellem, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Smart Health Psychology, says that taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your body.
"Over time, we run down our emotional resources," Dr. Amsellem says. "Every so often, when needed, taking a mental health day is something that can replenish your resources, recharge and rejuvenate you, so that you are performing more at your peak, and you’re ready to face the challenges you need to."
And, recharging with a mental health day is beneficial to nearly everyone, even if you feel you handle stress well.
"Whether or not you have a diagnostic mental health condition or mental illness, we can all hit our max, and making some personal time, even if it’s just a day, a morning or afternoon, is something that really can help replenish you," Dr. Amsellem says.
If you're not comfortable asking for the day off, you're not the only one. According to a Glassdoor study from last year, Americans who received paid holiday or time off only used 54% of their time, and as many as 66% are working during their holidays. What's more, women were less likely to take their paid time off than men were, according to the study.
Whether or not you have a diagnostic mental health condition or mental illness, we can all hit our max.
Marni Amsellem, PhD
While you do have a responsibility to do your job or show up for school, it's important to take care of yourself, too. So how do you know when you need a mental health day?
In general, Dr. Amsellem says, you might consider time off when you're feeling burnt out beyond capacity and when something in your life is bothering you so much that it's affecting your focus and productivity.
"When you are spending most of your time at work focused on your personal problem, and it's something that is impairing with your ability to focus for sustained periods of time, that could be a clue that it would be not a bad idea to take a day," she says.
It should be noted, though, that feeling emotionally worn down doesn't always have to be exclusive to a particular problem — as Dr. Amsellem says, sometimes you just run down your resources.
Unfortunately, not all of us have the luxury of paid time off, and even if you're lucky enough to get PTO, sometimes the office culture can keep you from feeling comfortable asking for time off unless it's an absolute emergency. If that's the case, Dr. Amsellem says, you can try to make the most out of your time outside of the office.
"If you have a deadline, or you’re at a new job, or you think it wouldn’t look favorably on you to ask for this day, you have to boost your effort outside of work," she says. "Maybe you make it a priority to get more sleep, or to practice all the self-care activities or strategies that have been helpful for you."
If you start to feel like you need a mental health break every day, that may be a sign of something more serious.
And yes, you can take time away from plans with friends if you need to — just make sure that you don't isolate yourself from people completely, and be honest with the people you're canceling on if that's something you're comfortable with.
"It’s not a bad idea to say, 'I’m in a low place right now, and I need to take a break,'" Dr. Amsellem says. "But keep in mind that this is also a time when social support can be fantastic, and you can rely on the good feeling that comes from those relationships."
In any case, if you start to feel like you need a mental health break every day, Dr. Amsellem says that it may be a sign of something more serious.
"If you’re noticing that whatever it is that’s bothering you is influencing multiple or even singular areas of your life, that’s a sign that this is something you could discuss with a professional," she says, adding that this is especially true if you realize you're not as excited by things you used to be excited about, or if you notice that you're avoiding doing things you used to, out of fear or anxiety.
But if you truly just need a day off, taking one might really help reset your mind. One mental health day won't fix all your problems, but it could help you feel more confident in tackling the rest of your week, month, and whatever else lies ahead.