Between personal life, work obligations, and so much going on around the world, it can all take a toll on one’s psychological and emotional well-being, making mental health days essential. Taking time off to unplug from daily life stressors allows you to return to work feeling more relaxed, positive, and productive, says Dr. Joanne Frederick, a licensed mental health therapist based in Washington, DC. Forcing yourself to push through when all signs are pointing to a much-needed mental health day, on the other hand, comes with consequences. “Not taking a [mental break] can cause someone to burn out,” she says. “This can put you in a depressive episode, amplify stress levels, and hurt your overall mental and physical well-being.”
Still, it can be challenging to recognize when to take a break. Everyone gets tired, stressed, and frustrated from time to time, but how do you know when it’s just all too much? How do you know when your body and mind are crying out for help?
To build a little awareness around your own inner signals, Dr. Frederick and Dr. Sabrina Romanoff, a licensed clinical psychologist in New York City, share five signs you need to take a mental health day. Plus, learn tips on what you should do during this out-of-office time to ensure you’re refilling your cup.
Signs You Need A Day Off
Your Mood Is Consistently Low
If you’ve noticed your mood hasn’t been as upbeat as it usually is, that could signify that you’re due for a mental health day. Dr. Romanoff notes conflicts at work or home can often lead to a consistently low mood. Exhaustion and burnout can also contribute. “White knuckling your way through these low moods will likely lead to a decrease in functioning at work and in your personal life,” she adds. So rather than powering through it, she recommends giving yourself a break and doing things to take care of yourself, such as spending time outside, exercising, meeting up with a friend, or just watching your favorite TV show.
You’ve Lost Focus Or Motivation
Dr. Frederick says a loss of motivation, the inability to focus on the tasks at hand, and making careless errors are also signs it’s time for a break. Dr. Romanoff adds that this can also show up as racing thoughts as you’re trying to keep track of everything you’re juggling. “This type of mental load can lead to making small mistakes or forgetting important tasks,” Dr. Romanoff says. “Taking a mental health day can help you to recalibrate, recharge, and return with a sharper focus.”
You Don’t Have Hobbies Anymore
The notion that we must be productive all the time is so deeply ingrained in the collective that it can be challenging to shake. One of the consequences of living by this ideology and going too long without taking a mental health break is losing connection with the “non-productive” activities that bring us joy. “Suddenly, nothing sounds fun, and you don’t want to read, ride a bike, play tennis, or take part in any of your out-of-work activities,” Dr. Frederick says. So if you can’t remember the last time you did something for pure fun, schedule that mental health day ASAP.
You Feel Disconnected From Others
Connecting with others also contributes to mental well-being, so Dr. Romanoff says feeling isolated or disconnected from the people in your life means it’s time to take a day off. “If you feel like you’re pursuing work to the detriment of all other relationships and values, it might be time to take a break and reallocate your time,” she says. “Reconnect with old friends and compensate for the time that you haven’t spent outdoors, exercising, and socializing.”
You’re Feeling Worn Down
Experts say overworking and the need for a mental health day can manifest in your physical health, too, such as feeling tired all the time, getting sick often, or experiencing headaches. “These are your body’s way of telling you it’s time to take a break and get rest,” Dr. Romanoff says. “This could indicate the need for more sleep, change in diet, and engagement in more pleasurable activities.”
What To Do On A Mental Health Day
Rest, of course, is at the top of the list. “Some may want to take a day where they lounge around the house, go for a walk outside, and take in the sun and fresh air, and finish up some chores,” Dr. Frederick says. “Sometimes, doing little to nothing can do much more than you think. Allow yourself to unplug truly. Don’t check your emails, put your texts on silent mode. Let yourself thoroughly enjoy the day.”
Catch Up On Errands
Catching up on errands such as doctor appointments, grocery shopping, going to a workout class, or just shopping is another stress-relieving way to make the most of a mental health day. “Sometimes we let ourselves push back certain things because we don’t have the time,” Dr. Frederick says. “Catching up on them can give you more peace of mind and relieve stress.”
Change Your Environment
Dr. Romanoff also encourages getting out of your typical environment and trying new experiences, which she says can be as small as taking a different path on your walk or trying a new ice cream shop. “Changing your environment will help change your perspective and will pull you out of the lock-step routine you typically follow,” she says. “It is important to explore new areas to provide tangible proof that the world is much bigger and exciting than the one we tend to create for ourselves.”
Be Fully Present
According to Dr. Romanoff, whatever you do on a mental health day, the key is to be fully present and not just physically but also mentally distance yourself from the hustle and bustle of work. “Many make the mistake of taking a mental health day, only to perseverate over work stress from home,” she says. “Instead, make a commitment to do something important to you, and be all-in. The physical act of not going to work is not enough, you must engage in the mental holiday, which is much harder to do because it requires rewiring the way your brain functions.”