Originally published for Real Simple by Maggie Seaver
Feeling unusually stressed, anxious, cranky or blue during work hours? You’re not lazy (or crazy)—you’re probably overdue for a mental health day.
The next time you think you need to take a mental health day—you should take it. Think about it: If you had symptoms of an illness, you’d stay home from work, wouldn’t you? Because not only could you be contagious to your co-workers, but the state of your physical health would keep you from doing your best work—and possibly from feeling like a functional human at all. Your body needs time to rest and heal, and you can only do that from home (preferably in bed or on the couch), away from external stressors.
Your mind and mood—your mental health—should be treated the same way. You don’t need to be a therapy patient or diagnosed with a mental health condition, like clinical depression or anxiety, to deserve a personal day. And even if you regularly work from home, a day of respite from your work tasks can be sorely needed as well.
“No matter how much you love your job, stress and pressure can affect employees’ mental health at an alarming rate. In fact, [in 2019, workplace] burnout was officially recognized as a medical diagnosis by the World Health Organization,” says Scott Shute, head of mindfulness and compassion programs at LinkedIn. “Given this, it’s important to take a step back and take a day for yourself every now and then. Taking the time to recharge allows you to reenergize, refocus and ultimately become more productive at work.”
Signs You Need a Mental Health Day
While the symptoms of run-down mental health may not always be as openly recognizable as the telltale aches and sniffles of physical illness, they’re no less significant. And, when they need it, people should never shy away from taking a mental health day (or personal day) off from work.
“Are you snapping at co-workers? Exhausted from overworking? Dealing with anxiety or getting recurring colds? These can all be signs you need to slow down and treat yourself to a much-deserved day off,” Shute says. That feeling of being so run-down, either from work stress or personal matters (or both), that you can’t bear to wake up for one more day of work—that’s what you should be looking out for. Sure, sometimes you’re just tired—projects and personal issues come in waves—but sometimes it’s not enough to try to push through. You need a break, otherwise you’ll just keep digging yourself into a hole.
How to Ask for a Mental Health Day
“It’s important to understand that taking a mental health day is no different than asking for a sick day to address a physical health concern,” Shute says. “The way you approach requesting one may be different depending on your workplace culture, but your request can always be brief and general. For example, at LinkedIn, we have a no-questions-asked policy for taking time off, so people feel comfortable taking time for themselves when needed.”
If your boss requires more of an explanation, you might say you’re not yourself and need a day to reset so you can come back and do your best work. Showing up to work exhausted, moody, distracted or even on the verge of tears is helpful to no one.
3 Ways to Keep Tabs on Your Mental Health at Work
Just as you should try to stay in good physical health by eating well, hydrating and getting enough sleep, you should also do what you can to maintain a balanced mind and mood—even while you’re at work. Here are Shute’s three suggestions for keeping workplace burnout at bay and your mental health in check.
1. Make time for yourself at work.
“Studies show that time-pressured employees often push aside their good intentions to meet deadlines—particularly in high-performing cultures,” Shute says. It’s crucial to take breaks and find time for yourself during the work day. He suggests taking a short walk to get fresh air, starting your day with a five-minute meditation ritual, or proactively discussing challenges with a boss or colleague.
2. Make room for learning.
Shute says: “Learning can be one of the most inspiring and motivating factors to help deal with workplace stress and reignite your passion for your work.” According to research from LinkedIn, 52% of professionals consider learning to be part of their self-care routine, and 68% say they’re less likely to feel burnout when their role pushes them to learn and grow.
3. Inspire compassionate leadership at the office.
“Compassion is one of the most important traits of a great leader,” says Shute, who notes that it’s a core leadership value at LinkedIn. Simply put: “Compassion in the workplace may be thought of as acting with an awareness of others and staying sensitive to the needs of fellow colleagues and your broader community at work. By prioritizing compassionate leadership, you’ll likely inspire others to do the same and feel greater support and camaraderie at work.”
Even if you’re not in a leadership role at work, try to inspire others in small ways to be empathetic. And, if appropriate, provide feedback to your boss if compassion starts to lose priority in a way that’s detrimental to overall workflow and team morale, or to your personal mental health.