When and How to Take a Mental Health Day


Sometimes taking a mental health day—a day off that’s specifically geared toward stress relief and burnout prevention—is the best thing you can do for yourself. While one day might not solve heavy underlying problems that lead to burnout, a mental health day can provide a much-needed break to pause, regroup, and come back with greater levels of energy and a fresh, less-stressed perspective. Whatever stressors you face, these tips can help you take a mental health day and make the most of it.

Here’s how:

Take a Day

Ideally, if you can schedule a day off ahead of time, ensuring that you’ve taken steps to rearrange your workload or find a replacement for the day, this is the best way to do it, so you’re not feeling stress about taking the day off. However, if you wake up in the morning and just feel that you can’t face the stress of the day, this may be a good time to take a mental health day and make the most of it.

Saturdays work well, too. While a “traditional” mental health day generally includes taking a day off from work, it’s not necessary to call in sick to take a day to focus on stress relief.

Decide What You Need Most

Sometimes this one is a no-brainer—if you’re exhausted, your body will be screaming that it needs to rest; if you feel you can’t face another day of hard work, you may just need to have some fun. However, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you may not be as aware of your needs. Take a minute and really reflect: would you benefit the most from some tension relief? Or from making a few changes that will relieve stress in the future? Some time with a loved one? Or just a change of scenery? As different stressors require different responses, different types of mental health days fill unique needs.

If You Need to Relax

Taking a mental health day often means taking time out to relax. That can mean watching TV in pajamas for hours or puttering around the house and doing nothing, and as long as this isn’t an everyday thing, that’s fine. However, some activities can take a little front-end effort and feel immensely relaxing once they’re completed, like taking a walk in nature, attending a yoga class, swimming at the gym, or getting a massage. If you take a relaxing mental health day, I encourage you to also work relaxation techniques into your everyday schedule, to make the relief last.

If You Need Some Fun

If you really need a change of scenery and a “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” kind of mental health day, be sure you make the most of it. Plan at least one fun event—either something you normally love to do and don’t do enough or something you’ve always wanted to try. Take along a good friend, if possible, to really make the day memorable. If nothing grabs your attention, try to engage in gratifications or activities that provide just the right type of challenge: hobbies, games, and the like. If you need a fun mental health day, I recommend that you work on getting more fun into your life as well.

If You Need to Make Some Changes

If the stressors seem to pile up and you’re looking for a way to slow down and stop the “noise,” you may want to take a day to restructure things. You may not be able to eliminate all of your ongoing stressors in a day, but you might be able to make a significant reduction in a few areas, and that may create a lasting impact on your stress levels. Start by creating a list of things that drain your energy, and work from there on eliminating them. You may also take a look at your priorities and cut out some of your larger stressors, or work on increasing job satisfaction.

If You Need More of a Break

If you need more of a break than just one day, consider taking a staycation or vacation. You may also consider whether you’re headed toward burnout. If you’re concerned that your overall stress levels are greater than a mental health day, a vacation, or these online resources can help, you may want to bring up your concerns with your doctor, or talk to a professional. There are many steps that can be taken to help.

Find Ongoing Resources for Stress Relief

To ensure that you keep stress levels low and don’t wake up one morning in dire need of an “emergency mental health day,” I recommend keeping stress management in the forefront of your mind.

By Elizabeth Scott, MS