It’s not usually hard to tell when you need a sick day from work — but the signs you need a mental health day can be a lot harder to spot. If you’ve got a fever, for example, staying home for the day is a no-brainer; however, when the symptoms aren’t physical, it’s easy to convince yourself that it’s not that bad and that you should just go into work. However, just because the symptoms of emotional exhaustion don’t manifest in the same way the symptoms of, say, the flu do doesn’t mean they’re any less serious — and learning to pay attention to what your body and mind are telling you is instrumental for your wellbeing.
Of course, it’s not exactly surprising that so many of us are unclear on when a mental health day might be in order; our culture’s attitude towards mental health tends to both stigmatize and minimize our emotional and mental pain. When combined with the puritanical nature of the American professional world — we work more and longer hours, we take less vacation time, and we retire later than pretty much every other country in the world — the situation results in us feeling the need to push through continuously, even when we could benefit from a day off to recharge. No wonder we can’t always tell when we need mental health days; our culture has taught us that we shouldn’t need them, and if we do, that we’ve failed in some way.
But there’s a direct connection between our mental being, our physical being, and our productivity at work. Research has found that when we’re stressed, anxious, or depressed, our physical health suffers and we get less done — which means that mental health days are essential when it comes to taking care of ourselves.
If you recognize any of these six signs, you might think about taking a sick day for your mental health:
1. You Overreact To Minor Issues
“Overreaction to minor things can be caused by anxiety, immaturity, tendency to bully, or being bullied,” Clarissa Silva, behavioral scientist, relationship coach, and creator of Your Happiness Hypothesis Method tells Bustle in an email. “You have to identify the source of what is causing it in order to deal with it in a way that makes sense for you.” So, if you find yourself being unusually short with people — both at work and in your personal life — or having a disproportionately irate response to relatively minor inconveniences, it might be worth taking a mental health day. “If you snap at everything, you may need to walk away from the things that are irritating you,” says Silva. “Regroup and allow yourself the time to reset.”
2. You’re Tired All The Time
It’s no secret that stress, anxiety, and depression can result in difficulty sleeping — and sleep problems can, in turn, increase stress and anxiety: According to the Anxiety And Depression Association Of America’s Stress & Anxiety Disorders Survey, around 75 percent of adults who suffer from sleep problems due to stress or anxiety say that they deal with this very issue. The whole thing can become a vicious cycle, with exhaustion feeding stress and stress feeding exhaustion. If you find you’ve suddenly developed insomnia, it may be an indication that you need to take a day to recharge.
However, sleeplessness isn’t the only form that sleep issues can take; as licensed therapist Whitney Hawkins of the Collaborative Counseling Center pointed out to Healthyway in 2017, it also might manifest as “sleeping excessively.” If you find yourself wanting to crawl into bed as soon as you get home from work each day, that, too, might be a sign that your mental health could use some TLC.
It’s also worth noting that sleep issues might not just be a symptom of poor mental health, but rather a cause. According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter, there’s a strong correlation between sleep disorders and mental health disorders; as such, if you find you consistently have trouble sleeping, you might think about visiting a doctor who specializes in sleep disorders. Treating the sleep issues could very well help your overall mental health.
3. You Cry More Than Usual
Whether you’re normally a crier or not, getting unusually teary — particularly if you’re otherwise still able to function — can signal to you that you’d benefit from a bit of a break, according to Clarissa Silva. The Mayo Clinics further notes, “Stress may trigger crying jags, sometimes seemingly without warning. Little things unrelated to your stress may leave you in tears. You also may feel lonely or isolated.”
Silva suggests taking control of your emotional health by speaking with a mental health professional about what might be going on in your life; in fact, that might be an excellent use for your mental health day. “[They] can help you heal from pain to a more productive you,” says Silva.
4. Focusing Is A Struggle
Do you feel scattered or like you can’t zero on anything without getting distracted? Are you forgetting things or misplacing items more than usual? A mental health day might be in order — and, indeed, you might even think about using your mental health day to get back on top of things without the pressure of needing to work around your normal, day-to-day commitments.
At Psychology Today, licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist Amy Morin suggests three ways to use a mental health day: One, of course, is to take some time to practice self-care and recharge your batteries (which is what most of us probably think of when we think about what it means to take a mental health day); however, the other two involve focusing on attending to specific things you need to address. Writes Morin, “If you’re behind on your bills and taking a day off to tackle your budget could help you feel as though your back in control, it may make sense to take a day to address it so you can reduce your anxiety”; or, she continues, you might spend the time on “[attending] appointments to care for your mental health.” Says Morin, “Whether you need to see your doctor to get your medication adjusted or you need to schedule an appointment with your therapist, taking a day off to address your mental health needs is instrumental in helping you be at your best.”
5. You’ve Been Getting Sick A Lot
There’s a huge body of research that supports the idea of a connection between stress and physical illness; indeed, commonly-given advice for dealing with one often relies on reducing the other: If you think you’re getting sick, try to cut down on the stress in your life, while if you find yourself getting sick a lot, try to figure out if you’re suffering from more stress than usual.
The reason has to do with our immune system’s reaction to stressors. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, the same cells that help protect us from threats by raising the alarm to our bodies can weaken us and make us susceptible to illness if the stress response becomes too overwhelming. So, if you’ve been getting sick a lot — a sniffle here, a cough there, with a new one developing seemingly almost as soon as the last one goes away — it might be your body telling you that you’ve got an excessive amount of stress in your life.
Without some time to recover, you may eventually crash — and crash hard. Taking a mental health day, however, might help mitigate the issue.
6. The Weekend Isn’t Enough
It’s true that wishing the weekend were longer is a common occurrence; we’ve all done it at some point. But what if the weekend isn’t enough? What if your job frequently has you going to work on weekends even when you’re not supposed to be in the office? What if you’ve just been spending each weekend worried about what you’ve got on your plate in the coming week? That might be preventing you from actually using the weekend to recharge — which means that the stress is just going to keep adding up. As Emily A. Williams observes over at Hello Humankindness, if you often spend the weekend “in work mode instead of relaxation mode,” then “Monday might be the day to reset.”
If you need a few pointers on how to request a mental health day, this should help. Take care of yourself, OK? You're worth it.