Not everyone is in tune with their emotions enough to know they need to take a mental health day from work.
Even if they are, new research shows that more than half of employed Americans would be nervous to take a day off for mental health reasons because they believe an employer will think less of them. Unfortunately, the consequences of employees going hard until they are on the verge of quitting or having a mental breakdown are real. The cost is expensive to both employees and employers.
Research conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that anxiety and depressive disorders cost the global economy a trillion dollars in lost productivity each year.
Unsure of the signs to look for that an employee needs a break?
Below, this post covers the tell-tale signs an employee needs to take a day or two for themselves. Read on to keep these signs in mind for the health of your employees and yourself.
The Top Signs You Need a Mental Health Day
Every person has a threshold of what they can handle for stress. Some folks thrive under constant pressure, but others need frequent breaks or adjustments to handle them. Neither way is the wrong way, it’s just how people are wired. But, sooner or later, stress does catch up to the body either mentally, physically, or both.
You’re in desperate need of a day off if:
- You’re getting sick a lot
- You’re always exhausted
- You feel unappreciated daily
- Your workload feels overwhelming
- You feel every work day is a “bad day”
- You don’t care about your work quality
Hopefully, you don’t get to this point in your work. If you do, you’re on the cliff of burnout or stress overload and it’s not a fun fall down. When you start to notice one or two of these mindsets or symptoms creeping in, step back and take the day off.
Here are some tell-tale signs you’re in need of a break ASAP:
Sign #1: Mood Changes
If you’re feeling constantly crabby, irritable, and not feeling like yourself, it’s probably time for a mental health day. If you have anxiety or depression, you may feel overly anxious or more down than usual. There’s no need to push through the pain and suffering. Take note of your mood and then do what you can to elevate it — even if that means getting a therapist on the phone.
Sign #2: Physical Symptoms Increase
Are you suddenly noticing your neck and shoulders feel much tighter than normal? Is your stomach in a constant knot? Do you feel nauseous every time you think of work? Start paying attention to physical symptoms that manifest around stressful periods. Headaches, stomach pain, and the like are all possible physical indicators of excessive stress. These are clear indicators that your body is warning you it is in need of a break emotionally, too.
Sign #3: Focusing is Hard
Making mistakes and scrambling to get all your work done is a prime sign you need a break from work. Even a single day off can help you clear your mind and come back with a fresh perspective to tackle work projects. When you have too much going on at work and home, it makes it that much more difficult to focus. Take care of loose ends or stressors so you can bring your best efforts into the workplace. Practice mindfulness moments on your day off to increase your concentration upon your return to work.
Sign #4: Sickness Won’t Stay Away
When you stay stressed for too long, your body responds accordingly. Chronic stress weakens the responses of your immune system, making you more prone to illness during stressful periods, according to the American Psychological Association. If you always have a cold, stomach issues, or frequent infections, your immune system is tired and weak. Boost it by eating well, sleeping enough, staying updated on vaccines, exercising, taking mental health days, and washing your hands often.
Sign #5: No Thrills
If you aren’t getting excited about new work projects anymore, it may be time to take a little break. Aside from taking a mental health day off, you may want to ask for some extra help at work. Or, ask for a temporary assignment switch to get your hands into something new and exciting. Even a day off can help you come back with a renewed sense of work purpose. See how it goes after a day or two off and take note of how you feel when you come back.
How to Take a Mental Health Day From Work
Once you’ve penciled in your mental health day, it’s time to think about how you’ll spend that time off. The whole idea of this day is to focus on self-care while taking an opportunity to pause and renew your energy overall. One day may not seem like a whole lot of time, but when you’re on the edge of burnout, it may just be the restorative day you need.
Use these tips to make the most of your day off:
- Call it in - Whether you just take a “sick day” or use up some of that piled-up vacation time, you don’t necessarily need to let your boss know it’s a mental health day unless you want to. Enjoy your day off without any guilt of feeling the need to tell everyone why you were off.
- Invest in yourself - That looks different for everyone. But think about ways you enjoy spending your time. Whether that’s going for a long bike ride, walking a local nature trail, reading a book, golfing, or spending time at a day spa, take the time to unwind how you want to.
- Skip certain activities - Excessive drinking or substance abuse isn’t a great way to spend a mental health day off. Using mind-altering substances can actually increase your agitation, anxiety, or depression. Don’t avoid friends or family; instead, invest time in the ones who make you feel the most refreshed.
- Don’t stress over it - The whole idea of a mental health day from work is to relax. If it feels too daunting to plan anything, don’t. Sometimes the body and mind just need to relax and rest. Have a laid-back day of doing a whole lot of nothing if that’s what you need.
- Evaluate if you need more time - If you’re feeling physically ill or emotionally distraught at the idea of returning to work, it may be a sign you need a little bit longer to decompress. In that case, see if you’re eligible to take another day or two. If you feel you need longer, ask about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows eligible workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for specific medical conditions.
Out of paid time off? Wisely use the weekends to rejuvenate. Instead of staring down and starting multiple projects on your home to-do list, aim to take it easy. Sure, you may need to do necessary activities like grocery shopping, but the rest of the time, let yourself enjoy the weekend as a period of rest.
Help Employees Feel Okay Taking Time Off
Not only will your employees benefit from the occasional mental health day off, but your workplace will, too.
If your employees constantly feel emotionally and physically exhausted, it’s going to negatively impact their work output and quality as well as the people around them.
Instead of just pushing mental health discussions under the rug, develop a more open culture around the importance of mental well-being. If you don’t think you’ll get anywhere with your team by discussing deep issues like anxiety, then opt for burnout discussions instead. Everyone has been there at one point and time.
During stressful times — like the ongoing pandemic — it’s more important than ever for employees to feel it’s okay to take time off. As the boss, encourage them to do so.
Ways to encourage time off:
- Set an example - Walk the talk. If you say it’s important to take time off, make sure leadership does the same.
- Be open about mental health - By supporting mental health initiatives and discussions, it feels less taboo to take time off for emotional healing or breaks.
- Don’t shame days off - Even if the team may be a little overwhelmed by someone’s random day off departure, don’t let leadership show that. Instead, look at positive ways to collaborate and work together to ensure work gets done in the absence of an employee.
At the end of 2017, 52% of Americans didn't even use all of their vacation days, according to a US Travel Association's Project Time Off study. Don’t be that employer who lets that happen. Instead, encourage rest and rejuvenation. It’s good for the mind, body, spirit, and company!
Want similar content? Check out this Nutrition and Mental Health: What’s the Connection? article and share it with your team!