Whether you’re in school still or working full time, life gets rough. Stress piles up, and sometimes it’s impossible to catch your breath. Even the weekend isn’t always enough to recharge your batteries. Mental health days have become more and more important after the pandemic.
The whole world was upended. Even if you didn’t lose your job or switch to a virtual classroom, 2020 and 2021 have been stressful.
What are mental health days?
By now, you’ve probably heard about mental health days. Conceptually they’re just supposed to be a day you put yourself first and try to chip away the stress and anxiety that has built up. They don’t fix problems, and they don’t undo damage to your mental state. They’re just to help you release tension and have a good day.
Taking a break every so often to recharge has a lot of benefits and can help you jump back into school and work with fresh eyes and more enthusiasm. When done right, it will feel less like slogging through the same old and more like you can focus on the tasks in front of you.
When you should take mental health days
Plan ahead! Don’t wait until you’re on the verge of burnout; schedule them every so often. Knowing that they’re coming can also help you breathe a little easier. Give yourself a pleasant three-day weekend to look forward to or even a random Wednesday.
The idea with a mental health day is to take them before you burn out. It’s a lot easier to take care of yourself now than recovering from burning out, and that’s no easy task. Keep in mind, though, that a single day isn’t going to stop you from burning out. The only way to avoid that is to change your environment, whether that means changing it or leaving it altogether.
You won’t be able to predict precisely when you’ll need some R&R the most, but you can at least look ahead and do your best to predict. If you’ve got a tough exam coming up or a serious presentation at work, try to give yourself some time to recuperate afterward. That way, you get the serious stuff out of the way and fully detach from the stress.
How to get mental health days
If your job has some way to request mental health days, that’s great! Odds are yours doesn’t, but that just means requesting a regular day off. You don’t have to tell your boss why you need time off. If they continue to pester you into giving them a reason, it might be time to evaluate whether your workplace is a positive or negative influence on your life.
My mental health day has finally arrived… Now what?
Self-care takes on a different form for all of us. Self-care for me means spending quality time with the people I love and getting away from electronics for the day. It can also mean spending the day by myself with a good book, a cup of tea, and enjoying a quiet day alone.
Mental health days should be curated to you, though, so focus on the things that help you feel refreshed. If that means spending all day staring at your bedroom walls, do it. If that means going to see a movie by yourself with the biggest tub of popcorn your stomach can hold, do it.
Touch some grass. Literally, go outside and take a break from the electronics to remind yourself of the world around you. Spending time in nature is a great way to ground yourself and let go of some of the pent-up anxiety computer screens bring us.
I’m about as indoors as they come, but whenever I think of my ideal mental health day, it’s always sitting with a hot cup of tea at the beach while staring out over the water in the early or late hours of the day.
The constant stimulus from electronics isn’t great for our brains, so consider avoiding screen time on your next day off. Put on your favorite playlist and learn how to play solitaire with a real deck of cards if you need to.
The most popular thing to do on a mental health day is to relax. Take a breath, practice some yoga, go for a hike, or head to the gym. Relaxation is one of the best ways to combat stress, after all.
Everyone relaxes in different ways. For some people, that means doing something tedious so their minds can wander. For others, that means working on a creative project that means a lot to them.
I like to listen to music or put a show on in the background while reading a book. Spotify is a great app that lets me listen to tons of different types of music and podcasts. If you’re interested in trying Spotify out and happen to be a student, there’s even has a special Hulu/Spotify premium bundle.
If you’re more into quiet relaxation, we’ve got tons of book recommendations too!
Do something you’ve been putting off for a while
You don’t have to push yourself to be productive 24/7. In fact, sometimes, a good way to spend a mental health day is to remind yourself your worth is not tied to productivity and just spend it doing absolutely nothing. You can also choose to put some energy into a project you haven’t had time for too.
Is there a craft or new hobby you’ve wanted to get into but just felt too busy to start? Maybe there’s a new series you’ve been meaning to pick up but just didn’t have the energy for. Work on a passion project, or maybe you just want to reorganize your closet.
Taking a mental health day doesn’t have to be all about relaxation and treating yourself. The purpose is to refresh your mind and do things that make you feel good, so you can chill out after all the stress of work, exams, and life in general.
What you should not do during your mental health days
Things to avoid while taking a mental health day are pretty intuitive. Avoid stress, avoid answering work emails or homework, anything that could get you frustrated or riled up.
Avoid overstimulating yourself
Don’t spend the day scrolling on your phone mindlessly. It may be a nice break if you’re especially busy, but it doesn’t do a whole lot of good mentally. Really give your head and eyes a break. I promise you there’s a lot you can do without watching 200 videos on TikTok.
This is the pitfall I usually fall into. I’m addicted to my phone, and I’m not used to not having three or more things to focus on anymore. Gone are the days where I could lay outside and just watch the clouds go by without getting antsy. If I’m not on my phone, listening to music, AND half paying attention to a YouTube video in the background, something feels like it’s missing.
This means forcing myself to let go is a lot harder than it should be and a lot more important than I usually want to admit.
You shouldn’t expect miracles from a mental health day. They’re a nice little break, but they (unfortunately) won’t make any of your problems go away nor magically wipe away all the stress and drama in your life. Set realistic expectations, so you don’t feel disappointed at the end of the day.
You can think of these special days like going in for a checkup with your doctor. You need to do it every once in a while to take stock of the condition you’re in. If something is wrong, though, just going to the checkup isn’t going to do anything. Knowing you’re sick doesn’t miraculously make you better.
At the end of the day…
Make the day whatever you need it to be, and don’t worry about anyone else for a little while. There’s no shame in letting yourself breathe so you can put a little more pep in your step later on.
How would you spend your perfect mental health day?