As a culture, we tend to toss around the phrase “mental health day,” joking about these kinds of sick days as if they’re somehow less important than those we take to recover from being physically ill. And the worst part? Even with all the joking, few of us actually cash in on the vacation and sick time that’s part of our total compensation from our employers, which means that we’re way backed up on our self-care. The truth is that mental health days are genuinely important, and if you have the flexibility to take time off from work to tend to this part of your well-being, you absolutely should. Keep scrolling for nine signs that, according to experts, it’s time to take a break for your own good.
1. Your tolerance for other humans has reached an all-time low. Are you shutting down your coworkers more quickly than usual? Reacting emotionally to feedback from your boss? Snapping at your partner or kids even after you’ve gone home? If this sounds familiar, certified life coach and co-founder of the Conscious Coaching Collective Dr. Ariane Machín, PhD advises that you treat yourself to a day off.
2. You have to talk yourself into going to work. “Does it take you several minutes to actually leave your car after you arrive in the morning?” asks mental health therapist and Transcendence Counseling Center LLC owner Jessica Singh. “Often, this type of avoidance is a sign that something is wrong. This could be from a work-life imbalance, anxiety, boredom, or a lack of support at work.” It’s only a lucky few who feel genuinely excited to get to the office every day, but if you’re having to actively psych yourself up to make it happen at all, a mental health day is in order.
3. Your sleep is out of whack. When we experience elevated stress during the day, those annoying stress hormones keep firing well into the night, making it all the more difficult for us to fall asleep. This state, according to hormone and gynecological health expert Dr. Nisha Jackson, PhD, can leave our bodies completely confused, making us feel wired through the night and exhausted during the day. A restful mental health day is a good first step to get back on track.
4. You’re struggling to manage your emotions. You’re crying more frequently than usual. You’re angry and you’re not sure why. You’ve lost total control of your feelings, and your usual emotional coping mechanisms are letting you down. Per wholeness coach Jenn Bovee, these are all cues that it’s time to pump the brakes on your normal routine.
5. You can’t focus. If your mental health is suffering, you may find that it manifests physically and behaviorally, so stay tuned in to how your body and brain are working. “When you are no longer able to focus extended periods of time and attention toward completing your duties, chances are you may need a mental health day or two to reset your brain,” licensed mental health counselor and Grey’s Counseling Services founder Jovica Grey tells us. Even a single day off may be just what you need to come back with the concentration you need to succeed!
6. You’re not enjoying anything you do. It wouldn’t be reasonable to expect that the good times will roll 24/7 — especially during office hours — but when you can’t bring yourself to find joy in anything, that’s a big red flag. “When we start to reach a state of burnout, we usually stop enjoying things — even the things that used to bring us joy,” explains licensed marriage therapist and Wright Wellness Center co-founder Rachel Wright. “Once you’re resenting the work, it’s definitely time to take a mental health day.”
7. You can’t make decisions. “It’s time to take a mental health day when you can’t, for the life of you, make a decision,” says licensed psychotherapist and coach Tess Brigham. “You’ve hit decision fatigue, which happens when we have too many decisions to make. We get decision fatigue not because we have to make too many decisions but because we’re lacking energy and focus.” Stop beating yourself up if you’re struggling to make choices. Instead, consider it a potential cue that you need to give yourself a break (literally).
8. You’re routinely getting sick. Cold and flu season is one thing, but don’t eliminate the possibility that constant illness is actually pointing to something happening below the surface. “We know from research that physical and mental health are strongly linked, so if you’re getting ill a lot, then it’s a sign that you need to take some time to get yourself back into balance,” reveals online fitness coach Emma Green.
9. You can’t remember the last time you took time off. If you’re scratching your head trying to recall the last time you were out of the office, let us be the first to inform you that you’ve got a problem on your hands! You deserve some down time. Mental health and emotional well-being expert Kim Roberts tells us that regular mental health days are critical for maintaining healthy relationships with our minds, so make sure they’re coming up on the calendar at least every few months.