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The benefits of taking time off work for your mental health

January 17, 2022 • read

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The benefits of taking time off work for your mental health

When most people are sick with a cold, the flu, or have an injury, they’re inclined to take time off work. But when it comes to mental health, there’s often resistance. Why is that so?

The state of your mental health is just as important as healing physically from a virus. If you’ve avoided taking the day off work when you needed to focus on your mental well-being, we’re here to help you move forward.

What is a mental health day off work?

A mental health day off work is a day you’d take off if you’re stressed, overwhelmed, depressed, and need to get your mental health back on track. While a psychologically healthy workplace is a respectful environment that makes every effort to protect the mental health of its employees, there may still be days where it all just becomes too much and you need to detach.

Making sure your mental health is taken care of is so important that there’s even a day dedicated to it, called World Mental Health Day. When your mental health is suffering, it can feel like your whole world is slowly crumbling – that includes your workplace. It’s crucial to recognize the importance of taking a mental health day off work whenever you need one.

Can depression stop me from working?

Depression is a mood disorder that should never be taken lightly. Symptoms of depression include but aren’t limited to feeling deeply sad or close to tears every day, changes in appetite, foggy or slowed thinking, difficulty controlling your emotions, fatigue or low energy, and more.

For some, depression may contribute to an extended period of time off work. However, depression may also only stop you from working temporarily. Research shows that 80% of patients with depression will improve with treatment.

Simply put, if left untreated, depression can indeed stop you from working for quite some time. But if treated, it’s very possible you’ll be able to cope with – or overcome – symptoms of depression as well as have a thriving career. Carving out the time to seek help, whether it’s talking to a professional and/or getting prescription medication, are effective treatments that can help improve your quality of life.

When and how do I effectively take a mental health day?

First, it’s important to know that you don’t ever need to feel shame or guilt about needing to take a mental health day. If you’re overwhelmed, stressed, depressed, and don’t think you can maintain your daily duties, it’s time for a mental health day off work.

Taking this time off is nothing to feel bad about. Oftentimes there’s a stigma attached to taking time off for mental health when there really shouldn’t be. It should be no different than taking a sick day if you’ve come down with the flu.

In fact, in any given year, one in five people in Canada experience a mental health problem or condition. Think about your closest circle of friends, your family, or even your coworkers – with this stat, you’re bound to know someone who has or is dealing with mental health concerns or mental illness.

So, where do you go from here? If you’ve never asked for a mental health day off before, there are a few things you can do.

1. Acknowledge that you deserve a day off

Doing this can make it easier when it comes time to talk to your boss. Believing that you’ve earned the right to take a mental health day is the first step, and can help you come across as more confident when talking to your manager.

2. Share only what you’re comfortable with

This means you don’t have to go into complete detail about how you’re feeling mentally when you talk to your boss. Explaining to your manager that you’re dealing with a personal matter and need to take a mental health day should be more than enough.

3. Make the most of your mental health day

And that doesn’t necessarily mean doing anything at all. That means you should do whatever it takes to put your mind at ease for the day, even if it’s doing absolutely nothing. Sometimes all you need is a relaxing day where you don’t have to think of anything and your mind can simply recharge.

But what if I work remotely?

Just because you work remotely doesn’t mean you can’t suffer burnout symptoms from work stress and anxiety. With working from home being the new norm, different mental health challenges can arise.

Maybe you have to multitask and help your kids with virtual schooling while trying to get your own work done. Or maybe there’s no separation between your work and home-life. All of these things can add to workplace burnout symptoms, and a request for a mental health day off should be just as accepted by your boss as asking for one in a workplace.

If you simply find you’re having trouble focusing at home, here are some tips to help you out.

1. Set a schedule

Keep the same routine you had when you were going into the office to make working from home feel as “normal” as possible. You should also have a dedicated workspace in an area with minimal distractions to help with work-life balance. And, set regular working hours. This means taking breaks during your workday as well as setting boundaries and not working outside of regular work hours.

2. Stay connected

You might feel a lack of connection with your coworkers while working from home, but there are things you can do to keep that bond and stay social. Try taking a virtual coffee break with different coworkers each week, or setting up a channel through your work’s messaging app to chat when time allows for it. Humans are social creatures, and socializing with your coworkers for even just a few minutes can make a world of a difference in your workday.

3. Make time for self-care

Self-care is important to maintain a good state of mind. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep (seven hours or more a night), eat a balanced diet throughout the day and drink plenty of water, and exercise regularly. Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym, either. Simply walking your dog on your lunch break or doing a virtual workout session in your living room counts too.

How does chronic stress affect my health?

Still not convinced that taking a mental health day is extremely important? Chronic stress isn’t just “feeling stressed out” for a long period of time. The effects of it can cause anxiety and depression, substance use problems, panic attacks, and even sleep problems.

Not only is chronic stress bad for your mental health, but it can also affect your overall health. Chronic stress has been linked to cardiovascular dysfunctions, cancer, and autoimmune syndromes.

And, chronic stress in the workplace specifically means workers have more than double the odds of getting heart disease and type 2 diabetes. This makes it even more important to take care of your mental health so that you can avoid the symptoms of chronic stress.

How do I reduce workplace stress and anxiety?

While it might be alarming to see what chronic stress can do to your overall health, there are many ways to help reduce it. That isn’t to say that work will never be stressful, but managing work stress and anxiety is possible. Here’s how.

1. Talk to your boss if there’s too much on your plate

This doesn’t mean that you’re incapable of doing your job. Simply telling your boss you appreciate them thinking of you for those specific projects but you’re at maximum capacity right now let’s them know that it would be better to offload the work onto someone else in your department. Your manager should be supportive and want to avoid contributing to potential workplace burnout symptoms.

2. Take all of your breaks

Breaks aren’t offered as just a recommendation from work, so take them! They’re meant to help you clear your mind so that you’re rejuvenated when you come back to your desk. And, make sure you actually step away from your desk instead of eating lunch over your keyboard so you can experience the full benefits of work breaks.

3. Make use of meditation and exercise

Meditation can help quiet your thoughts so that you’re in a calm state of mind. If that’s something you’ve never done before, there are apps you can use for guided meditation, like Headspace. Try meditating outside of work hours to start, and use what you’ve learned at work when it starts to stress you out.

Along with meditation, being as active as possible when you’re at work is also beneficial. If you’re stuck at a desk all day, go for a walk on one of your breaks. Exercise and being in nature, even if it’s a stroll along a sidewalk lined with trees, can boost your mood, lower stress, and even increase your working memory.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If you find there’s a day – or days – where you need to take time off work, go for it. After all, you wouldn’t be putting your best personal and professional foot forward if you aren’t taking care of your mental health first.

If you need to talk to someone whether it’s about a mental health concern or even just work issues, relationships, or more, you can get in touch with a therapist in as little as 12 hours on Maple. Our Canadian-licensed therapists are here to support you any time you need it from your phone, tablet, or computer.

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