I was thrilled to hear that Olark CEO Ben Congleton supported his employee taking a mental health day. We are responsible for pacing ourselves in a way that takes care of our nervous systems and allows us to perform well long-term. Owning this responsibility is in an employer’s best interest.
Permission to take mental health days also keeps work in its place. For most of us our meaning and fulfillment in life comes outside the office. When we act like work must happen no matter what else is going on, we forget work is not the top priority in life. We have lives outside of work—break-ups, deaths of loved ones, conflict in the family, etc. Our bodies need time to feel and grieve when feelings naturally emerge, or we are in for a much longer healing process later if we choose to repress. Caring for yourself involves balance of all your responsibilities. You take care of your security and work relationships by performing well there, but you balance that with caring for your heart and making sure the things that matter to you are in order.
Take smart breaks – use the time to relax, not run from responsibility
When you are highly stressed at work, a mental health day can also be useful because the nervous system needs a break. Be aware, however, that you return to the same situation or work load that stressed you out before you took time off. You may need to delegate, get support or a new perspective, or talk to your boss about what you are experiencing so that you aren’t overwhelmed chronically. Mental health days actually aren’t always helpful for actual mental health disorders. If you are having anxiety about work or a phobic reaction to it, the more you avoid work the scarier it can become. If you are depressed, a day off in bed can make you even more depressed and lead to more days off and eventually not going back to work at all. It is important to know when to reach out for help.
How to ask for a mental health day
How you tell your boss or colleagues you need a mental health day – or how you talk to them about any other mental health issue – depends on the kind of people you work with. If your boss is numbers-driven or non-emotional, then think and talk about your need from a productivity standpoint:
“To work most efficiently (quickly, creatively, accurately–depends on the goal in your field) this week, I need a day off to rest and clear my head so I can perform my best. I try to stay on top of my emotional state to ensure optimal work performance.”
If your boss is right-brained or emotionally intelligent, you could soften it up and try sincerity:
“I’m really struggling and need reprieve. I feel like I need to have a day to myself in order to keep going.”
We aren’t robots and we only work well when we have rest! Caring for yourself emotionally and being clear about your needs is a priority, even at work. The workplace is clearly evolving to honor the truth that people perform better when happy.