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Debating on Taking a Mental Health Day?

career mindset May 27, 2022

I took a mental health day on Monday because I had a draining weekend and couldn't focus. I don't like admitting it, but I debated if I could take the day off and if I had too much on my plate. 

The debate about taking a mental health day is not exclusive to me because I know many of my clients struggle to take a day off or even take a vacation because they debate if it will add more to their plate and if it's worth it.

I thought back to my time working at a high school in 2010, when I was working 80-hour workweeks, exhausted and burned out. It was my 26th birthday, and I went to work with a sore throat, instead of calling in sick, because we could not get a substitute, and I thought it was more work to take off than to go in. I went to Urgent Care during my lunch break in which I tested positive for strep, went back to work after picking up my antibiotics, and continued teaching classes. It took me almost two weeks to recover from being sick. 

If my older self could speak to my younger self, I would ask, "Is my fear really true — will taking off the day be detrimental to my work? If I don't take the day off, what will be my consequences physically and emotionally?" I hope my younger self would have said, "We are always short staffed and we'll figure it out. If I stay home, I can get over this strep throat much faster, and perhaps I won't get sick again."

The heart of the matter when it comes to taking a mental health day is evaluating our perception v. the reality of the consequences of taking time off. Are there truly negative consequences for taking time off, such as punishment from our supervisor or leadership, a delay in a project meeting its deadline, life or death, or something to that nature? Or are we afraid of our laundry list getting longer, no one else can step in and do the job as well as we can, or we might lose money or income? If there are true consequences of taking a mental health day, it might be time to reconsider where we're working, what we're doing, or how we're doing it. 

In addition, what are the consequences of not permitting oneself a mental health day? Will our physical or emotional health take a toll and impact our personal and professional life?

On Monday, I had to explore my perceptions v. the reality of taking time off and my conclusion was that I should take the day off. After all, the "to dos" on my plate could be handled the next day. In addition, I had to make a concerted effort to NOT think about all my "to dos" during my day off because, in my opinion, it would have been a waste of a day and not truly a mental health day only to think about what I had to do the next day.

I even took off part of Tuesday for self-care and nurturance. I'm sure glad I did because today I have the capacity to tackle what I need to and I'm feeling stronger. 

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