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Do you need a mental health day?

Last summer, many across the country were taken with a tweet about a boss who commended an employee for openly taking time off for her mental health.  

The tweet, which went viral, was from a Michigan web developer whose boss thanked her for sending an email to her team acknowledging she was taking two days off for her mental health. She was praised for helping to break through mental health stigma.  

It was a brave move on the employee's part and hopefully a sign that stigma is being broken down not just at that company, but throughout society. But it begs some questions about when and how to use paid time off or sick time for mental wellness.  

Is it time for some time off?
Some signs that it's time for a mental health day may include: 

  • can't concentrate or think clearly
  • are having trouble managing your emotions
  • are treating loved ones differently than you normally do
  • feel strong anxiety or overwhelming stress
  • can't seem to keep yourself physically healthy
  • feel depressed or isolated
  • are not getting as much pleasure from things you love
  • are isolating yourself
  • don't feel like yourself

Making the most of it
We each get to choose the best way to care for ourselves emotionally, be it reading, exercising, striking a yoga pose, playing the piano, playing with a child, biking your local trails, tap dancing, or something else. The one piece of advice I have for everyone is to avoid screens. Give yourself a break to balance your "internal engine" and keep it attuned with your needs.   

Should you broach the subject with your boss?
It depends. Considering that one in four people will experience a mental health condition at some point, it's puzzling that it can still be taboo to openly talk about mental health at work. And many employers do accept the natural ebb and flow of human emotions that may result in needing a mental health day.  

However, there are always exceptions, so it's important to use your own judgment. If you feel you will suffer more by sharing your situation, you may choose to say that you are taking a day for personal reasons or family reasons, which is commonly accepted in the workplace.  

Save your sick days—tips for staying mentally well
Of course, most of us know the basics of healthy living, like eating healthy, exercising and cultivating healthy relationships. But I think what we easily forget is that we need short breaks each day to self-regulate. Make sure that you sprinkle into every day the things that recharge you, be it time alone, a walk, a good conversation, whatever it is. When we forget to take time for ourselves, it has negative effects on our health, and that's when we need time off.  

A word to the wise
And remember, a sick day taken for physical or emotional health should be authentic. You want to save sick days for when you really need them. If you are taking off too many days, your employer may ask for more specifics, or may start viewing you as unreliable. So, be wise by honoring and balancing your own needs with those of your employer.

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