by Matt Alderton | August 22, 2019
Are you having one of those months at work? The crazy kind that give you a perpetual headache? If so, you might need a mental health day.

"Paid time off when you are sick is a benefit for many full-time employees. More recently, this has been extended to include 'mental health days' in which employees use a sick day because of stress and burnout rather than for illnesses like flu or cold," author Art Markman says in an article for Fast Company.

A mental health day can be exactly what you need -- if you plan it in advance.

"It is generally not a good idea to take a mental health day spontaneously," Markman says. "That is, if you wake up in the morning and dread going to work, don't use that feeling as a reason to call in sick. Stress and anxiety are emotional experiences you have when there is something in your world you are trying to avoid. If you call in sick when you feel this way, you are laying down a memory that can start to create a habit to respond to stress and anxiety by actually avoiding work that may need to be done. You don't want your go-to response to stress to be to run away from it."

Simply put: If you're trying to avoid work, a mental health day won't help you because the work will still be waiting for you when you return. If you're trying to restore work/life balance, however, that's a different story. In that case, you should definitely take a day. And you should have a pre-planned strategy for how you're going to spend it.

"Perhaps your busy life has made it impossible to stay on top of paying the bills, cleaning the house or organizing things for the family. If so, you can use the day to deal with these tasks," Markman says. "Work might also be damaging your personal relationships. You might want to coordinate your mental health day with your spouse or partner and take some time together. You might reach out to a friend or family member to spend time with to keep those relationships going smoothly."

A mental health day of that sort isn't exactly a day off, but it can help a great deal.

"It might seem paradoxical to take a day off work in order to do another kind of work. But part of what knocks out your resilience is when you leap out of the frying pan of work stress and into the fire of home stress," Markman concludes. "If you can make your home a less stressful place to be, that can make it easier to handle the inevitable stresses at work."

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