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When It’s Time to Take a Mental Health Day, & How to Ask for It

Caring for yourself takes self-awareness and advocacy

wellness and self-care

Ijeoma S. Nwatu is a freelance writer and book lover who covers lifestyle content, women leaders, culture, and more.

No matter the time of the year, there comes a time when you are emotionally taxed, overworked, and just plain tired. 

Sometimes you can easily identify what is tilting your life in the wrong direction—lack of quality sleep, minimal exercise, stress. Other times, you realize your mind and body need more professional attention. In this age of work-life balance, it might be overwhelming to pinpoint when you are falling off, especially when you have a demanding job or position. 

In their United States of Stress special report, Everyday Health’s surveyed nearly 7,000 Americans nationwide, ages 18 to 64, to gather responses about what causes stress and how they cope. One of the highlights from the survey was that one-third of respondents indicated their job or career is a regular source of stress.  Among millennial and Gen Z populations, that number increases to 44 percent. 

Two important questions to ask yourself are: How do you know when to take some time for yourself? Better still, how do you ask for it or make plans for it? 

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Setting your boundaries

It’s not uncommon to meet someone who has a side-hustle or two, but what do you do when you are juggling a full-time corporate job in addition to your side-gig?

For a decade, Pauleanna Reid did just that. She recently left the corporate world to fully commit to her entrepreneurial life as a celebrity ghostwriter and journalist. Her work oftentimes requires her to travel from her home-base in Toronto, Canada, to New York and Los Angeles.  She also manages a team of more than two dozen. 

How does she know when to woosah from it all? “I take precautionary measures. I don’t let it get to the point if I can avoid it.” Avoiding stress and a complete breakdown for Reid looks like regular exercise, daily walks with her parents, and leaning on her team. She also makes it clear that her “morning and night routine are extremely important.”

Her advice on how to ask your superiors for a mental health day: “Just be upfront and honest. Any company who didn't support my journey, I did not want to work with anyway.” 

Read more: I Learned How to Be Happy at Work

Regardless if you have a side-hustle or additional activities outside work, be intentional about how you start and end your day as well as where you can lean on others for help. As an employee, it’s important to know your strengths, especially in relation to your colleagues. Talk up your most valuable assets when it’s time for a review. When the opportunity arises for negotiation, bring up your desire to have a mental health or personal day, depending on how you want to communicate the idea. If you are looking to transition into a new job, address this before committing to an offer. 

Carving out time for yourself

Pursuing a medical degree takes many years and a lot of work. Pursuing more education in the medical field while working is even more demanding. 

That’s exactly the position that Alexandra Sims, a general pediatrician in Washington, D.C., is in until she graduates in about a year.  Sims is earning an advanced degree in public health while performing clinicals twice a week. She says she thrives on routines, but she’s still learning what works best for her: “I have found a couple things that work. One thing I try to do, is to wake up at the same time every day.” Sims is intentional about how she exercises, too. She enjoys spin classes and walking in lieu of driving in the city. If she plans her day well, she can walk more, which helps keep her relaxed. 

“Medicine can be very consuming,” Sims says. “My forms of self-care are sleep, exercise, and cooking. I want to feel good about the stuff I’m putting in my body. It helps me feel relaxed. And once a month, I treat myself to a massage.” Sims knows when she needs a break when she feels irritable, tired, and is not performing at her best. 

Asking for what you want

When requesting a mental health day from a supervisor or client, consider your professional strengths and your personal needs. If a full day is not an option, try a half day or an adjusted workday schedule. If you have specific medical reasons, bring a doctor’s note.  Kristy Wallace, who leads Ellevate Network, a professional community for women, suggests that if you are not comfortable with this making this request “Specify that you are taking a day off for mental health reasons.You need a personal day and that is explanation enough.” She goes on to encourage leaders and supervisors to model by example. “When business leaders and managers are upfront about needing time off for a mental health reason then it gives permission for others in the company to be transparent about this as well”  

No matter the reason you’re requesting time off, be considerate. Your role might require a lot of coordination with other teams internally and externally, so be sure they have what they need while you are out. If any team member has taken their own mental health day, inquire about how they got approval. If you have an advocate at work, or know your client values your personal time, use that to your advantage.  

And finally, the big takeaway of mental health at work: Don’t wait until everything comes crashing down. Plan, schedule, and  find an accountability partner to help you appropriate time for y-o-u.  

Personal time can look and feel extravagant like a massage day or an extended vacation. It can be simple with minimal planning, an afternoon of reading, crafts, or a long siesta. After all is said is done, be your best advocate and know when your body is in need of professional help or a little TLC. 

Wellness Work-Life Balance
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