Your alarm sounds. It’s Tuesday, but it might as well be Thursday you’re so exhausted. Even the thought of crawling out of bed knocks all the energy out of you, and you shutter thinking about the long day ahead. Saturday gleams like a shining light at the end of the week, but rest, relaxation, and just a little time to yourself seem so far out of reach.
You hit snooze for a second, then third time… and it’s finally clear: You need a mental health day.
Mental health days are days employees take off to reduce stress and boost energy. They’re vital to staving off burnout. And unlike personal days, which are meant to help people step away from work for check-ups, apartment hunting, chaperoning school field trips, family emergencies, and other life tasks, mental health days are all about you. They should be filled with things you love doing or that help you feel good and unwind.
Being able to take a mental health day is definitely a privilege not everyone has, but no matter if you’re able to dedicate a day to yourself or if you’re squeezing “me time” into your busy schedule, it’s important to prioritize self-care. Here are some ideas to help you get started.
Read more: How to Create a Self-Care Plan That Actually Works
20 restorative ways to spend a mental health day, according to experts
1. Start small
You don’t have to plan an action-packed schedule to maximize your mental health day. In fact, Nashville-based psychotherapist Christina Steinorth-Powell recommends the opposite. “You don’t need to put in a huge effort to make an improvement—start small,” says Steinorth-Powell. “Do one small thing that gets you out of the house as this will help you focus on something other than feeling down.” Think: a short walk through a nearby park or picking up a coffee and a pastry at your favorite cafe.
2. Book a therapy appointment
Many people have the misconception that therapists only help people with diagnosable mental health struggles. That’s not true at all! No matter whether you’re severely struggling with your mental health or just need an unbiased listening ear, therapy is a great option, and because of the wealth of online options, it’s completely possible to book an appointment the day-of if necessary.
Read more: 18 Therapy-Backed Ways to Feel Better ASAP
3. Move your body
Whether you go for a run, an adventurous hike, or a leisurely stroll around the block, go outside and move. “Get outside in nature and move your body,” mindset coach Allison Noelle Megherian recommends. “ When we go outside and breathe in fresh air, it helps us feel more grounded.”
4. Plan for the future
“Here’s a news flash: You can’t go back and fix the past, but you can fix your future,” says Steinorth-Powell. “Sit down and write out what you’d like to do in the next year—improve your education, take a trip, get a new place to live. Then make a list of the steps you’ll need to make it happen.
5. Eat good food
Whether you love whipping up complicated dishes or are in the mood for some good take-out, take time to nourish your body. (Need we mention the pastry at that coffee shop again? Just go buy it already.)
6. Treat yourself!
Speaking of treating yourself, if you’re financially able, now it is a great time to go shopping. Try on those shoes you’ve been eyeing, or buy yourself flowers. Not wanting to spend money? Look up free local gardens or plant yourself in a neighborhood with expert lawn care for the day.
7. Take a nap
There’s truly nothing more satisfying than a good nap. “Change into silk pj’s, get comfy food, and crash in bed. Stay there as long as you want,” psychiatrist Amelia Alvin recommends. “Cuddle your pet or write down thoughts of the day.”
Read more: 19 Quotes to Inspire Your Self-Care Routine
Speaking of writing down thoughts, take a moment and journal. It doesn’t have to be organized or be about anything in particular; you can write how you’re feeling, create goals for the future, or even make a list of must-see movies.
9. Appreciate nature
If you love adventure, venture into the great outdoors. “This reconnects you with the planet and can be an uplifting, calming experience,” says career and life coach Lisa Philyaw. “Go outside, and if the weather allows for it, go barefoot. This grounds you and recent studies have shown it to be beneficial to your health and wellbeing.”
10. Watch your comfort movie
Hocus Pocus, anyone? How about Gilmore Girls or Legally Blonde? No matter your comfort movie or show, curling up on the couch with some hot cocoa and a blanket might be exactly what you need.
11. Say “no” to social events
“It is okay to say ‘no’ to social events and situations that do not serve or benefit your mental health,” says Megherian. “If we are constantly giving our energy to people and situations, we are not taking the time to fill our cup back up and that can be harmful to our mental health.”
12. Or plan social events
If you’re a social butterfly, surround yourself with those you love. “Socialization can have a very positive impact on our mental health,” suggests Steinorth-Powell. “Reach out to someone you enjoy being with and make plans to meet for coffee.” A long phone call with a close friend can feed that social connection, too.
13. Organize your life
Sometimes, doing nothing can be stressful. Take some time to write out your monthly calendar, update your planner, or pay some bills. You’ll feel better after knocking some stuff off your to-do list.
Along with sleep, keeping hydrated is the most important thing you can do on your mental health day. Drink up!
15. Catch up around the house
Similarly to organizing your schedule, catching up with household chores can be relieving. If you’ve been meaning to clean out your closet or finally empty the pantry, today is your day! Maybe even consider updating your home office decor.
16. Plan a day trip
Pack your bags and hit the road! Go thrifting in a nearby town, city sightseeing, or drive up to the beach. Homebodies, staycations can work the same magic.
17. Take a social media cleanse
“Don’t forget to switch off your phone and laptop while spending time with yourself,” Alvin suggests. “Scrolling down the timeline and commenting on someone’s new hairstyle can wait until you are back into a healthy mental state.”
18. Indulge in luxuries
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a luxurious day. “Nourish your habits and breed your guilty pleasure for a day,” Alvin says. “Indulge in your favorite food, read that best selling book lying on the shelf since last Christmas, or take a bubble bath.”
19. Do nothing
“Give yourself the gift of a nothing day. Block out your day off with a big plan to let yourself lounge around in your pajamas,” Philyaw says. “Flow with what calls to you, whether it’s napping, sleeping until noon, watching movies, ordering in, whatever feels good to you. You’re allowed to rest and do nothing.”
20. Be kind to yourself
“Self love is huge for mindset..If we don't love things about our lives, what are we doing here?” asks Megherian. “Life is not all about work. Becoming balanced can be hard at first but when you surrender and lean into all the benefits you will feel much happier.”
About our sources
Amelia Alvin is a practicing psychiatrist at Mango Clinic who specializes in addressing the life challenges of her clients and offering personalized treatment. Her focus is on helping clients to gain self-awareness and increasing their personal strengths.
Allison Noelle Megherian is a mindset coach, motivational speaker, author and founder of Motivating the Mindset. Megherian holds a master’s degree in Educational Leadership. She has been featured on Fox40 and on Digital Journal.
Lisa Philyaw is the founder of Beliefseed and is a career and life coach. She holds a master’s degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology, and specializes in helping high-achievers to be themselves at work.
Christina Steinorth-Powell is a licensed psychotherapist and author in Nashville, TN. She is also licensed in four states (Tennessee, Texas, California and Kentucky). She specializes in helping people foster meaningful relationships. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Huffington Post, Woman's Day, Glamour magazine, NBC News, CBS News, The Today Show, Fox News magazine, and Shape magazine.