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What Does It Mean to Take a Mental Health Day?

Stress is a part of life and builds resilience at normal levels, but too much stress over time without enough activities to relieve that tension may lead to anxiety and depression. Especially for those struggling with substance abuse, taking a day off to work on restoring a strong mental focus can be essential to preventing relapse.

Taking time off from work for a mental health day can help those in recovery stay on track and avoid a return to intensive outpatient therapy. By dealing with the signs of rising stress levels before mental health problems develop, we can reduce the likelihood of developing or returning to addiction.

Whether you need to ask for a personal day or just take a sick day to find relief from overwhelming stress, “knowing when to say when” applies to job stress as well. Let’s talk about the legitimate reasons to take a mental health day, how to tell your boss, and ways to get the most out of a day focused on mental health.

When Should You Take a Mental Health Day?

There is a tendency to treat mental health as less necessary than physical health, but, of course, they are equally important to a whole and healthy human being. Attending group therapy or spending time restoring your mental health in other ways is a very legitimate reason to take a little time off.

People rarely develop a mental health condition like anxiety or depression suddenly from daily stress but travel a slow descending path over a period of time. Just like detox from alcohol, detoxing from stress requires being away from the source of the decline.

Questions to Ask Before Taking a Personal Day

If you are concerned about whether you really need a mental health day or are calling yourself “lazy,” then ask yourself questions like these:

  • Can I be productive and safe in my work?

If you are distracted and work with heavy machinery, for example, safety is a serious concern. If you work with customers and your emotions are not under control, you might lose your job for providing poor customer service.

  • Do I have urgent personal responsibilities?

If you are stressed by things outside of work, such as bills to pay or office visits to make, taking a day to remove these temporary stresses will allow you to return to work with more focus and energy.

  • Is my level of self-care declining over time?

Letting some things slide is a good stress reduction strategy, but when an honest self-check shows that you are letting personal hygiene and revitalizing activities slip because you feel overwhelmed, it is important to understand that these are early symptoms of depression. Taking a day to rejuvenate physically and mentally can leave you fully energized for tomorrow’s challenges.

  • Am I keeping commitments important to my sobriety and mental health?

If you have scheduled appointments with a medical doctor, you would take time off to attend. If you need or have scheduled appointments for therapy, counseling, or outpatient addiction treatment, these should have equal priority and justify a personal day.

The Benefits of Some Me-Time

There are personal and societal benefits of stressed individuals taking a day off work. Studies estimate that only 17% of Americans are at “optimal” mental health, while 20% are living with an identifiable mental illness.1 The costs of mental illness and addiction may be as high as $105 billion dollars each year.1

Figures like those suggest that mental health days offer even more than these individual benefits:

  • A chance to de-stress from the daily grind of work challenges
  • The ability to spend time evaluating and stabilizing your emotions
  • Time to recover from the death of a close friend or breakup of an important relationship
  • An opportunity to attend group meetings or intensive outpatient therapy to deal with impending relapse

How to Tell Your Boss You Need a Mental Health Day

Handsome businessman in modern office looking out

Obviously, your decision to take a day off does have an impact on your co-workers and your employer. Consider those factors and weigh them against the consequences of not taking the time you need to heal. Don’t take the day to avoid important meetings or responsibilities if it is possible to wait or schedule around mission-critical events.

Investigate your employer’s policies to take advantage of days off that you are entitled to use. If personal days or vacation days are available, use these before you call in sick. You may need to take an unplanned sick day if your mental health or continued sobriety is at stake, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about making self-care a priority in your life.

Depression and addiction are diseases. Battling with them is as difficult as dealing with a chronic disease like asthma, migraines, or diabetes. Outpatient recovery centers, self-care, and psychological counseling services support your ongoing treatment and future productivity at work. You have the same rights to privacy about your medical conditions as any other person, so provide as much information as you are comfortable sharing.

Are You Taking Too Many Mental Health Days?

If you are struggling with a mental health issue and have used up your allotted paid time off, more intensive treatment might be needed. Most companies provide programs that will allow you more time off to deal with a chronic illness like depression or addiction. If red flags have been raised or you have been warned about too many absences, it is time to investigate those options.

FMLA may offer you more unpaid time off while protecting your job during treatment for addiction or depression. Short-term disability may be an option. While it is hard to ask for help from an employer, these programs exist for a reason—to help people just like you who want to recover and who need tools and resources to get there.

Call outpatient drug rehab centers, visit a doctor, see a counselor, and/or meet with your HR representative. Being honest about wanting more help is the most effective way to show your employer that you are committed to recovery. However, remember that even if your boss is not supportive, your right to and need to take care of your health are valid.

Making the Most of a Mental Health Day

While we all have different needs when it comes to de-stressing, making the most of your mental health day means understanding yourself and what will best relieve your anxiety or depression. Sitting on the couch eating ice cream might be just what one person needs, but, for most of us, taking a more active approach is best in order to arrive at a better work/life balance.

Ask yourself honestly what will make you wake up tomorrow feeling stronger and more stable. If you have been dealing with these issues for some time, you probably know what’s best even if you don’t feel like doing it.

Which of these tactics will be most healing, energizing, and effective?

Resting, sleeping, napping, and unplugging.

woman taking selfie on mountain

Taking this path means you don’t keep checking your work email and you only engage in those restful and healing activities you enjoy at home. You should try to quiet your thoughts about work and let your mind and body rest while reading a book or binge-watching something you enjoy.

Practicing active relaxation.

Many people practice other methods to relax their mind and body that help balance brain chemicals and body energies. Examples might be spending part of the day doing yoga, tai chi, martial arts, or meditation. If you’ve never tried one of these, first classes are usually free, and today is the day to try something different!

Taking care of your mind and body.

Exercise often stabilizes emotions and burns off stress, leaving you feeling physically tired and mentally clear. Taking a long walk in nature, going to the gym, swimming, boating, or getting a massage may be just what you need to stabilize your mood and turn your attention toward your physical health and wellness.

Finding fun, excitement, and exhilaration.

Daily chronic stress is similar to being in a mild flight-or-fight state all the time. For some people, the best way to relieve this is through healthy thrilling sports or hobbies. Like burning the carbon out of an engine, the pure excitement of white water rafting, roller coasters, or mountain biking can clear the mind and reset the stress meter. Likeminded friends only add to the fun, so connect with a group and go find a thrill that doesn’t involve drugs or alcohol.

Devote the day to getting it done.

We all have a pile of responsibilities and things that need our attention outside of work. Thinking about these undone chores can add to work stress and impair your focus. Instead of staying in that overwhelmed state, use a mental health day to run errands, clean the house, visit family, or fix the car and clear as many things as possible off your plate. The effect is liberating and, at work tomorrow, you will be fully engaged and productive.

Connecting with your support system.

Depression and addiction can be isolating illnesses. When you are down or feeling unstable, more support is the answer. Schedule an appointment with your therapist, go to an AA or NA meeting, and engage with your established addiction treatment center for activities, group counseling, or focused individual treatment. There’s really no better use of a day off of work than reaffirming your dedication to a healthier life.

Support and Discretion When You Need a Day of Recovery

Spending your mental health day in a place you feel safe, supported, and empowered is key to finding strength and resilience for tomorrow. At RECO Intensive, our intensive outpatient therapy programs and after-care services are ready and waiting for you in Delray Beach, Florida.

Taking a day off to meet our outpatient substance abuse treatment team may open the doors to a wealth of resources and supportive services for not only addiction but the co-occurring mental health conditions that are often part of the cause. For longer-term sober living needs and comfortable residential treatment, we partner with the RECO Institute to provide meaningful support and empowered life change for you and your loved ones. Call, email, or chat live now to find out more.


  1. https://health.usnews.com/wellness/mind/articles/2018-05-18/when-is-a-mental-health-day-off-from-work-justified

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