Hello all! It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted. Life has gotten fairly busy with looking to buy our first house, football season starting, and things really ramping up at the job. I’m back and will try my best to get on a better schedule of posting, including beginning my Question and Answer posts. Getting overwhelmed with work is as American as apple pie. That’s why I decided to make Taking a Mental Health Day my first post coming back. Hopefully you find it helpful!
This past Summer, I had the happiest day of my life when I married my wife. Shortly after, we honeymooned in Ireland. I couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend a long week as a newly married couple. We traveled, we hiked, we toured some breweries/distilleries, and met some of the most amazing people. It was also the first time in more years than I can count that I actually took a full week off from work.
I was so excited to take the full week off of work and have from the beginning of the weekend until the end of the next to be on vacation. Over in Ireland we were often asked how long we were staying for or how long we were on our honeymoon in total to which we responded, “This ENTIRE week!” Every time this happened we were given odd looks and shocked responses. We heard things like “What do you mean you’re only spending a week? You mean you came all the way here for just a few days?” Meanwhile, I’m thinking that this is the longest I’ve ever allowed myself to take off of work in years, so of course I would do some traveling.
The Irish were shocked at my joy for “getting to” spend an entire week on vacation because in every country in the European Union, employers must give full time employees a minimum of 20 paid vacation days. This is not counting sick and personal time. On top of that, there is a paid holiday every single month in Ireland. They have many similar paid holidays we have, but for months that don’t have an official holiday, they give them the paid day off anyway and call it a Bank Holiday. The reason I’m sharing this is to begin to illustrate my point in the importance of taking mental health days for yourself, specifically taking time off of work.
While I love my country and think there are plenty of things that we do better than other countries in the world, work/life balance is by far NOT one of them. Overall, I’d say the majority of Americans are overworked and don’t even realize it. So few of us travel because of the cost and the inability to get time off. I imagine there’s many people like me who just assume that most modern countries in the world have a similar work structure and expectation that we have. Thinking our overworked culture is the norm creates an expectation that is either placed on us by employers or we place on ourselves, that it is not okay to take time off.
I’m not going to spend this article going into the “why” of our culture’s obsession with work. This is an article about why it’s important and why it’s okay to take a sick day, when you’re not physically sick, but in need of taking some time to maintain your mental health.
I’ve worked with many clients who have told me of this fantastic problem that they have. They are generally in good physical health. They are lucky enough to work a job that provides paid time off for sick days. They have more sick time accrued than they could ever imagine using. This doesn’t sound like a problem at all on the surface, but when you couple it with the fact that they’re in therapy because they’re miserable, overwhelmed, and can’t seem to shake their depression and/or anxiety, those other positive things don’t seem to matter so much. I myself have been one of these people and to some extent continue to struggle with this at times.
What do you mean by Take a Mental Health Day?
It’s exactly like it sounds. You’re not sick, physically, but need some time to make sure your mental health is in check. Maybe you’ve been falling behind on keeping up with your usual activities that help you maintain your mental health. Maybe you’re just overdue to take a long weekend and maybe go somewhere.
If you like many people in our country feel as though your work/life balance is anything but balanced, taking a day off is what you can do to begin changing that. I can’t see anyway that we could quickly change the culture as a whole, but we can take some of the power back.
Lucky for my wife and I, working in the mental health fields, the majority of our supervisors in the past and present are also therapists or social workers of some sort. It’s completely acceptable for us to tell them, “I can’t come in today. I need to take a Mental Health Day just to take care of a few things.” Hopefully you work for an employer who is equally understanding. Many don’t. In that case, while I don’t like and more often than not won’t recommend dishonesty, it may be necessary. You’ve earned your paid time off, including your sick time. If you are not allowed to take it or if there is a good chance you will lose your job for taking an occasional day off when needed, you may need to rethink if your current employment is really the best place for you to be.
Excuses and Answers
When I tell these clients…. “Just take a day off! Take some time for your self to recharge your batteries” I’m met with such a range of excuses that I do understand and have caught myself using from time to time. Some of them go like this:
- My work is so important that I can’t possibly take a day off.
- Even though we get paid time off for being sick, nobody takes sick days. It’s the culture.
- There’s nobody else to do my job when I’m gone, which means it’s just going to pile up anyway.
- I don’t want to take a sick day when I’m not sick, because I want to make sure I have enough in case I do actually get sick.
- I don’t want to put my co-workers out by taking time off.
- I’m a contractor. If I don’t work I don’t get paid. I can’t afford it.
- I was raised to have a strong work ethic. I don’t believe it’s right to take a day off unless I’m on my deathbed.
To which I might give the following responses.
- If the work you do is that important, it’s important that you are at your top level of functioning while you do your job. When you’re overly stressed and overwhelmed you’re more prone to make mistakes.
- When you sign a contract that provides your salary and paid time off, the paid time off is a factor that decides what your salary is. If you were given no paid time off, they would be paying you more. Not using paid time off, especially for those that lose it after a certain amount of time, is the same as if your employer handed you a pay check and you said “Naaaah I don’t really need all this. Take some of it back.”
- If you and you alone are the only one responsible and capable for doing what you do at your job, that is a problem within itself. Taking time off may force your company to train others to assist you when needed and at the very least, will raise their appreciation for what you do.
- Stress has a tremendous impact on your physical health. It can impact your sleep habits, your eating habits, and your immune system. Taking a day off to deal with your stress and reset yourself may actually save you from having to take more days off due to an illness that might come as a result of increased stress levels.
- My answer for this excuse is a combination of many above. If you’re overwhelmed and overworked, you will not be working up to your maximum potential. You may be more prone to making mistakes. Your co-workers will have to pick up after you. If your co-workers care about your well being as much as you care about theirs, they would want you to do what’s needed to take care of yourself.
- This is the trickiest one for me. I’ve been there as most jobs working as a therapist that I’ve had as a therapist offered no paid time off and I was only paid per client I saw. Money is important and necessary to taking care of yourself and your family. If you don’t have sick time, you probably don’t have short term or long term disability either. If you only get paid for the time you work, you literally can’t afford to get to the point of having a mental break down and needing to take extensive time off work. Taking a day here and there goes a long way to prevent this from happening.
- There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a strong work ethic. In fact, it’s probably what got you where you are in life. Don’t lose your strong work ethic but look at what the core purpose of your work is. Is it to provide a good life for your family? In most cases, they’d rather you be happy and healthy and bringing in extra money. Is it to do good for some greater cause? You will be able to do more good if you are rested. Is it due to your sense of loyalty to your employer? For healthy relationships, loyalty has to go both ways and your employer should respect your needs as you do theirs.
Unless you are one of the lucky few who are doing the thing you’re most passionate about for a living, most of us are working the jobs we do in order to support ourselves and others. In other words you are working to live. It’s not healthy to live to work when you don’t absolutely love your work. We have to work hard in order to maintain our income and have hopefully have some job security. This is true but if you feel as though you’re working too much or work is becoming too overwhelming too often, it’s time to make some changes. Whether you love your job or not, your job should not be having a substantial negative impact on your physical health, mental health, your relationships, and your overall well-being. Please consider taking some time to take care of yourself!
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