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Mental Health Days

You don't need to be sick to need a day off

by Meri Raffetto RD, LDN  |  5856 views  |  4 comments  |        Rate this now! 

Have you ever taken a mental health day?

Being self employed allows for a pretty flexible schedule, but instead of making the most of that I typically make a detailed to-do list so that my work day is full. For me, the only difference between being self employed and going to an office is that I can work in sweats on my couch and can run errands in the day if I have to. Other than that, I keep a pretty tight schedule.

If I tell my husband that I don’t feel like going to work today, he'll often say, “Then don’t. You’re self employed, you can do what you want.” However, it doesn’t feel right. Don’t get me wrong -- there are many unproductive days where I can’t say I got anything important accomplished, but I still “go to work”. 

Many years ago, I worked at a hospital in Seattle and shared an office with a nurse practitioner. She was one of the most crazy (in a good way), interesting, and fantastic women I have ever met. One of the things she did on a fairly regular basis was take “mental health days.” She didn’t hide behind an “I’m too sick to go to work" story, she just said she needed to take a day off. On her mental health days, she would do things she loved like go hiking, make crafts, or watch movies.

My initial thought was, "Wow, it seems kind of irresponsible to take a day off when you aren’t really sick." Then I decided that sounded just like something my father would say, and I’d better explore this idea a little more. 

Later, when I lived in California, I had a neighbor who was a successful florist who worked from home. She also took mental health days. If she didn’t have any parties or weddings to arrange flowers for, she would give herself a wonderful, relaxing day. She would have a cup of coffee on the front porch while reading a magazine, go take a swim in the ocean, meet some friends for lunch, and sometimes she would even go to the spa. 

Watching these two women really made me think more about mental health days as a life strategy. They are two incredibly successful women who are always positive and cheerful. They are at the top of their game in their chosen professions and enjoy their lives to the fullest. Taking mental health days didn’t seem to slow down their career goals; in fact, it seemed to do the opposite, helping them to be the best at what they do. 

From a health standpoint it makes a lot of sense. One of the number one disease-promoting killers that we face in our lives is stress. Stress can impact your health in a far worse way than a common cold or flu bug, so why would we not take a day off from stress when we need to? 

About the Author

Meri Raffetto is a Registered Dietitian, and a columnist for Work It, Mom! and the founder of Real Living Nutrition Services, an online weight loss program that empowers people to make small changes s

Read more by Meri Raffetto RD, LDN

4 comments so far...

  • I have taken more mental health days than actual sick days. I have a problem with an overabundance of stress, so I periodically have to take vacation or a mental health day to be able to manage. Just one day makes such a huge difference. I also think it's better for my employer- I schedule mental health days around my job load to make sure that I won't leave anyone hanging too badly. Sick days can't be as well planned.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by heels on 4th January 2008

  • Love this article Meri! I am a firm believer in mental health days, although, like your father, I felt irresponsible "calling off" work when I worked for someone else, so I never did. Now that I am self-employed however, there is no guilt! Like your friend, my favorite moments are on my front porch with a hot cup of coffee in the spring time. Even just thinking about those mornings in the doldrums of winter here, makes me feel more relaxed.
    And for those who are concerned about not getting things done, I find I am more productive once I clear my head or have something to look forward to.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Rosanne Rust on 28th December 2007

  • How lucky you were to have two such good examples, so you could see that this practice doesn't make you lazy or less productive, but instead enables you to be, as you noted, "at the top of your game".

    I'm moving from a 9 - 5 self-employment to freelance self-employment, and I am finding it challenging to allow myself mental health days this year, as I have donet in years past. It's the stress of holding down more than one job. (I'm at about one and a quarter right now, and that's only going to go up, until I reach the point where I can step from one career into the next.) I'm fully aware of the irony that I probably need those mental health days MORE now than I did before, but I'm less willing to take them. I will have to work on this.

    Wanting to set a good example for my children, I allow each of them to take one day a month from school as a mental health day. They can't have a test or an assignment due that day, but if it's just a regular day, they can let me know and I let them have the day. They don't always take their monthly day, but they know it's always available to them if they need it.

    I see this as good parenting!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by MaryP on 27th December 2007

  • Love this idea. And when I had a regular job - vs working for myself - I used to do this somewhat regularly - a few times a year. But now I find that I don't seem to be able to justify taking a whole day off -- there is so much to get done:)

    I think I might try for 1/2 day in 2008:)

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Nataly on 26th December 2007