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18th March, 20214 min read

When to take a mental health day off work

Medical reviewer:Dr Adiele Hoffman
Author:Libby Williams
Last reviewed: 17/03/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. So why is it that people tend to find it easier and more acceptable to take a day off work for a physical ailment, than a mental one?

It’s important to clarify that occasional mental strain and diagnosed mental illness are different. This article looks at taking time off work due to occasional instances of being overwhelmed, stressed or anxious.

Can you take a day off for mental health?

Simply, the answer is yes.

Workplace culture has come a long way in recent years. In most countries, taking a day off for mental health reasons is now seen as the same as taking time off for a physical illness such as the flu, stomach upset or back pain.

To understand your rights in relation to where you work specifically, it’s always a good idea to check your company's sick leave policy.

When to take a mental health day off work

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), good mental health is a ‘state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community'.

If you wake up before work feeling stressed, anxious, are questioning your abilities and are unable to cope with the day ahead, it may be time you took a day off.

Stress and anxiety manifest differently in each of us, but these signs and symptoms may mean you need to practise mental self-care:

  • feeling distracted and struggling to concentrate
  • worrying more than usual and feeling anxious
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • having ‘racing’ thoughts
  • finding decision-making difficult
  • being irritable, aggressive or impatient
  • having low self-esteem

When stress and anxiety levels are high, they may also result in physical symptoms, such as:

  • feeling more tired than usual
  • headaches
  • aching muscles
  • trouble sleeping
  • dizziness
  • eating too much or too little

How to spend your day off

Taking a mental health day should leave you feeling restored – so use the time off to help improve your sense of wellbeing.

This doesn’t mean you need to plan your day, but make sure you practise self-care to help you relax and find balance again.

For some, self-care means a 5km run, an hour meditation session and cleaning the house from top to bottom. For others, it’s catching up on sleep, reading a book and getting a massage.

Whatever you find restorative, do that. Less is often more when it comes to a mental health day. The key is to not put any pressure on yourself.

Take some time to evaluate

As well as allowing you to relax and reconnect, a mental health sick day is an opportunity for you to put things in place to help improve and maintain your mental wellbeing going forward.

Try making a list of the things that drain your energy and think of how you might be able to get rid of these or make them a smaller part of your day. It may also be helpful to write down your responsibilities and priorities to help you regain perspective on what’s most important to you.

If you feel comfortable, it may be a good idea to talk to your manager when you’re back at work. You could discuss changes that can be made to increase your job satisfaction, such as adjusting your workload and re-evaluating responsibilities.

When to talk to your doctor about your mental health

Mental and emotional stress may cause more long-term effects if not addressed and may even result in physical illness.

If you regularly feel low, anxious or unable to cope – and have been feeling that way for a few weeks or months – you should talk to your doctor.

You should never feel embarrassed about needing or wanting to seek help for your mental health.

Key points

  • mental health days off are just as important as sick days for physical ailments
  • there are both mental and physical symptoms that indicate poor mental wellbeing
  • use your time off to do whatever feels restorative for you
  • if you’re worried about your mental health, seek medical advice

Did you know you can track your mood and wellbeing on the Healthily app? Once you’ve downloaded the app, tap the ‘+’ sign at the bottom of the screen to start tracking and spotting patterns.

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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.