Your Guilt-Free Guide to Taking a Mental Health Day

I woke up this morning with energy in my limbs, my mind excited about the day ahead. When I got to work my tasks lay out in front of me in neatly ordered manageable chunks.

It’s a world away from where I was just two days ago. I woke up with a heavily thumping heart, exhausted after struggling to sleep the night before. I could feel my stomach was unsettled. My cheeks were ridged after days of chewing and biting them. My jaw tight and heavy from days and nights of being clamped together. My left nostril has been twitching at random for a fortnight. To top it off, my credit card balance is higher than usual, because my anxiety tends to manifest itself in the form of reckless online shopping.

Can I take a day off work for my mind?

What a difference a day makes, as the song goes. In particular, a ‘Mental Health Day’. I’ve not previously taken a mental health day unless signed off work by my GP. That piece of paper signed by a professional, I felt, gave my sick day a legitimacy. Telling my boss that I had decided, by myself, that I needed a day away from work for my mental health? In the past I didn’t have the self confidence to do that; it felt like skiving.

It feels like good news to me that I have finally accepted that a ‘mentally sick’ day off work is just as valid as a ‘physically sick’ day off work.

The guilt of ‘a day off’

Being honest, it wasn’t just my own preconceptions I was worried about. I was so anxious about the reaction from my boss that I spent half an hour carefully crafting the email I would send her, meticulously poring over each word. I wanted to be assertive, but not bolshy. Appreciative, but not pathetically grateful. I was shaking as I clicked send. ‘No worries,’ was the response I got, ‘Rest up.’

I was also incredibly guilty about leaving my colleagues in the lurch. Way more so than I would have felt if I’d been off with a cold. To the extent that I spent my evening making cookies for them to atone. Two of my colleagues sent me utterly lovely WhatsApp messages checking in on me, and offering support above and beyond what they needed to.

Focus on health for good

I spent the morning walking to the pharmacy to get the iron tablets I disobediently haven’t been taking recently – which has definitely not been helping my energy levels – and getting a neck and shoulder massage, to pummel out some of that tension that’s been building up. In the afternoon I headed to bed to catch up on sleep, only stumbling out of the dark when Mr C got home from work at 5.30pm.

In short, I didn’t do anything too momentous. But a full day of mindfulness, of breathing consciously, of putting my mental and physical health first, has made me feel immeasurably better. And it has made me exponentially more productive and creative at work the next day. I’m pretty sure the effect will last longer than a day. I have thanked my boss and colleagues, and told them the great impact of that 8 hours away from the office. If I feel like I need it I would definitely take a sick day in the future for my mental health. I encourage you to do the same.

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