Imagine coming home from a long shift at work. It’s dark, quiet and your bed is finally calling your name. It’s so comfortable, but no sooner does your head hit the pillow, you hear the tiny little screams of “Mommy!” This is my life as a mother of 3, soon to be 4 children (all boys) under 6 years of age, while working two jobs overnight, going to school and volunteering by day. It is exhausting being spread so thin, and yet still having so many things to do and goals to work on in the future. I have had too many episodes of burn out to count, once leading to a huge mental breakdown that actually landed me in a psychiatric hospital for a little over a week. Since then, I have learned how important it is to take some time to recharge my own batteries.
What is a mental health day? There’s no exact definition behind it, and it certainly can go by many different names. Licensed therapist Kati Morton for example, calls them self-care days. It’s not important what you call them, what is important is how you take advantage of them. Mental health days help avoid burn out which is that feeling of overwhelming stress that can happen when you don’t take the time to take care of yourself. Burn out is increasingly common, especially among busy students, who also work and have other responsibilities that take up most of their time, and it can actually be catastrophic.
The busier you are, the easier it is to just think “I don’t have time to take a break or take care of myself, there’s too much to do!” However if you become burnt out, you’re really just slowing yourself down, decreasing productivity and making yourself miserable all at the same time. In the documentary called The Day I Snapped, a woman named Linda, who had experienced such a bad episode of burn out from having unrealistic expectations placed on her at work described the feeling perfectly, saying it feels like a “total collapse.” Burn out effects everyone differently, but it can commonly either cause you to not care about anything at all, or still care, but somehow prevent you from actually doing anything you care about.
So how do you take a mental health day? Everyone is different. Some people like to get dressed up and go do something fun, and some people, like myself, prefer to stay in their pajamas, eat whatever they want and binge watch Netflix in bed, or spend the day reading. Morton seems to do a combination of the two, including aromatherapy with some mood boosting candles. It is a day to do whatever you want to do, eat whatever you want, and force yourself to forget about the things that are causing you stress. It is best not to schedule anything that has to be done that day, and go with the flow instead.
So how often should we take mental health days? Well that also depends on the person. Of course, the busier we are, the harder it will be to fit them into our lives. Another suggestion made by Kati Morton, is to schedule them in. If you are a planner like me, you may find it easier on your conscience to take the day off if you see it penciled in in your schedule. Sometimes it may be impossible to take a full day, but at least try to have a few hours set apart each week to take some time for yourself. You can’t please everyone in the world, but you can make sure you take the time to make yourself happy.