The Importance of Taking Mental Health Days

Remember how great it felt to see your “countdown to spring break” get into the single digits? Or the sense of freedom that overwhelmed you when you left your college campus, knowing you wouldn’t have to study or write another paper for the whole summer? Moments like these made the studying all-nighters and the countless research papers bearable.

How much more bearable would post-grad life be if we could take a break from work when we need it? For those who are fortunate enough to have paid time off, how often do you take advantage of it? Some people may be reluctant to even take a sick day, let alone a sporadic day off. Some people may not have taken a vacation in years. Job demands and pressures are definitely a real struggle, but how are they affecting us in the long run?

I spoke with Tiffany Louise, a life coach, therapist and speaker in Chicago, about this issue that many people face. Her philosophy is centered around helping people be their healthiest and happiest, and she had a lot to share on the topic of job related stress and the importance of taking time off. Throughout our conversation, we used to the term “mental health day” to describe an extra, “just because” day you take for yourself. Tiffany explained that mental health days days are not only beneficial, but are also essential.

“We live in a society that often wants to put a Band-Aid on something that needs stitches. Many times we wait until there is a major problem or sickness to finally slow down and take care of ourselves.”

According to Tiffany, taking a mental health day could help to prevent a major problem or sickness down the road.

“I see mental health days as a way to identify that our stress levels are rising, and to stop and take care of our emotional needs before we find ourselves with a painful consequence. One of our biggest predictors of emotional health that I see in my work is the ability to identify our feelings in the present moment, and to cope with them in healthy ways.”

Of course, everyone’s coping methods vary. Healthy methods can include reading, running, hitting the gym, writing, etc. Unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon for people to find themselves using unhealthy coping mechanisms, too.

“I always say when we shove an issue or a feeling under the rug, we are likely to trip over it in the future.” Tiffany explained. “When we avoid and repress feelings, we open ourselves to a whole host of unhealthy coping mechanisms: overworking, using substances and isolating, to name a few.”

In the, we aim to help each other stay positive, encourage each other to stay accountable for our workouts, to support each other in our endeavors and to reach out to one another when we need it. Yet, even those who utilize these healthy mechanisms to cope with feeling overworked can still find themselves at risk of problems in the future.

“The research on chronic, untreated stress and the effects on our physical health is sobering. Symptoms such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression are linked to high stress lifestyles.”

It sounds rather simple at first: if you are feeling stressed, overworked, anxious, exhausted – take a break. However, in reality, it isn’t that simple. The biggest thing standing in the way of many people and taking time off for mental health: the stigma.

“We are comfortable asking for (physical) sick days, yet when the subject turns to mental health, there is still quite a stigma. We feel more comfortable telling our bosses we have the stomach flu than we do sharing that we are feeling highly anxious. However, this stigma keeps us sick. Addressing our emotional needs in the current moment, and not someday in the future, is a key aspect of mental health.”

If you are considering the idea of taking an extra day off for yourself, but are too overwhelmed to know where to start, Tiffany has a few suggestions.

“Get curious about the emotions you are feeling that triggered the desire to take a mental health day. If it is because you are feeling tired or run down, then a day of rest and sleep might be in order. If it is because you are feeling overwhelmed and disorganized, then a day of clearing out clutter and checking off a to-do list may help you feel best.”

No matter what state you feel you are in, you can always benefit from taking some time to check-in with yourself and reflect.

“The choices we make in the present moment affect our futures. Taking care of our emotional needs leads to physical and mental resilience, and greater happiness and health overall.”

Mental Health Mindfulness Think & Feel

About Ashley McCullough

Ashley McCullough has been an active advocate of weight lifting, taco eating, city living and not running for as long as she can remember. A lifelong Notre Dame fan, she graduated from Saint Mary’s College in 2012 with a degree in Elementary Education. By day, you can find her organizing objects by color, singing, chanting, dancing around, and reading with her kindergarten class. After the school bell rings, well, not much changes. She continues to do all that. But she also thoroughly enjoys conversing and interacting with adults at group fitness classes and #Sweatworking events. Ashley was born and raised in the suburbs and moved to the city 4 years ago. She never plans to leave… unless she is able to find a beach house on a mountain in a major industrial city on a private island. Then she just might.