The Importance of Taking Time for Mental Health Today
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The Importance of Taking Time for Mental Health Today
Let’s talk about the importance of taking time for mental health today. Depression and anxiety are more common than ever yet there is still a stigma associated with them. Even though taking mental health days is not yet mainstream, I want to discuss the importance of taking time for mental health today. Actually, because it’s not mainstream, I feel extra responsible for discussing and normalizing the conversation here.
The Importance of Taking Mental Health Days in the News
I just learned that a few young high school students successfully lobbied and had a law passed to allow for students in Oregon to take mental health days. THIS IS AMAZING!
Unfortunately, the discussion was initiated as a result of high rate of suicide. However, the intent is to break down the stigma associated with mental health. The new law allows for five mental health days over a three month period. The state of Utah also allows students to be absent for mental health reasons.
Lets Talk about Taking Time for Mental Health Today
I feel responsible, as someone who has a public platform, for discussing the importance of taking time for mental health today. Mental health is just as significant as physical health and self care should be built into your routine the same way as physical health is prioritized. Sometimes, a usually healthy person gets sick, and sometimes a usually healthy person gets burnt out or has trouble managing their legitimate illness related to mental health such as depression, anxiety, or otherwise.
In this post I refer to “burnout”. For context, I consider burnout to be a state of overwhelm. This could be a result of too many things going on including external pressures, or the feeling that you lack control over your condition. Maybe external stressors cause you to forget about taking care of yourself and managing your mental health, and as a result you feel overwhelmed.
While I recognize medical diagnoses are very serious, I want you to be open minded about how people might interpret mental health. In this case I am referring to a sense of overwhelm and lack of control in your life. I am being vague intentionally. It is meant to be open ended to resonate with the majority of readers and not to undermine the seriousness of medical diagnoses made by a doctor.
Why Take Time for Mental Health Today?
Burnout can make you feel like you hate your job, or can in turn, make you physically ill. People have passed out at work from pushing themselves too hard. People have stayed home from school because they were anxious or feared being bullied. Having mental health as an allowable excuse to stay home from school allows students to feel empowered to manage their mental health and parents can openly discuss the subject with their children.
Stress, anxiety, loneliness, depression are hard on your body and while everyone will go through stressful situations in your life, you need to take care of yourself first, so that you can take care of others
Not having Paid Sick Leave is even more Challenging
This may be particularly challenging for single-income parents or individuals who have bills to pay that exceed or are close to the amount of income they make. Particularly when they do not have paid sick days. This can be the case for low-income single moms or dads, or high-paying executives. There are the two significant issues: expenses exceeding income, and unpaid sick days. Obviously more of a challenge when you’re subject to both problems.
My Experience and relationship with my own Mental Health
Fortunately, I receive paid sick days through my union at my current job. And I realize many don’t have this privilege. I use my sick days for a few reasons:
- when I am already sick and can’t function;
- when I feel like I am on the real verge of getting sick (to avoid sharing my germs and focus on resting and boosting immunity); and
- for mental health days.
I have taken a sick day for mental health. There, I said it! Usually, I’m pretty good at managing my mental health and ensuring I take time for myself regularly, both on weekdays and weekends. I often evaluate “where I’m at” to see if I am lacking in any aspect of my life that contributes to positive mental health. This just looks like a session where I take the time to reflect- either out on a walk, while I’m trying to go to sleep, or if I’m feeling suddenly overwhelmed.
I will assess what’s been going on by identifying stressors and then my foundation. Foundation meaning regular attributes that contribute to my mental health (on a good day), for example, a reasonable amount of exercise, eating foods with high nutritional value, social time, alone time, amount of sleep, and this type of thing. However, nobody is perfect. Sometimes so much is going on that you get ahead of yourself and before you know it, you’ve been pushing yourself too hard, for too long.
What to do to Improve your Mental Health Today
Taking a sick day for mental health doesn’t mean a free day off. No, this day has some homework. We’ll talk about what you should do when you take a mental health day, next.
But first, it’s important to acknowledge your emotions and allow them to exist. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and that’s when I know I need a time out. It’s important to take the time to identify what’s going on. Avoiding and pushing the feeling away will not help your mental health.
“It’s important to acknowledge your emotions and allow them to exist.”
How to Arrange Time for Mental Health
Taking Time Off for Mental Health Today
Whether you have sick days paid through your employer, or not, you should view mental health as an acceptable excuse to miss work. The same way you would if you were physically sick.
You have to be careful with this, you do not want to ruin this privilege for yourself or anyone else by taking advantage of your sick days. With great privelege comes great responsibility. Let me re-iterate that this is not a “get out of work” free card because you didn’t get enough sleep, or you want an extra long weekend. This is a case where you have found yourself unable to cope with what’s going on with you personally and you need time to process what’s going on, and do some self-work to ensure you get better.
If you are seriously concerned with your mental health or you need more than a single day off, you should visit your doctor. You should see how they can help you or what they recommend for a course of action.
Managing Mental Health as Part of Routine
Ideally you want to get to a place where you can comfortably move though life without episodes. This may be a journey, and you may live with something that will always impact you. However, you can learn to manage your brain. It is a muscle that can be trained. You can build healthy habits to mitigate impacts and triggers where possible. If you require medication, ensure you take it properly. Try to learn what you need: fresh air and exercise, more sleep, nutritious food, to quit self-medicating, or simply 20 minutes for yourself each morning and evening to reflect and hold yourself together.
Aim to prioritize a morning, or evening each week dedicated to self-care and whatever you need to be a better you. The reason I recommend a morning or evening is because one side of that time period is uninterrupted. Either your morning starts with waking up, and your evening can finish with you going to sleep. Anytime will work. But I think that your commitment and focus will be stronger if you take time first thing in the morning or last thing before bed.
If You're Not Quite There Yet
If you aren’t in a place where you already have a good relationship with your mental health then you may want to dedicate some time to it on a weekly basis. It’s okay that you’re not quite there yet. You aren’t here to make superficial changes overnight. We want to build strong habits and trust with yourself. It’s important to think long term and set reasonable expectations. But if right now mental health is a focus for you, I recommend spending time on it daily. Whatever you think you can manage. Plan this time in your week like an appointment.
If you are serious about improving your mental health you need to commit to it, like a doctors appointment. Write it down, put it as an appointment in your phone with an alarm one hour before, or the night before the event occurs. Then, tell somebody about it. Somebody close to you who is going to check in with you.
For example, when I know I just NEED to go for a run, I will tell my husband about it right away. Shitty morning at work? By lunch I’ve texted my husband that I plan to go for a run after work, before dinner. So he needs to decide if he is going to make himself something to eat and not worry about me, or will we eat together, a bit later than normal? It’s not a big deal but then we’re both on the same page and I can’t really change my mind now can I? I mean, I can, but we both know I will feel guilty if I bail on myself.
What a Mental Health Day Looks Like
I have a few ideas of what a “mental health day” might look like. Each person is different and it depends on your personal needs. If you don’t know were to start I recommend you check out my other post on daily practices that improve your life. It shows that little things can bring so much joy.
Start with Brainstorming a List
Whether you have a full day, or are limited to two hours in the morning or evening, I would start by making a list. Start by listing all of the things you’d like to do today to make you feel accomplished. Try to think of things that put you in a better headspace. Here are some ideas of what might be included on your list:
- go for a run;
- clean your bedroom;
- do laundry;
- de-clutter your space and drop off a bag of stuff at goodwill;
- spend time on a hobby (write, paint);
- catch up on errands: sign paperwork, call your bank, negotiate a lower interest rate on for your credit card balance;
- listen to upbeat music and try to let loose, relax and feel good for a change;
- be present and work through a bigger issue you’re stuck on;
- have a hot bath and read Girl Wash Your Face or Milk & Honey;
- finally book that appointment with your doctor or counselor;
- call your mom or a good friend;
- take a nap;
- practice some self care by painting your nails, making a homemade face mask or hair mask; or
- anything else that you can think of.
Simplifying your List into Five Steps
Now take the time to pare down the list to what seems reasonable. You need to keep the amount of time you have into consideration. If you have a full day dedicated to mental health, you should OWN this process! So if you only have two hours, be mindful of the amount of time you have given the following steps. Maybe you only complete the first three steps. This is okay. We’ll be sure to include some important self-work that needs to be done.
1. Write down "record three things I am grateful for".
That is the first item on your list. If you have interest in this subject in particular, check out my post on the Importance of Showing Gratitude for a Better Life.
2. It's time to acknowledge those feelings.
Why do you feel burnt out? What has your sleep been like? Nutrition? Exercise? What are your other stressors? Are you feeling financially secure or are your finances causing you stress? Now that you’ve identified the root cause of what’s holding you back, what can you do about it? Will setting aside some time to plan ahead for the week help? What if you haven’t been getting enough sleep and eating poorly? Can you make your lunch the night before work and be in bed by 9:30 even if you aren’t ready to sleep yet? If you have been feeling anti-social and depressed, can you shower then put clean clothes on and go for a walk? Will you call a friend when you get home?
Nobody blames you for feeling any certain way, but it is up to you to take action to improve the situation. It may seem impossible. Don’t worry, it’s not yet time to deal with the situation, you are just IDENTIFYING what the thing is that is hanging over your head and what you can do about it. Can you do that? Once you have had an honest amount of time to reflect and feel like you have figured out what it is, move to the next question.
3. Choose one thing from the list that you SHOULD do that might reduce stress and anxiety for the next few days.
This might be the elephant in the room, the thing that has been haunting you that you have been avoiding. Responding to your boss about something controversial, paying bills, the mountain of chores you have to do because your home is a mess, applying for jobs, booking an appointment with your doctor or counselor. Whatever it is on the list that will set you up. Whatever will give you a few more days to process everything that is going on with more ease. do you have your one thing? Write it down as number 3 on the list.
4. Choose one thing from the list that will make you feel healthy.
This is something you will do to take care of yourself. Maybe a brisk walk in the fresh air for at least 20 minutes. Since you want to be intentional about your time, you will listen to a podcast or audiobook at the same time as your walk. Maybe you really need quiet time to process everything that is going on. I recommend going for a walk while leaving your headphones (and phone) at home. Alternatively, maybe you want to make yourself a nice meal, along with some good leftovers for the next few days.
Perhaps a green smoothie will do the trick, or even a glass of lemon water. Got your one thing to make you feel healthy? Write it down as number 4.
5. Choose one thing on the list that its only purpose is because you like it and it makes you happy.
This one might seem frivolous, but we’re in guilt-free territory. This might be the one item you wouldn’t have gotten to if you didn’t pare down the list. But now you get to reward yourself for completing the first four items on the list. Perhaps you want to have a nap, make a homemade a face mask, do some painting or writing, meditate, have a bath, call and chat with a person you care about for longer than usual.
Taking Action and Completing the Five Steps
It’s time to take action on the 5 items you’ve noted above. To refresh your memory, they were:
- Record three things I am grateful for
- What has been hanging over my head and what can you do about it? If you can do something about it now, take action. If not, make a plan.
- That thing you chose from the list that should reduce stress and anxiety for the next few days; do that thing now
- That thing you chose to make you feel healthy
- That thing you chose to make you feel happy
If you are Concerned about the Mental Health of a Friend or Family Member
If you notice a change in behaviour, it’s safe to assume it’s a good time to talk to them. If they just don’t seem like their usual self, it’s the best thing you can do. Of course it’s easier to judge someone who is close to you. Sometimes you just know. But sometimes you really can’t be sure. As long as you are being sincere, it never hurts to ask.
How to Approach Someone who you Think is Struggling
Start by being honest and telling them what you have noticed. Use factual information: what you have seen. For example, “You seem really withdrawn lately, is there anything you want to talk about?” or “I noticed you didn’t go to school last week, is everything okay?” Don’t try to guess what’s going on, and don’t judge. If you are going to to ask someone you care about what’s going on with them, you need to go in with an open mind, and patience. Don’t judge. It may be serious, or it may be something that it just weighing on your friend. You need to create a space that feels safe. If your friend or family member feels vulnerable and scared they are already going to find it hard to discuss. They may open up to you if you have approached them in a safe environment and you are showing patience and understanding.
Ask them if they are okay. Be sure to keep in mind that you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. But you can let them know that you’ll be there if they ever do want to talk to you about what’s going on.
Don’t take it personally if the person doesn’t want to open up to you, it’s going to be a touchy subject and they may be embarrassed, ashamed, or not quite understand what’s going on with them.
You can be there for them for when they are ready. Also, you can connect them to help and resources. If your friend or family member is showing signs of distress or they are in danger of harming themselves or others, it’s an emergency and you should call 9-1-1.
I hope reading this post helped you understand the significance of taking time for mental health today. It’s not really just a self-care day. It’s about taking care of yourself so you can thrive at live. You want to be able to acknowledge your emotions and understand why you feel a certain way.
Most importantly, ask for help if you aren’t able to manage your mental health on your own. If you can encourage positive mental health on your own, do it. But sometimes there are legitimate medical reasons why you may need assistance. Help yourself by acknowledging how others can help you. Please reach out to a doctor if it doesn’t feel manageable. For more resources on mental health, please reach out to your local Ministry, or visit these Canadian or American resource sites for mental health.
Share your mental health story below. Let’s break the silence on mental health and keep the discussion going!