Why Introverts Should Take ‘Mental Health Days,’ According to a Therapist

An introvert takes a mental health day

Are you losing your focus and patience at work, and always feeling tired? It’s time for a mental health day.

Taking time off from work when feeling physically ill is pretty commonplace, but what about for mental health? Did you know there is a term specifically for this that is literally called “taking a mental health day”?

Merriam Webster defines a mental health day as “a day that an employee takes off from work in order to relieve stress or renew vitality.” Taking a day off in order to “renew vitality”… As a therapist, I absolutely love this part of the definition, as it’s defining what is gained! 

It certainly feels pretty awful when your vitality feels exhausted. I imagine my fellow introverts resonate with this, too — none of us feel great when our vitality is depleted. Typically, this is when introverts may find themselves skipping social events in order to recharge. But what are you to do when it feels you may not be able to do this with work… or can you? 

Getting Over the Guilt of Taking a Mental Health Day

Although you may know that taking a mental health day is an actual concept, have you ever actually taken one? Does it feel legitimate to take a mental health day off work? You may notice yourself feeling guilty at the thought of doing so, especially if you work more independently or are commission-based and don’t feel it’s “worth the time off” to lose out on potential money. You also may fear letting your clients/boss/team members down if you’re taking a day away from work for yourself. 

Additionally, if you work for a company where you receive paid time off (PTO), do you feel you should just “push through” and save those days for a vacation or in case you are “really sick”? And, given how the work-from-home culture has become commonplace over the past year, does taking a day off work when you’re already at home feel silly?

If you find yourself resonating with some of the examples above, you’re not alone. It speaks to where society, as a whole, needs to better work on valuing employees’ mental and emotional health. Additionally, pushing yourself to keep grinding it out — or when you find that you’re talking yourself out of taking a mental health day, especially when you’re overwhelmed — can actually lead to burnout. In reality, when you’re feeling burned out, taking one day off probably won’t have that much of an impact; you may need to take more than one mental health day to figure out what’s going on. But if you’re beginning to feel overwhelmed, it’s a good idea to start with one. And, as a therapist, I can speak to how important it is to have a mental health plan and take this time for yourself.

4 Benefits of Taking a Mental Health Day

1. It’ll renew your vitality: You’ll have more energy and focus when you do return to work.

We’re circling back to the definition of “mental health day” here. If you’ve found yourself feeling low-energy and depleted, and are having difficulty focusing or experiencing self-talk that is trending toward wanting a day off from work, a mental health day is essential. 

For example, have you ever found yourself looking at the calendar and asking yourself, “When is the next holiday/long weekend?” and counting the days until you have a day off? Then, perhaps you tell yourself, “OK, seven more weeks until the next long weekend. I can make it until then.” But, be really honest with yourself here. Are you trying to convince yourself you can make it that long with how you are feeling? How are you going to manage until then?  

Taking a mental health day will help you return to work feeling more refreshed and energized, which is better for you and your company, as you’ll be showing up as your best self rather than pushing yourself to the max just to “make it through.” As an introvert, by giving yourself the gift of this time, you’ll feel the difference within yourself. It really is a feeling of inner renewed energy and vitality. This also, in turn, helps you to feel better about doing your job. It’s a win-win. 

2. It’ll prevent you from getting overwhelmed to the point of burnout. 

From the endless meetings to the small talk, work can quickly get overwhelming, even when working remotely. After all, even though working from home has many benefits and is a dream come true for many introverts, other aspects are not as introvert-friendly, like Zoom after Zoom… after Zoom.

So taking care of your mental health helps to prevent burnout. It’s much more effective in the prevention stage compared to “needing” time off to manage precursory symptoms of burnout later on. I remember one of my former colleagues would commit to taking some time off every quarter. This served the purpose of helping her to remain refreshed, especially in working in a helping profession, which many introverts are drawn toward.

Depending on the type of work you do, you may also feel stress or anxiety from needing to “be on” most of the time, especially if you work in an extroverted job. Taking time off for your emotional health will help you feel rejuvenated. It doesn’t mean you can’t handle things or are weak, which is a common stigma regarding emotional health. Instead, you are loving and honoring yourself by choosing to take time off when you feel it’s needed instead of waiting until you’re past your breaking point.

3. It’ll decrease your stress and anxiety, which will boost happiness.  

Increasing stress at work can spill over to other areas of your life, including your family, relationships, and the toll it takes on your own emotional health. For example, you may find yourself starting to have trouble sleeping, not being present (both at and outside work), and being short-tempered with those you love (including yourself). You may find yourself snacking more, too, eating and working simultaneously rather than taking time for a lunch break away from your computer. Plus, exercise or preparing healthy meals may feel like a chore, so you stop doing them. Why bother?

So, as you take time for yourself, rather than increasing the stress you’re already noticing, you will find yourself feeling much less stressed and caring for yourself more, too. Chronic stress is not healthy for your emotional or physical health, so this is an important factor here, as well. And, as a result, you’ll feel less anxious and happier.

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4. It’ll improve your self-confidence and perspective about your job. 

If you find you’re starting to not show up as your best self at work, a mental health day may be in order. You may find yourself feeling more irritable, not being as present, or simply feeling tired (all the time). For example, maybe you’re a teacher and find yourself starting to have difficulty finding compassion and patience for the student who is struggling in your class. You may even notice you start to question your own abilities as a teacher and compare yourself to other faculty members. You may recognize this isn’t you: This isn’t who you are as a teacher. You may ask yourself: “What is going on with me here?” Taking mental health day(s) can help to refresh you so you are back to showing up as the self-confident teacher you know yourself to be.

Now that we know some benefits to taking a mental health day, how do you know when — and how — you should actually take one?

When — and How — to Take a Mental Health Day

If you feel guilty for taking a day off, planning in advance (like my colleague did) may help alleviate that guilt, as then you’ll have time to let others know you’ll be taking time off. Otherwise, if you have not arranged this ahead of time, it’s important to pay attention to how you are feeling, emotionally and physically. Do you notice yourself starting to feel drained, starting to look at the calendar for the next break, or really looking forward to the weekends? These are important clues. Plus, even though you know it will be a mental health day, you don’t have to tell others that’s what it is if you’re not comfortable doing so.

If you’ve chosen to take a mental health day, it’s important to do something that feels good to you so you are reducing your stress and “filling your cup” back up. Whether it’s sleeping in, going for a walk, pampering yourself, curling up with a book you’ve wanted to read, or watching a movie you like, the most important piece is you allow yourself to disconnect from work to allow yourself to recharge. (An “introvert zen zone” can come in handy here — a soothing space in your home to call your very own.) Do not check your emails, answer work phone calls (or any calls!), or stress about taking the day off, as that defeats the purpose. Identify your favorite recharge activities and do those and only those.

If you notice you are needing some TLC time, it’s important to honor yourself. Your work and clients will be there for you when you return. The most important thing to remember is that your emotional health is just as important as your physical health. You and your workplace will be better for it as you return more recharged, refreshed, and rejuvenated. end logo

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Carolyn Cole is a licensed psychotherapist in Chicago. Her practice focuses on helping her clients with self-discovery, self-exploration, self-love, and healing the relationship with themselves to create the life they desire.