We’ve all felt guilty about taking a sick day at one time or another. Even if you’ve been hit with a horrible flu and find it hard just to get out of bed, all you can think about at the back of your mind is the never-ending To-Do list sitting on your desk, the emails that keep on streaming through and all those meetings you have scheduled in for the week. (Hot tip: stay home, no one wants you spreading your germs).
But regardless of how busy everyone is, sometimes, we all just need a day or two to press pause. Easier said than done? Perhaps—but it’s also critical to your health and wellbeing, stresses Lysn psychologist Elyse McNeil.
“Mental illness will directly or indirectly affect most people in their lifetime, whether they will experience it first-hand or know someone who has,” says McNeil. “It affects one in five Australians each year, making it an epidemic that’s hard to ignore.”
“Given these statistics, it is striking that most of us would be quick to take a day off if we’re feeling physically sick, yet not many of us would consider a day off if we’re not feeling well mentally.”
As McNeil states, there is still a stigma attached to mental health and many people don’t even feel comfortable asking for time off to support their mental health. As a result, these people will often just soldier on and suffer in silence.
“Mental health can contribute to physical symptoms such as headaches, sleeping problems and can also impair your ability to do your job effectively. For example, feeling mentally confused, experience difficulty in focusing, fatigued, lacking motivation and having difficulty making decisions.”
“Having a mental health day needs to be more acceptable,” says McNeil. “Whilst this should start with employers, it might have to start with you.”
“If you are feeling highly stressed, anxious or exhausted to the point of having difficulty functioning and doing your job to the standard you need to, a mental health day might be in order.”
How exactly can a mental health day help? “It could allow you to recharge, reset your perspective and make you much more productive at work,” says McNeil. “It will allow you to manage your time at work in a more empowered way, taking control of how you feel and what you do about it.”
Now that you’ve established you might need one, what is the best way to go about it? Explaining to your employer why you need a day off can be a big deterrent, in which case McNeil suggests checking your relevant workplace award to determine whether your employer requires specific details of the nature of your illness.
“Often explaining that you are not feeling well mentally and feel unable to perform your job effectively is a sufficient explanation” says McNeil. “If your workplace requires medical certification, your GP can provide this, just as they would if you were physically unwell.”
“Feeling unbalanced and unsettled emotionally are valid reasons to take some time off work and you should never feel guilty about it. Use the time wisely to reset, recharge and seek help from a professional if you think you need it.” Need some time out for yourself? Here’s how to find your ideal self-care activity.
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