Many of us are completely exhausted right now. Nearly half of working Americans report feeling mentally and physically drained at the end of the workday, and about 1 in 3 remote employees report often feeling tired or having little energy, according to a March survey of over 570 professionals by the Society for Human Resource Management.
Taking a mental health day off work is one small way to make a positive difference in your mood and well-being. To be clear, a 24-hour break is not going to fix all of your work-related stress, but it can help.
Lisa Orbé-Austin, a licensed psychologist who focuses on helping professionals manage their careers, said that when it’s effective, a mental health day can provide some relief, a greater ability to emotionally regulate, or a greater sense of perspective.
“It’s never going to erase all the things going on, but it’s meant to give you a tiny boost, a little tiny breather,” Orbé-Austin said. “You should feel some semblance of difference.”
So which day is the best day to take off for mental health? When you’re on the brink of burnout, any day off from work can feel restorative. But if you have a choice, here’s how to time it right, according to experts.
Don’t be tempted by a Wednesday.
Melody Wilding, an executive coach and licensed social worker, does not recommend the middle of the week. That’s because it’s harder to disengage from your job when work is looming.
“You may not really get your full day off because you are coming down from the last day and also preparing for the next day,” she said. That’s why she recommends bookending the week ― taking your mental health day either at the beginning or the end of the week ― so it becomes an extension of your weekend.
“You can at least walk into Tuesday feeling a little bit more refreshed and maybe even a bit more focused.”
Orbé-Austin said that although some people may think a Wednesday will break up the workweek, she recommends Mondays or Fridays, too, because it extends your time off and “one day may not feel like enough.”
But consider this...
It’s also more of a social norm for people to be away from work on Mondays or Fridays, as opposed to the middle of the week, said life coach Shanita Liu.
“You can slide it in a Monday or a Friday easily, instead of midweek where, depending on the environment you work in, if they’re not very supportive of mental health stuff, they might pick up on it. They might make assumptions that are not true,” she said.
Liu said she’s a particular fan of Mondays over Fridays because you may view Fridays as just another weekend day instead of as a day for deliberate self-care.
Taking a Monday off also allows you to set the tone for the rest of the week ahead.
“You can at least walk into Tuesday feeling a little bit more refreshed, and maybe even a bit more focused,” she said.
Whatever day you end up picking, make it count.
Once you have picked a day, make sure to do activities that are actually focused on your well-being.
“If you watch Netflix all day, it’s not going to make things better,” Orbé-Austin said.
She said there are three ways to do a mental health day well: practice reflective self-care through activities that keep you present in the moment, like meditation or yoga; practice mental self-care that can be addressed with coaching or therapy; or take part in physical activities like exercise or massage that can help release stress and tension.
“Thinking about ... how are you taking care of yourself as holistically as you possibly can in a thoughtful, pre-planned way is the best way to make use of a mental health day,” she said.
Your goal, Liu said, is to make it a day where you can get in touch with your needs and well-being. “That’s what a mental health day is all about. I get to just be.”