A Case for Taking Mental Health Days

If you're lucky enough to earn paid time off (PTO) at work, it can be tempting to use it for sickness or emergencies. You might even want to save it for something special, like a European vacation or trip to your favorite lake. But what about using PTO for pressing pause on your work life? Yes, that's right—when was the last time you used PTO for a mental health day?

To some, a mental health day (also called a personal day) might seem like a waste of PTO. But Meridith Alexander, a motivational speaker, mindset expert and author in Florida, says it plays a critical role in happiness and performance.
"If you're feeling more emotional than usual or if you've had a major [life] event, a PTO day is practically essential," says Alexander.

According to Neil Pasricha, an author, speaker and happiness expert in Toronto, you might also need time off if you feel like you've accomplished nothing significant after a seemingly busy day. Another sign, he says, is snapping at loved ones and immediately wondering why you did so.

Ultimately, if your stress level is so high that it affects your daily life, it may be time to cash in that PTO for a personal day. While it might not be as exciting as a vacation or shopping day, the impact on your happiness and overall health might be well worth it, and these four benefits are proof.

Manage Negative Emotions

A mental health day lets you care for your mental well-being. Maybe this means taming anxiety or anger through self-care and relaxation, or perhaps it involves managing stress by just taking a break.

If you feel guilty about taking PTO for this reason, remember that it's no different than tending to physical sickness. "Most people understand the importance of taking sick days to recover when they're physically ill," Alexander explains. "It's equally important to [take] PTO when you need time to heal mentally and emotionally."

Prevent Burnout

According to the journal World Psychiatry, burnout is a physiological syndrome related to chronic stressors at work. It's characterized by three main components: overwhelming exhaustion, feeling detached from the job and a poor sense of accomplishment.

Personal days can help you avoid burnout and its effects on your overall health, as managing tension and anxiety prevents these feelings from intensifying and bogging you down.

If you've already developed burnout, a mental health day can facilitate the recovery process. Specifically, pumping the brakes on your professional life can help you return to work with a more engaging attitude. As Alexander puts it, "Just as you can't fill up your gas tank without putting your car in park, your mindset can't optimize without time to reboot."

Increase Productivity

Mental health days allow you to restore your body, mind and soul. And while it might seem counterintuitive, these moments are necessary for improving your output later on. "You can't pour from an empty vessel," explains Pasricha. "Filling yourself up is the greatest gift you can give to loved ones and colleagues."

Now, a personal day doesn't need to involve literal productivity. From walking outside to reading all day, it's about doing anything that restores your mental and emotional energy. (Note: If running errands and cleaning the house is what you need to feel revitalized, then great! The key is to focus on the experience of rejuvenation, however that may look for you.)

Make Space for New Perspectives

"It's rare for that 'next great idea' to pop into your mind when you're drowning in meetings and emails," Alexander says.

In addition to creating room for new, fresh perspectives, these breaks also let you reevaluate what you're currently experiencing in life, which is especially helpful if you've been trying to tackle a problem or kickstart specific changes. "Many people who feel stuck or overwhelmed have lost touch of their purpose and passion," adds Alexander. "A personal day is the ideal time to gain clarity on what it is you really want."

Remember, you've earned the PTO—there's no shame in using it to replenish your mental and emotional tank. And while a 24-hour break won't make your workload vanish, it can support your well-being when you need it the most.
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Member Comments

I was taught to always go to work, even if I felt like crap. I did that for 30 years, but I remember waking up one morning and thinking about all the stupid meetings I had to go to and I could feel my heart racing. I think I reached an epiphany that day. I just said, "nope, I can't do this today." So I called in sick. That was at least 10 years ago and I retired from that job 2 years ago. I still remember the glorious feeling of that day because it was the first time I didn't feel guilty about using the time to take care of myself. Report
Thank you! Report
I am a teacher and literally plan my mental health days. I don't go more than 3 or 4 weeks without a day off. If we don't have a planned school day off, I take one. I wouldn't have survived 38 years without those days. Report
I would love to take a mental health day every now and then. However, as a teacher, preparing for a sub, the day before and then worrying about if I included everything they'd need and how the kids are behaving the day of causes me much more stress overall. Report
I just retired and now every day is a mental health day😁 Report
thanks for sharing Report
I worked for a supervisor who managed us by allowing a monthly mental health day at the company's expense. Now that's a take charge manager, SparkFriends. Report
Interesting this showed up today! Perfect timing for me. I have been working on the lawns and gardening to get rid of moss, doing a whole lot of weed pulling and moss scraping to the point I can barely move my swollen hand and fingers. I need PTO today! I took liquid turmeric, ate some healthy cereal and am going to read today! Thanks so much for the article. It removed my sense of guilt!!! Report
Mental health days can be a great reboot. Report
Thanks Report
I was sick but felt okay but decided to go ahead and take another day for a mental health day! I feel so much better about doing that. Report
I love that my City has PTO even for part time Employees. I save mine for something special when I can.
Everyone needs a DAY OFF to do nothing. Amen. THANKS.
DONNA Report
My son's company insists that their employees take a mental health day every quarter Report


About The Author

Kirsten Nunez
Kirsten Nunez
Kirsten Nunez is a health and lifestyle writer, editor and author. She has a Master of Science in Nutrition and is currently based in New York. Kirsten spends her days writing articles and dreaming up healthy recipes.