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.