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How to take a mental health day—tips from our team
When was the last time you took a mental health day? If your answer is never, find out why you should. And if you’re not sure how, or when, to take a day for yourself, we’ve got that covered, too.
Last updated18 Aug 2022
Reading time8 min
Picture this: It's Friday, and your colleagues are at work. At least you think they are. But you really don't know, because you're not working. You're taking a needed mental health day.
But what's going on while you're away? Are you missing something important? Is someone waiting on you to reply to an urgent request?
You decide to have a quick peek at Slack. Of course you don't plan to respond to anything. It's just to see what emoji your boss left on your "Reminder that I'm off tomorrow" message you sent before you logged off.
Before you do, remember why you're taking the day off in the first place. And listen to these mental health day tips from our team.
Why—and when—you need a mental health day
If you woke up coughing and sneezing with a fever, what would you do? You’d call in sick.
But what if you woke up feeling anxious, disconnected from colleagues, cynical about work projects, and lacking motivation and focus to perform? Day, after day, after day. Would you call in?
For some people, the need for a mental health day is obvious. Burnout is on the rise, self-doubt and imposter feelings are widespread, and not all teams provide psychologically safe environments where people can let down their guard.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to take a day for yourself. When we asked around Hotjar, over 85% of people we talked to said that it’s difficult for them to take a mental health day. And over 40% of the people have never taken one.
Why? We heard a few different reasons. For some people, guilt was a big factor:
“For me, I’ve always felt that taking time for mental health is “weak” or like I’m “letting my team down.” It was like being some sort of failure.” – Anonymous at Hotjar
“I personally find it hard to give myself permission to do things that day because I feel like I should be ‘sick’ since I’m taking a day off.” – Anonymous at Hotjar
Others indicated to more systemic reasons:
“Honestly, in my previous jobs it wasn’t even an option, so I never considered it. Thanks for bringing a spotlight to this!” – Iga Gawronska, Product Designer at Hotjar
And then there were people who knew the benefits but just hadn’t got around to it for one reason or another:
“I’ve never taken a mental health day, but I am aware that I should start considering it. It’s likely to improve my performance at work. And when I refuse to take time for mental health, I always end up being unproductive and feeling really bad about myself.” – Anonymous at Hotjar
And if you feel you need one, don't wait too long:
"Take it before you feel it in your body. Take it before you make careless mistakes that impact the rest of your team, or before you start resenting everyone around you."
At Hotjar, we talk a lot about mental health. But we also put our money where our mental-health mouth is.
We offer a Wellbeing budget of €2,400 per year that you can use in pretty much any way that helps you feel, well, better. And when you need to take a mental health day, it’s just noted as a paid sick day. That’s really all there is to it.
So now the big question: what should you actually do on your day off?
How to use a mental health day
Is it best to binge on Netflix with a never-ending bowl of popcorn? Should you take that drive to the woods for a taste of fresh air? Maybe some therapy, mindfulness, yoga, or a day at the spa?
There’s only one person who can really answer that question: you.
That’s because there’s no best way to use a mental health day. It really depends on what you need to feel rested and recharged. One of our colleagues shared what this means to them:
“I try to allow myself to use this day in any way I know will help. Whether it means doing nothing, cleaning up my home, exercising or spending time with people who will make me feel good.” – Anonymous at Hotjar
That sums up a range of options that others mentioned. Here are some of the ways that our team uses their mental health days.
Rest and relax
The most common way people at Hotjar spend their mental health days is resting. But people rest in different ways. For some, it’s sleeping in or sitting on the sofa with a movie or book. For others, it’s a walk in the park or lunch on a terrace.
"For me, a mental health day means doing nothing. No working, no cooking, no thinking. It's a day to fully decompress with zero to accomplish."
What matters is minimal mental processing. Allowing the mind to settle with no tasks to tick off. It seems that taking time to do nothing is pretty important for preparing your mind for work.
Check things off your task list
This one’s nearly the opposite of the above.
A lot of anxiety and restlessness stems from a sense of the ever-growing to-do list. After working all day, it can be hard to find time and energy to get to other tasks, hobbies, or chores.
So taking a day to clean the clutter (literally) can bring peace and create a sense of accomplishment. Things like pulling weeds, doing laundry, planting flowers, or whatever will bring you some relief. Other tasks you’ve been putting aside that might raise tensions, like doing your taxes, may not be the best way to use your mental health day.
But it’s up to you. Remember, it’s personal.
Escape into new environments
Over a quarter of people said they prioritize ‘getting outside’ on their mental health days.
Many of us spend most of our week staring at screens. So an escape into nature may be the reset button we need.
And it makes sense. Nature nurtures: being outdoors can help reduce anxiety and depression and improve mood and overall mental health. So if you haven’t recently, try hiding your phone and stepping outside for the day.
Looking for a new option? Forest Bathing can bring benefits like lowering blood pressure and boosting your immune system. And here’s another environment that gave one of our team members a needed refresh:
“After a tough day at work, I was on the verge of tears. So I packed a bag and bought a train ticket to Salzburg, Austria. I took a mental health day biking around the grassy hillside and trails. It was incredible, and it gave me the space to truly rest.” – Anonymous at Hotjar
If you don’t have Austria at your doorstep, any new park or stretch of countryside will do.
Get some exercise, physical and mental
We feel our best when body and mind are in sync. And when either is running slow, our whole system feels out of whack.
Mental exercise like meditation, yoga, or other mindfulness practices can bring a needed mental reset. If you need additional support, maybe a visit to a therapist or coach is needed.
Physical exercise can be another boon for mental health. So go for a walk, run, or swim. Hit the gym, some tennis balls, or a punching bag. However you do it, moving your body brings a mental recharge.
Spend time with people you enjoy
Think back to a good chat you had with a close friend. How did you feel afterward?
The connection between friendship and mental health is clear. Being with other people also helps take your mind away from work duties.
So consider meeting a friend for breakfast, an art class, or a movie. Being around people you enjoy—people that make you laugh or feel relaxed—can be a great way to spend a mental health day.
Move with the wind
Another approach is to let the day decide. It’s about not having a plan, and not feeling any pressure to produce or accomplish anything. And being okay with that.
“I give myself permission to do whatever the hell I feel like doing from one moment to the next. That might mean a morning run, followed by listening to birds in my backyard. Then a trip into YouTube or a good book. Or a trip to the park or a museum. It’s never the same. The one thing it never includes is checking company comms.” – Anonymous at Hotjar
So don’t plan anything, but don’t stop either.
Who benefits from mental health days?
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"I took a mental health day off yesterday, and it helped tremendously. Super grateful it’s a possibility here."
For some people, taking a mental health day feels selfish. One person told us that taking a day feels like “letting my team down.”
But taking care of your mental health can be one of the most generous things you can do. Because your mental health isn’t just about you.
When your mind is clear and relaxed, everyone around you benefits, too—your coworkers and team, your family and friends.
You come to meetings, planning sessions, and the dinner table more relaxed and less judgmental. It can make the difference between wanting to be in those sessions and feeling like you have something to contribute, or regretting the time spent around others.
So when should you take a refresh day?
"My main suggestion is not to hesitate to take a mental health day. All of us need time to recharge and recover, especially after stressful times at work and in life too. It will make you more productive and keep your batteries recharged for longer.”
How you do it is up to you. But whatever you choose, stay off those work comms. Your boss's emoji can wait, but your mental health might not be able to.
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