Mental healthcare in the US is encountering a significant problem: there are not enough therapists to go around. Oregon, for example, is experiencing a significant clinician shortage and has the fourth highest rate of unmet need for mental health treatment in the US.
While people wait to see a healthcare professional, they are finding ways to improve their mental health on their own. One way they are doing this is through mental health days. This concept is becoming more common in the workplace and is meant to benefit everyone–employees get much needed time to recoup,and employers get healthier and happier staff.
It’s good to have a break and recharge, however, there is a difference between a day that actually improves your mental and emotional wellbeing and a traditional day off. It can be tempting to spend the day in your pajamas watching Netflix, but the goal isn’t to use mental health days as a way to avoid life when you don’t feel like going to work. Rather, it is to take active steps to improve your overall mental health.
Here are a few ways to make the most of your mental health day:
Address unmet needs
Take the time to address the needs you have been neglecting and the tasks you’ve been putting off. Schedule appointments to take care of your health or tackle those incomplete projects around the house, anything that’s on the backburner but continues to nag you in the back of your mind.
Move your body
Physical activity is one of the easiest things you can do to impact your mental health. Our bodies were made to move. If we don’t, we’re bound to get depressed. Unless you’re in the service industry, you likely aren’t moving enough day-to-day. Get out, move your body, work up a sweat. Your endorphins will thank you.
Put the phone away
Our smartphones are one of the most miraculous devices ever created, but they’re designed to keep us hooked and scrolling. The constant flood of information and endless ads make this mentally exhausting. Give your mind a break and stop the mindless scrolling. Put away the phone. Take off the smart watch. Take a day to let your mind breathe.
Focus on one thing at a time
In the modern age we are constantly task-switching and juggling all kinds of communication. It seems there is always someone clamoring for our attention. Pick one thing and give it all your attention. You’ll be surprised how good it feels to stop spreading your mind wide across a dozen tasks and go deep instead.
We are social beings who need to connect with others and feel a sense of belonging. Take time to go beyond the surface conversation and go deep with someone who matters. If conflicts need resolving, take the time to have the difficult conversation and mend things. Strife in our relationships adds more stress to our lives than we often realize. Work through the tough stuff, forge a deeper connection and build up your sense of community.
Focus on the bigger picture
In the day-to-day rush, it is all too easy to get tunnel vision and lose sight of what’s important. At the end of our lives, there will be things we’ll wish we had done. What are they? Take the time to look at your life and decide what really matters. Is your life aligned with those things? If not, find ways to take action and get closer.
Mental health days can be a powerful tool if we use them intentionally. Rather than slipping into the habit of avoiding and numbing out, we should tailor them to add to our internal reservoir. We’ll be more prepared for the challenges of work, but what’s more, we’ll bring ourselves closer to the life we want to live.
Nick Norman, MSW, LICSW is the Business Relationship Manager at Mindful Therapy Group, mindfultherapygroup.com. The diverse and collaborative network of licensed, independent mental health clinicians serves OR and WA.
Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a healthcare professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.