How to know when to ask for a mental health day at work

We bring ourselves to work and that means all our life stresses and experiences are with us during the working day. Trying to juggle everything we need to do during a hectic time can take its toll on your body and your mental health. It can be difficult to gauge whether you need to have a mental health day from work, and especially if you have a lot of responsibility, work in a highly pressurised environment as well as find it difficult to approach your boss about this too. This applies to you whether you work in an office, you are out and about or remotely from home. In this article, I hope to provide you with supportive information so that you will be able to make an informed decision – knowing when and how to do this. 


Understanding when you need time off

What are the signs that you should take a day off work for your mental health?

Everyone will experience different signs and symptoms from their body that will be a unique sign for them, and they would need to identify and understand it to mean that they need to take a day off work for their mental health.

It could be that you are feeling sad, lonely, anxious, stressed, irritable, angry, numb, weak, or sick or that you may have physical symptoms that originate from how you feel like your heart is racing, you feel faint, you are vomiting, you have diarrhoea, you are in pain and you are experiencing bodily discomfort. All of these signs and symptoms are your body’s ‘alarm system’ as it were, alerting you to respond to yourself because something is not right and your attention is needed to address it fast so that you can work towards resolving it. 

3 tips to approach your boss about taking a day off for your mental health

The first recommendation would be for you to check in with yourself as to whether you feel emotionally safe to approach your boss. What this means is to spend some time thinking about how comfortable it would be for you to share personal and sensitive information with them. There is nothing worse than feeling vulnerable and exposed when sharing your feelings with someone and where you know you may not be respected for it.

By checking in with yourself about how you feel about approaching your boss, it will mean placing necessary safety measures for yourself like knowing what boundaries with your language you will have to use for how you communicate what you want and need. 

Here are the 3 tips to help with how to approach your boss:

  1. You can start to prepare what you would be comfortable with and what you would want to say to your boss by writing down a bullet point list of what you need to convey that is safe for you. If it is easier, write down a list of all the words you know you don’t want to use in case it won’t feel safe. Sometimes it is easier to know what you don’t want to say and then move towards replacing it with words that you feel you can use as alternatives.
  2. Add in the explanations of why you need a day off, by describing how that would help you to be more effective at work if you were to have the time off. Be as specific and detailed as you can in relation to your work context, as your thought process will show to your boss that you have taken responsibility for your workload.
  3. Re-read your list and edit it until you think it is right for you and then re-read it out aloud on your own or to a family member or friend a few times whilst imagining speaking to your boss. Note down how this practice experience feels for you.

From doing this exercise, if there are any reservations with what you have produced, or any constructive feedback received from your family or friends, edit your list until it feels right for you. Think about how you would like to use your prepared bullet list to deliver the message to your boss. You could consider using your work email to send it to your boss and possibly follow up with a meeting or you could have a meeting with your boss and speak about your list in person. You can bring your list with you to refer to whilst you are speaking if you need to. 

It is important to note in your words what the benefit will be for your workplace once you return from having your time off. This will emphasise to your boss that you have thought about your work and you are taking responsibility to ensure that your effectiveness in doing your job is prioritised.

You will build your confidence by speaking about your mental health in this way with the appropriate boundaries if that is what is needed, and your awareness will increase from doing this practice exercise. Increasing your awareness by preparing yourself in this way means you will work with your body to prevent your right-brain (which is the emotional and creative part) from taking over your left-brain (which is our logical and functional part), which then means you may not feel so overwhelmed and risk losing your composure whilst delivering the message you need to communicate.   

During this exercise, try to take care of yourself by keeping calm and relaxed. Whether that be through listening to classical music or binaural beats (which is synonymous with our brainwaves and will help you to focus), taking deep breaths, doing meditation, going out for a walk and/or talking with family and friends for support. 

Is it possible to get out of a negative mindset (sometimes called a doom loop) at work?

Experiencing doom loops at work can often be a sign of burnout which has built up over time spiralling into continuous negative thoughts. This can also happen if you’ve had a bad appraisal or a negative encounter with your boss. 

It’s important to try to work on your awareness of these harmful thoughts, by recognising when they happen and then try to challenge them. You can do this independently where once you become aware of what you are thinking, you can use your inner voice to change your words. If you feel comfortable doing this, you could call upon your colleagues, family and friends for support, this could be in the form of simply saying you need help with this – when they hear you say negative things they are to remind you that you want to change this. 

Our brains have been designed in such a sophisticated way that we have strong survival instincts to cut through difficult circumstances. This means we tend to focus on negative thoughts rather than positive ones. It takes a lot of skill and practice over a long period of time to change our thought processes to be more positive. It could be helpful for you to note down three to five reflection points of your accomplishments that you are pleased with from your working day, however big or small. This will bring to your awareness a lot more of your work purpose.

This exercise will allow you to work on identifying what positive things you bring to your work whilst reminding you how good it makes you feel to be doing what you do. By focusing on your positive thoughts and what you achieve from your work, you will realise what thoughts you really want to allow to take up your brain space and time. 

I work full-time as a digital marketing professional during weekdays. This means I have current corporate managerial work experiences to refer to and use to help and support you. Contact me via my profile.  

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Kettering, Northamptonshire, NN16
Written by Tina Chummun, UKCP Accredited Psychotherapist & Trauma Specialist
Kettering, Northamptonshire, NN16

I'm an accredited Psychotherapist and Trauma Specialist and I have extensive experience of working with clients who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence and post-traumatic stress disorder. I have also successfully helped numerous clients, male and female, tackle a wide range of...

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