You’re five steps away from taking time for yourself.

By Kelsey Mulvey
April 29, 2021
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

We're not going to sugarcoat it for you: Life has been pretty rough lately. Chances are, you've worked from home for a year (and counting), been unable to see your loved ones, and had to bear witness to the not-so-sunny news cycle. That, compounded with the average stresses of your day-to-day life can be a lot.

Sometimes, you need time to unplug; a day where you don't have to think about deadlines, office dynamics, or the cheesy icebreaker you'll bust out during your next Zoom meeting. While weekends and vacations are important and helpful reset opportunities, an additional mental health day can be exactly what you need to relax, reflect, and reset.

"If you're feeling overwhelmed and stressed and have noticed it negatively affecting your work or home life, you may want to consider taking a mental health day," explains Kelli M. Waters, LCSW, CAADC, and director of care for Listeners On Call. "Mental health days help to create a balanced work culture and cultivate healthy and happy employees. Companies who empower their employees to take care of their well-being can help to foster better employee performance."

Though you might not hesitate to take a sick day if you're feeling under the weather, mental health days seem more complicated, not to mention nerve-wracking to request.

"Asking for a mental health day should be just as simple as asking for a day away from work because of the flu or a planned vacation," explains Heather Lyons, PhD, a psychologist and owner of the Baltimore Therapy Group. "Furthermore, disability related to mental health is a legally protected status. That being said, the stigma related to mental health care is real and American forms of healthcare aren't geared to consider preventative wellness."

So, how are you supposed to ask your boss for a mental health day? To help, we're breaking down the steps to requesting—and getting—that crucial time to yourself.

End Negative Talk

Admittedly, it can be difficult to take a mental health day. Not only can it be awkward to have that conversation with your boss, but there’s also so much stigma around taking a day just to chill—especially in our non-stop, hustle culture.

“Having a conversation with your boss alone can be anxiety provoking, but when you add in the aspect of asking for a mental health day it can trigger feelings of stress and worry,” Waters says. “These feelings can lead you to talk yourself out of asking for one and convince yourself that because you aren't physically sick, he or she will not understand.”

Instead, Waters recommends combating those negative cognitions. Remember that your mental health is equally as important as your physical health. A mental health day is integral for your overall wellbeing—and give you the space to recharge so you can come back to work even better than before.

Consider Your Office Culture

Most companies have a clear policy and course of action for taking a sick day: You email your boss, set up an OOO email, and focus on getting better. But, when it comes to a mental health day? It feels more complicated. To get started, Lyons recommends taking your company’s culture into consideration. 

“Take your environment and those around you into consideration before revealing the cause of your day off,” she says. “For example, consider your office culture for wellness. Do people in higher up positions talk openly about taking mental health days? Are people who take mental health days penalized in any way? Does your office give days specifically for wellness?”

If your company places an emphasis on mental health, you might feel comfortable to have a candid conversation with your boss. But if you’re not sure where your workplace lies on the topic, consider chatting with human resources.

“Consult, confidentially, with someone in HR for guidance on how to have the conversation in a way that ensures you're protected,” she says. “And on your end, make sure that you're engaged in treatment that is helping you ameliorate any distress you're experiencing while also ensuring that you have documentation for your condition.” 

Not only can your company’s human resources department offer actionable next steps, but they can also help squash any nerves you might have. 

RELATED: Workplace Burnout is Real—Here's How to Beat It

Keep It Concise

Asking your boss for anything—even if it’s to clock out a little early—can be nerve-wracking. In order to go into the conversation calm and confident, Waters recommends practicing what you’re going to say a few times. 

“When asking for a mental health day, I think it’s important to plan what you are going to say before you have the conversation,” she explains. “Be clear and concise. When you prepare, be in the mindset that you are deserving of taking care of your well-being.”

But, don’t worry: When it comes to actually asking for a mental health day, you can keep the conversation broad. 

“I would err on the side of general rather than specific disclosures,” Lyons recommends. “Let those whom you report to know that you'll need to take a day for your health or if you're seeing your therapist, let them know that you'll be taking leave for a medical appointment.”

As Lyons puts it, you wouldn’t go into detail about a bout of food poisoning, so why would talking about your mental health be any different?

Find the Right Words

Now, the million-dollar question: What exactly are you supposed to say? Tamar Chansky, PhD, psychologist, anxiety specialist, and author, offers a few go-to lines to help ease your nerves:

  • "I really care about my job and coworkers and want us all to do our best work."
  • "I am struggling with the weight of various pandemic and other issues in my life and need a day to take care of myself: regroup and get perspective."
  • "When I come back, I think I'll be in a much better position to do my best work. I really appreciate your support."

When you frame your request by sandwiching it between statements about what is good for the company, you're able to show your boss that you're a committed employee who just needs an opportunity to hit the refresh button.

RELATED: How to Request a More Permanent or Flexible WFH Situation (Even After the Pandemic Ends)

Savor That "You" Time

Now that you have permission to take off some time, it's important to make the most of your mental health day. (And it doesn't involve checking your work email or stressing out about a looming deadline.)

"Think of how you're going to use your mental health day to help get you back in a positive mindset," Waters explains. "This day should be spent focusing completely on yourself. You shouldn't spend your day running errands and catching up on things that are on your to do list. Allow yourself the time to relax, give yourself a break, and instead do things that spark joy."