If you use them intentionally, personal days can serve you and the company you work for.

By Brittany Loggins
Updated February 03, 2020

For most people, personal days are those weird days that come in your benefits package at a new job that you honestly have no idea how to use. You probably end up tacking them onto the end of a vacation or calling on them when you’ve used up all your sick days—but they can (and should!) be much more useful. They not only help refresh and restore your energy, but they're beneficial to those you work with, too.

To find out how you can make sure you’re making the most of your “you” time, Real Simple spoke with Steven Siegel, MD, PhD, a professor and chair at the University of Southern California’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Siegel believes that personal days—or mental health days—can be beneficial for you and the community you work in when used correctly.

Think About Why You Need a Personal Day in the First Place

First and foremost, acknowledge that your need for personal days is a sign. “You shouldn’t consider it important to take personal days for the sake of taking them,” Dr. Siegel says. “Rather, they may serve as a barometer that you need to adjust how you’re spending your existing personal time.” If you feel the need to take a personal day, take it—and also try to get to the bottom of why you need one.

Have you been missing out?

Take time to realize why the existing personal time you’ve allotted for yourself between work, family, and community obligations isn’t serving you as well as it should. Have your weekends been so busy with events, responsibilities, obligations that you're not getting to focus on yourself? Or have you been working so late that you're missing time with friends and family? What are the activities that give you mental clarity—and have you had to prioritize something else in their place?

“Finding activities that are both healthy and restorative is the key,” Dr. Siegel says. That could mean taking a day to unwind alone, watch TV, and play with the dog—but it might also mean grabbing lunch with a friend you never get to see, playing hooky with your partner, or visiting your cousin who just had a baby. “These can also include spending meaningful time with friends and family, avoiding social media (when it's not being used to interact with actual friends), participation in hobbies such as sports, reading, or group activities.”

In other words, when you’re missing out on the activities that feed you both mentally and physically, you’re skirting around your potential. And very often, the weekends aren't enough to cram it all in.

Or are you overly stressed?

Stress is not a friend to your mental or physical health. If you're overwhelmed by stress and burned out at work, a personal day could be exactly what you need. Time to step back and take a breather; maybe sleep in, get some exercise, and get your life organized—without any distractions or pressure to divert your attention elsewhere. And if you're still not convinced, know that managing your stress isn't purely self-serving; it affects the people around you, too. “If you need a personal day to reduce your own [stress or] distress, it’s important to address and reduce the impact that distress has on others through their contact with you,” Dr. Siegel says. “Stressed people stress people.”

“Use your personal day to consider how to be a better citizen at work, so that others appreciate the time you took off instead of resenting it,” Dr. Siegel Says.

Figure Out How to Bring Personal-Day Energy Into Your Everyday Life

Once you’ve identified some activities that help you alleviate stress, figure out ways to make them a part of your personal time going forward. It's easier said than done, but you're only given so many personal days. By making these self-care-focused activities and habits a staple in your life, hopefully you'll become less stressed overall.