According to the UK’s Mental Health Foundation, around one in eight men has a common mental health problem, including depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). And if the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that mental health can ill-afford to be ignored.
So rather than pushing your wellbeing to one side while work, family and the general chaos of life take precedence – taking a mental health day – quite simply a day off work to focus on relaxation and stress relief – can be a valuable tool for finding some inner calm.
And you don’t need to be officially diagnosed with a mental health condition, or feel so stressed you can’t cope, to warrant a mental health day. Prevention, as they say, is better than the cure.
“Make sure you schedule a mental health day in advance, so you can look forward to a shorter working week – that will relieve some stress in itself,” says psychologist Dr Naomi Newman-Beinart.
On the day itself, she recommends doing whatever you feel will help you feel the most rested by the end of that day – whether that’s a long walk or run, cooking, a solo cinema trip, or simply a day in bed.
3 benefits of taking a mental health day
01. Give your brain a break
“Elite athletes recognise that ‘stress + rest = progress.’ The same equation applies to all of us,” says Dr Aria, a high performance psychologist and author of A Mindful Year.
“In order to continually be at the top of our game, with our health, career and relationships, we have to take time to rejuvenate. The human brain requires cognitive downtime to restore equilibrium.”
He adds that a mental health day is an “integral way to replenish our psychological, emotional and physical reserves”, helping to improve our social interactions, as well as allowing the body to recover.
Research published on Perspectives on Psychological Science also found that allowing the brain to rest helps us to process our emotions, memories and sense of self. If you’re finding you’re forgetting even small things, all too often, it’s time to give your brain a rest, pronto.
02. Boost your work life
Dr Aria explains that a full day off work has been linked to improved performance, increased learning, more open communication, higher job satisfaction, and greater contentment with work/life balance. In fact, no-one can expect to work at their best if they never take time off to recuperate and recharge.
Workplace wellness expert Christina Disler adds that when we experience stress, the brain releases two stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline.
“These hormones flood our frontal lobes, the part of the brain where our cognitive control functions live, which includes the “executive functioning” part of our brain,” she explains. “These are the parts that help us in our day-to-day work.”
However, in today’s world, we are subject to stress responses at a rate higher than ever before, so we need to find moments of pause – such as mental health days – to break these cycles and recalibrate.
“If you’re taking the time to regulate your nervous system by doing activities that support it,” adds Disler, “you will show up in a more effective way when you return to work. It is essential to put boundaries around your work, on your day off.”
03. Improve gut health
It’s now widely established that the gut is something akin to a ‘second brain’ – and is directly linked to the brain via the vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body. It makes sense, then, that a calmer mind equals a calmer gut.
“Whenever we’re experiencing an emotion, our gut is registering it and responding to it,” says Sophie Medlin, dietitian and founder of City Dietitians.
When you’re stressed, for example, the bowel speeds up digestion and creates more stomach acid to break down food more quickly. However, too much stress can wreak havoc on digestion, leading to bloating, wind, and constipation or diarrhoea.
Because taking a mental health day can help relieve stress and reduce stress-related hormones, the gut will also be impacted by that reduction – meaning less bloating and generally happier digestion.
Medlin adds that the gut also contains huge amounts of serotonin – the ‘happy hormone’ – which is put to best use when the gut is in good shape.
So, happier gut, happier you; and happier you, happier gut.
Words: Lucy Gornall