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Shayan Dey, 30, didn’t think twice before applying for his mental health leave earlier this year. He recalls, “I realized I was burnt out and needed a break just to reprioritise everything, After my three-day break, when I rejoined work, I was rejuvenated, refreshed, and able to get back to life with renewed vigour.”
Dey is not alone; there are many people who feel the same way he does. While one needs to take care of their mental health every day, the concept of taking a mental health leave has become popular, allowing one to fully focus on rest and recuperate by taking a break from everyday stressors. As Dr Malik Merchant, Consultant Psychiatrist, Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai Central, puts it, “The concept of a mental health day is a novel one worth pondering. The practice of mental health hygiene should not be just to prevent mental illnesses but should be of help to attain optimum functioning of a person.”
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A mental health day allows you to focus on yourself and invest and engage in activities that support your mental, emotional and psychological well-being. On a mental health day, you must put yourself first, engaging in the things you want to do, those that bring joy, happiness and peace, rather than those you have to. And yes, you do this without feeling guilty about putting yourself first.
However, this doesn’t mean you just switch off the phone and sleep all day. Neither does it means partying all night or spending hours on Netflix. Instead, you need to ensure that you get relief from continuous stressors and that the activities you choose to do, are done with that intention.
Samriti Makkar Midha, a psychologist (clinical) & psychotherapist and the co-founder and partner of POSH at Work, compares it to the act of charging a phone every night.
“Putting away our phones on charging helps improve its efficiency, run for longer times, have multiple apps being open and carry out tasks on the phone seamlessly,” she says, adding that a mental health day helps long-term emotional regulation. She suggests activities one can do when one takes a mental health day.
Exercise / Movement
Movement can help you reconnect with your body and mind, making you more aware of the breath and the tension in the body. This could help you experience lightness and peace by the end of the movement And yes, while movement and exercise are important, it is most effective if it is actually something you truly love. So yes, don’t push yourself to go to the gym if your body craves a long hike or a sweaty game of basketball.
You shouldn’t only sleep, of course, but sleeping in a bit isn’t a bad idea either. On average, adults sleep for about 4-6 hours or so. However, their body requirements are likely to be 7-9 hours, resulting in a huge deficit over time. Less sleep leads to higher cortisol levels (stress hormone) and adrenaline (danger hormone), which, in turn, adds to the stress and a drop in the ability to regulate emotions. Thus, it may be helpful to use mental health days to catch up on sleep.
Pursuing interests and skill
Spending time participating in activities that bring immense happiness can consume you wholly, in a good way. So find things you are passionate about and focus on those on a day off. It could be reading, painting, meditating, doing community work, spending the day with furry babies, cycling, sitting by the beach, going on a trek, etc. And yes, even better, invest time in a new skill. Research has shown new skills keep our brains young and help mental health.
We often engage with the same group of people every day. A mental health day is a perfect time to go beyond this. We could consider reconnecting with friends from the past, extended family, and ex-colleagues to rebuild the connections we once had. Studies have shown that mental health is hugely supported by the quality of our relationships.
Mental health days could be a time in our calendar when we intentionally and actively evaluate our priorities. It is an opportunity to pause, view one’s life from an outsider’s perspective and reflect if one’s hopes, values, and aspirations are reflected in the choices and actions one engages in.
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Things to keep in mind while taking a mental health day
Chakrabarty shares some handy tips for planning your mental health day constructively –
● Respect your own feelings and emotions: Do not get intimidated by the judgement of others. For example, if you feel you need that day to rest, it’s totally okay.
● Build positive and healthy habits: It is important to nurture your own intellectual and emotional well-being. Habits can’t be developed in a day. It requires continuous practice to make them a part of life. Be patient and keep doing the work.
● Do not push yourself to feel better in a day: We always tend to set higher expectations for a day and lower goals for the year. Developing healthy habits is like doing yoga. The more you practice, the better you get.
● We become what we consume: Empower your mind with healthy resources and knowledge. Don’t consume toxic information during your time off.
● Be honest: Do not hesitate to talk your heart out to those you trust and share your emotions. It is always important to share and express your feelings.
● Do what you love: On that day, get involved with activities which make you feel relaxed and happy.
Divya Naik is a Mumbai-based psychotherapist
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