If someone has a fever or bad cough, they do not think twice about calling in sick to work — so why should you treat your mental health any differently?

Mental illness is what’s referred to as an invisible illness because the majority of mental illness symptoms can’t be seen. The same is true for conditions such as arthritis, as others may not physically see what an individual is experiencing, but for that individual, the pain and suffering are extremely real.

Health experts have long agreed that mental well-being is just as important as physical well-being. If at any point you are feeling emotional and/or psychologically ill, it’s critical that you look after yourself.

Burnout and Declining Mental Health Are on the Rise

If you are feeling irritable, overwhelmed, moody, have lost all motivation, or simply do not feel yourself, you are not alone.

As reported by the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness, ranging in severity from mild to severe. The most common conditions are anxiety disorders, impacting approximately 18 percent of people ages 18-54 in any given year, followed by a depressive illness.

However, in many cases, conditions co-occur. Some estimates show that as many as 60 percent of those with anxiety, also showcase symptoms of depression; and the rate of substance use disorder in patients with schizophrenia is three times higher than the general population.

There are many reasons why mental health issues continue to rise. From work to traffic, deadlines to personal variables, many are feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. Rates of depression increased by 33 percent between 2013 and 2016 due to both work-related concerns and personal life challenges.

Rates of mental illness among young adults have also significantly risen over the past decade, which may be due to cultural trends and digital media use. A 2019 study found that the rate of individuals reporting symptoms of major depression increased 63 percent in adults (age 18 to 25) from 2005 to 2017.

Why You Need to Make Your Mental Health a Priority

Mental health was stigmatized for so long, but fortunately, many are beginning to realize how important their mental health is — not just in terms of their quality of life, but also their physical health. Research shows that just as poor mental health can threaten your physical health, positive emotions may actually help reduce your risk of certain illnesses, including heart complications.

Although the connection between mental and physical health is complex, at the root of it all, your mental health is integral when aiming to live a healthy, balanced life. Impacting how you think, feel, and behave, your emotional health can impact every aspect of your life — but how will you know when it’s time to take a break?

Signs You Need to Take a Mental Health Day — And What to Do About It

No one knows your body quite like you do, which is why you need to listen to even the most subtle clues — especially those that are ongoing. Here are just some of the hints that a mental health day is likely needed.

  • You’re exhausted — When you overwork yourself mentally, this can lead to physical exhaustion, which can then impact sleep quality, further worsening your psychological state. The overlap between sleep and mental health is so great that many researchers believe both of these issues have common biological roots.
  • You feel down — If you’re feeling sad or are struggling to manage your emotions, you may be experiencing early signs of burn out. However, if you’re experiencing deep sadness, high irritability, and a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, it may be beneficial to speak with your healthcare provider about the possibility of depression.
  • You’re getting sick often — Have a recurring cold? Experiencing more headaches than normal? If so, your body may be telling you to slow down and reboot.

Whether you’re struggling to focus, you’re more anxious than normal, or you feel disconnected, it’s time to practice greater self-care. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and anxious to the point that your sleep and quality of life are negatively impacted, it’s completely acceptable (and highly recommended) that you take a mental health day.

Once you do, remain mindful of the following:

  • You need to give yourself what you need — If you are struggling emotionally, the first step is accepting that you may need some extra TLC and support. Ask yourself, what would make you feel better? A day at the park with your friend? Rest and good book? A day of creative expression? Whatever it may be, opt for something that will allow you to recharge your batteries.
  • You must acknowledge how you’re feeling — Self-awareness is key when it comes to your mental health. Becoming more aware of how you’re feeling will allow you to seek the type of support you need. In order to help yourself, you must be honest. There is no shame in admitting that you need help.
  • Avoid unhealthy activities — When you do have a day to yourself, don’t spend the entire day on social media, ruminating, indulging in unhealthy foods, drinking, or smoking. The goal is to relax, focusing on activities that bring you a renewed sense of peace.
  • Make a list of goals — Once you have completed a relaxing activity or two, make a list of the stressors that are piling up in your life. This is your opportunity to restructure things as you become more mindful of your priorities. This simple exercise can have an immense impact. Journaling is another great option to express how you’re feeling.

Whether you are feeling overwhelmed or are experiencing an episode related to your mental health, it’s important to slow down and admit that you need a break. Seek support and make self-care your number one priority. After all, Cecilia Tran, MD, said it best, “Self-care means giving yourself permission to pause.”

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