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Making The Most Of A Mental Health Day

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A mental health day isn’t always easy to justify, much less make happen. Our on-the-go culture demands we are busy, strong, and always willing to push ourselves to achieve more. Striving to take advantage of every minute of every day can lead to neglecting our personal needs, increasing our vulnerability to moodiness, irritability, concentration difficulties, and poor health choices, a vicious negative cycle that feeds on itself.

For many, the worse it becomes, the harsher we treat ourselves. It isn’t hard to fall out of balance, spurring mental health symptoms that can worsen if left unaddressed. Our attitudes about mental health still struggle under weighty societal stigma that frown on people who “can’t handle it.” It wasn’t that long ago that the mentally ill were institutionalized, sidelined from society all together.

Fortunately, things are changing, and celebrity disclosures continue to help normalize mental health. Positive psychology’s focus on the benefits of happiness and mental wellness have also expanded our acceptance and awareness of mental health. But putting mental health strategies into practice can be harder than it should be in our stressful and confusing world.

This is where taking a mental health day – a day to rest and rejuvenate our bodies and minds – can go a long way toward replenishing the needs we so often ignore. Whether it be a weekend, vacation, or sick leave, a mental health day is time dedicated to nurturing your mental health, with particular focus to your emotional well-being.

With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, here are some ideas for how to beef up self-care, and mental health. Excellent for cultivating optimal wellness, but especially important for rebooting best mental health practices, these 10 strategies highlight the most common areas of neglect that can pull us out of balance, and what we can do help restore it.

1. Indulge your healthy longings. 

The litmus test for needing a mental health day is when you can’t stop fantasizing about taking a break, or doing something healthy you don’t otherwise have the time to do. Often the things we need most are the very things we find ourselves daydreaming about. Whether it’s lounging in our pjs, strolling through the woods, or whipping up a favorite recipe, giving in to healthy longings can be particularly restorative in designing an optimal mental health day.

2. Dial up sleep.

Often when we push ourselves too hard, our sleep suffers which impacts our mental health. The capacity to interpret our thoughts, feelings, and impulses, is particularly sensitive to the impact of sleep – the less we have of it, the worst we do with this. 7.5 – 9 hours per night is what the average person needs per night, but stress can make getting enough sleep a challenge. A mental health day that involve plenty of downtime and sleep can be particularly rejuvenating, and if this seems harder than it sounds, try some of these sleep strategies.

3. Move your body. 

Feeling physically edgy, restless, and achy is often a sign that you need to move your body. Sweating is the body’s way of cooling itself, and also the signal that you are exercising at an optimal level for your circulation, overall health, and brain. Research shows that exercise can also help calm anxiety. A mental health day that includes sweating can help you think more clearly, which in turn can help you feel better all around.

4. Drink water. 

Feeling sluggish, slow, and lethargic can also be exacerbated by consuming too many caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, and too little water. Getting through your work week with the help of caffeine can leave your body feeling sluggish, and slightly dehydrated. A replenishing mental health day should include consuming as much water as possible, restoring hydration and flushing toxins, which in turn can perk up your body and mind.

5. Relax your body. 

Muscle tightness, and the knots and strains that accompany long periods sitting can cause body aches and pain that can be irritating, distracting, and energy draining. Paying attention to our bodies can help us restore a sense of physical ease. Massage therapy, a hot bath, or gentle stretching can help relax sore muscles and reduce irritating inflammation, and promote a sense of wellness.

6. Connect with others, and help.

In coping with the demands of modern life, it isn’t hard to withdraw from friends and family whose love and support we need. Connecting with supportive people in our life, as well as helping them, can boost our happiness, as well as restore a sense of purpose that helps us feel more like our best selves. If you are feeling disconnected, make time in a mental health day to connect with someone in person, by phone, or at minimum in writing. Socializing is a great way to restore a sense of balance.

7. Clarify your feelings.

Confusion and a sense of angst you can’t understand can be signal of disconnection with your feelings. Research shows the simple act of naming how we feel can help us cope with those very feelings. Whether it’s talking with a person about your experience, or taking time to write down how you are feeling, research confirms clarifying our feelings can go a long way to helping us use and manage them better.

8. Play, and laugh, as much as possible.

Laughter is great medicine, as is play, with the health effects of both being well documented. A funny video, recounting a hilarious scenario, or doing something fun for no reason other than to play can deliver a needed boost to your mood and attitude. Aim to add in fun wherever you can and relish the opportunities to smile and laugh wherever you can.

9. Learn something new. 

Stimulating your brain to learn something new can be powerful in restoring balance. Taking up a hobby, or returning to one, can be a useful part of a day off, as well as simply allowing yourself to learn something new. Watch a documentary, research a topic of interest, or simply read a book or an interesting article to give your brain the stimulation is craves, and the distraction it needs.

10. Cultivate gratitude. 

Being mindful of our blessings, and feeling grateful for them, is a key way to facilitate a healthier mental attitude and offset the negative thoughts and feelings. Not just a distraction, gratitude is a tool of pulling our minds toward the positive, and cultivating positive feelings. This can’t be forced (and doesn’t work if it is), but it can be possible when other self-care practices are implemented.

Obviously, a mental health day only lasts so long, and time can slip by pretty quickly. Planning ahead how to spend the day or allotted time period can help you avoid the time-consuming pitfall of indecision.

Aim to be gentle with your expectations, and pick a couple of strategies that resonate most. If you are primarily exhausted, a day spent resting, reading, and a bit of socializing may do the trick. If you are feeling edgy and lonely, you may prefer a day with a friend moving your body or engaging a project. If you are feeling sluggish, and frustrated, you may enjoy a day spent tending to your physical needs.

The best mental health day strategy is the one that addresses your most neglected needs, and ideally jump starts a renewed intention toward balance.

A final note: Don’t expect a cure with a mental health day, but do expect improvement. Not feeling better after a day off can be a sign of more serious mental health symptoms that deserve attention. Effective help is available, and a professional can help tailor a strategy that works best for you.

If you are looking for further support in managing your emotional health, you may want to download my free eBook, “Naming Your Feelings: A Guide To Understanding Your Emotions,” check out my new book, Hack Your Anxiety (debuted as #1 Amazon New Release), or register for my free mini-ecourse on making anxiety work for you by signing up for book bonuses here.

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD

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