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5 things you should do, and 1 you definitely shouldn’t, on a mental health day

Woman laying on couch
If you’re feeling unwell in a way that would impact your ability to do your job, you’re entitled to take a day off.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If you’re feeling mentally run down, stressed, anxious or depressed, taking a day off to look after yourself is as reasonable as taking a sick day when you’ve got a head cold.

Here are five things you can do, and one thing you shouldn’t, on a mental health sick day.


1. Practise relaxation

If you don’t have any relaxation techniques in your arsenal, take some time to learn a few and practise them. Then, when you return to your normal routine, designate a few minutes every day to practicing relaxation, to help keep stress from building back up.

You might also try mindfulness or meditation techniques to help quiet your mind and feel less stressed day-to-day.

If stress has been creeping up on you, practising relaxation might help you calm down, feel more in control and manage stressors better when you return to them.

2. Get some perspective

If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed by one big thing, or lots of little things, it can be hard to be realistic about the situation. Taking time away from the problem can help you readdress it with a fresh perspective.

But if you’re not able to forget about the problem on your day off, or it needs to be addressed right now, there are tools you can use to help you adjust your view and make things feel more manageable. You could try:

  • making a to-do list that gets all those memos, events and ideas off your mind
  • telling someone trustworthy, who is a good listener, about your worries
  • asking yourself how important the situation will be in five days, five weeks, five months and five years
  • delegating some tasks to someone else so that you can manage the rest more easily.

3. Seek help if needed

Taking a day or two off every now and again when you don’t feel well is fine. If you need more than one day off work, it’s time to get some advice and support.

There are trained professionals who can help you understand how you’re feeling, why you might be feeling that way and talk about strategies to help you feel better.

Your GP can be a good starting point – they might be able to provide treatment or refer you to other services that can help. Read this guide about how to talk to your GP about your mental health.

beyondblue and Lifeline both have hotlines you can call to talk about how you’re feeling and what strategies or services might be available to help you.

Remember, if it’s an emergency, you think your life or someone else’s life is in danger, always call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance.

Woman talking to a male psychiatrist

4. Do what makes you feel good

Your day off is yours to do with what you want – so fill it with things that make you feel good. This could be baking, reading a book, riding your bike, sitting by the beach, having a nap or even giving the house a deep clean.

Man swimming

5. Treat yourself (well)

We all know the fundamentals of taking care of ourselves: a balanced diet, daily exercise and enough sleep. But when we’re not feeling on top of things, these basics can slip off the radar.

Give some thought to how you’ve been looking after yourself lately, and any changes you should make that will help you feel better physically and mentally. This might be stocking the fridge with fresh food, learning new recipes to cook, recommitting to a daily morning walk, or stepping up your sleep habits.


1. Wallow in guilt

If you’ve taken the day off work, you might feel like you don’t really deserve to be taking leave when you’re not physically sick. But, if you’re feeling unwell in a way that would impact your ability to do your job, you’re entitled to take a day off.

This holds true for those who are self-employed too, as well as parents and carers. Taking a day off from these roles can feel challenging, but remember that looking after yourself will help you perform better across all your responsibilities.

If you’re really worried about taking a day off and how it will affect others or your work, why not schedule it in advance? Organise to have an extra day off a few days ahead of time, so that you can delegate any urgent jobs, hire a babysitter or switch on the out-of-office without feeling like you’re letting anyone down.

Last updated: 12 October 2017