9 Ways To Cope When You Need A Mental Health Day But Can’t Take One

July 17, 2017  |  
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Last week, the Internet was buzzing with progressive joy over the response one CEO had for his employee after she sent an email saying she’d be taking two days off to focus on her mental health.

Ben Congleton, CEO of Olark Live Chat in Michigan told Madalyn Parker in an emailed reply:

“I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this. Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health – I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organizations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.”

As Congelton pointed out, using sick days for mental health or even admitting you need a mental health day is hardly standard practice in many businesses, which is why his refreshing response went viral. Some organizations require doctor’s notes even when a visit might not be necessary, others simply won’t approve the request off, most don’t recognize the crippling effects of mental health issues and their effect on productivity.

The point is, not all of us is Madalyn Parker or works for a Ben Congleton. We may still be waiting for sick time to accrue on a new job or may not have benefits at all and can’t sacrifice a day’s pay. Maybe we just don’t feel comfortable saying, “I’m burned out and need a break.” Whatever your situation, know there are some ways you can cope to get through the work day, even though you really need it off.

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Don’t start any new projects

If you have to be at work, attempt to do, for lack of a better word, somewhat mindless tasks. If you’re experiencing brain fog or having trouble concentrating, it’s not a good time to start or wrap up a project. Instead, try to make this more of an admin day. Catch up on emails, do background research, or prep for a future project in some way that doesn’t require a great deal of decision making.

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Go for a midday walk

Research has shown that just a 10-minute stroll in the middle of the work day not only boosts energy levels but also improves “your physical and psychological well-being in the short and long term,” Psychology Today reported. So don’t just rush to get lunch and get back to your desk, take a literal walk to clear your head as much as possible before returning to work.



It may feel like the last thing you want to do, but if you push through it it’ll feel like the best thing in the world. You don’t have to kill yourself in the gym or some hardcore bootcamp class, a simple run on the treadmill or even some heavy duty lifting will release endorphins that trigger positive feelings.

Bigstockphoto.com/Close up portrait of young woman outside leaning against wall daydreaming

Affirm yourself

When you first get to the office, hold off on diving right into work. Take some time to set an intention for your day. If you use daily devotionals, read yours before you read emails. Research positive quotes or quotes related to your situation to remind you all is not hopeless and you will get through.

Tell Your Mother

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Reach out

It’s a rarity to eat lunch anywhere but at our desks these days, but call up a friend and see if she can meet you for a quick bite or grab coffee with your closest work buddy and let her know what’s on your mind. Sometimes just expressing what you’re feeling can relieve you of pent up stress and frustration and whomever you talk to might also have a solution for whatever’s plaguing you.

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Plan a future day off

Maybe you couldn’t take today off because someone else is already out or your 90-day probation period isn’t up yet or no one else can cover your shift, see what the next available date is for you to take off and request it. Even if you don’t feel as down or stressed as you do now on that future day, knowing time off is coming will help you push through the days leading up to that date. Plus it’s good practice anyway to take a day for yourself here and there to reboot.

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Treat yourself in some way

A spa visit or some other lavish method of relaxing and releasing may not be in the cards, but you can treat yourself in other ways. When’s the last time you treated yourself to a movie or had a great dinner? Now’s not the time to make large purchases or splurge on retail therapy, but giving yourself freedom to engage in things you enjoy (studies show experiences have more lasting positive effects than items) removes some of the guilt you may have around spending money on or doing things for yourself.

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Cry if you need to

Crying in the office may be frowned upon by some, but it’s your job and you can cry if you want to. Go in the bathroom stall and let your tears flow. Like with talking to someone, crying is a way to release and physically let go of the hurt you’re feeling. Give yourself 10-15 minutes to cry it out and then get back to taking care of business as best you can.

Friendly african american executive business woman brainstorming using green adhesive notes in a modern white office

Show yourself compassion

Don’t beat up on yourself for feeling the way you do or not wanting to work or being unable to handle certain tasks today. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling and know that you won’t always feel this way and the fact that you do right now is okay. You wouldn’t tell a friend in your shoes to just get over it so don’t do that to yourself.

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