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I took a Mental Health Day this week. Now, this one wasn't your typical "I've had it up to here and I just can't face the world so I'm staying in my jammies, dammit!" impromptu bail, but rather a planned day off that I arranged for myself, anticipating the need for a day to regroup after a stressful event. I knew I'd have a lot on my mind (before, during, & after the event), knew I might have trouble winding down or sleeping after the fact, and recognized that I'd probably feel better, have less residual stress, and function better during the rest of the week in the office if I gave myself permission to take a day off to decompress instead of diving right back into work.
Now, this wasn't a traumatic event by any means---just a big family gathering, with 20+ people (ages 1-70) in attendance and some personality and behavioral conflicts sort of expected. As someone from a really big family, I've had a lot of years to get used to this sort of thing, figure out how to navigate the tricky parts, avoid the obvious triggers, know which battles to pick and which ones to walk away from, and how to [mostly] not let things get to me.
But that doesn't mean I'm able to get through these things with unshakable Zen calm, either. If I'm not personally stressing out, I'm witnessing someone I care about struggling with things, which can be difficult to witness and not always possible to fix. In fact, it's pretty much impossible to achieve total, constant, Kumbaya-singing harmony in a family the size of mine...I don't even try anymore, but that knowledge doesn't make it any easier. You still have the urge to fix what's broken, or solve the unsolvable...at least I do.
Hence the Mental Health Day.
These days can take all sorts of different formats. There's the tried and true Nobody's Home version, which may involve the aforementioned jammies, take-out, and a Netflix marathon. You're allowed to ignore your email and phone and whatever else you feel like ignoring.
You might prefer The Great Escape, where you (and a friend or family member, if that's how you roll) take off, either for parts unknown or an old familiar favorite place. You can eat bad road food or pack a lunch, take pictures or just be in the moment, but the important thing to remember is that you DON'T want to bring your baggage along for the ride. Just enjoy the moment and leave your troubles behind for a while.
Perhaps the It's All About ME! Mental Health Day is more your speed? That's the one where you take care of yourself instead of worrying about other people...you might get a massage or visit a salon, indulge yourself a bit, and focus on making yourself feel better. Or you can use the day to do things that YOU enjoy, but that those closest to you aren't into...so if your significant other isn't into shopping but you love it, or your friends hate Action movies but you adore those big 3-D explosions, or if your idea of a great day is to play WoW for 7 hours in a row, now's your chance to do what YOU want to do.
Or maybe you find the idea of being productive kind of soothing? If organizing your closets, doing yard work, going to the gym, getting a jump on your holiday shopping, cooking enough meals to freeze and eat for a week, or finally taking the time to try a craft or practice a skill is your idea of fun, knock yourself out! The awsome and underrated Day of Accomplishment may be what you need.
Kidding aside, I'm a big believer in Mental Health Days. We recognize the need to slow down and rest when we're battling the flu or recovering from an illness, but the need to do the same when it comes to psychologically stressful events isn't given the same respect or accommodation. Some of us are fortunate enough to have jobs with enough flexibility to take the occasional personal day (myself among them) and nearly all of mine involve helping a family member get through something, or allowing myself the space I need to find my own balance and catch my breath.
In my younger days, I took fewer Mental Health Days, instead opting for a whole bunch of toxic, smoke-filled little Mental Health Breaks that really solved nothing and sometimes even sent my stress levels through the roof, because I didn't allow myself enough distance from whatever was troubling me, instead attempting to "solve" my problem in a seven-minute window, and inevitably ending up frustrated because of course that's impossible to do. With 20/20 hindsight, I can confidently state that the Mental Health Day is a much better solution.
If you need one, and can figure out a way to take one, do it. You won't regret it.
Who's Your Little Buddy?
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