I have a hundred or more excuses to never take a day to myself. Even when I feel the most drained, frustrated with circumstances, or unsteady about events in the world, I can always think of a reason to not take a day for my brain to breathe. There will always be things to do or people I will have to say “no” to, perhaps even my kids, in order to take a day for myself. Even though sometimes orchestrating a mental health day feels like work, which often discourages us, I assure you that it is always worth it. The day (or few hours you have to give) may not feel life-changing, but the habit of sowing seeds of caring for our mental health will reap benefits for us in the long term again and again.
I recently shared some things I did on my mental health day on Instagram. A few people asked me how I plan for these days and protect my time in them. I thought I would share my experience in more detail here.
Let me start by saying, that what works for me may not work for you. Therefore, I am trying to speak in general terms so that you can figure out what works for you. Part of mental health is being connected with ourselves and understanding ourselves enough to know what we need and when we need it. This is not intended to be a step-by-step copy of what I do because I’m not you. Doing the groundwork of knowing who you are and what will fill your cup can be daunting and hard, but I assure you it is worth it.
Plan Ahead: Figure out what works for you in terms of length, day of the week, frequency, etc. Personally, I try to do these once a month on a day that I know I usually don’t have to time-bound work demands. What I mean by this is that I won’t usually have a mid-day meeting or something that requires my attention during my block of mental health time (usually around five to six hours). Because I do this during the week, I also have built-in childcare within the school day. You might need to think about these details, like childcare. Childcare is a financial cost, but I assure you it is worth the investment in yourself.
Clear the Schedule: There is a rule on mental health days: no errands and no appointments that don’t have to do with your mental health. You are not allowed to check any boxes or cross anything off a list on a mental health day. This is especially hard for me because a free block of time is my brain’s playground of to-dos. Don’t do it. While you might feel accomplished for getting those things done, it doesn’t actually work towards building you up in the appropriate ways.
Say Good-Bye to Productivity Lies: This takes a lot of work and practice, but let go of the belief you are not being productive on a mental health day. I often have to check in with myself on mental health days to reassure my mind that what I am doing is productive. Our society is so caught up in work and what is useful, that we forget the deep inner work of caring for ourselves as something purposeful. Remember, we are sowing long-term seeds for ourselves.
Fill Your Cup: Land on some activities that you know will give you a sense of rest and care for your brain and your mental and emotional health. These can be activities that make you feel at peace or make you feel alive or that you know are just good for you. As an adult, especially a mom, it can be daunting to figure out what these are. So many times we become disconnected from our true selves and don’t know what makes us happy or peaceful anymore. It might take some trial and error or practice to land on what works for you. That is okay. The process of learning this is part of taking care of yourself too. It is also okay if these things change over time. What serves you now with little kids may not serve you as a parent to older teenagers. Or what you need in the midst of graduate school may not be the same as what you need in a full-time job. If you need ideas, check out the Ideas for a Mental Health Day guide here.
Make a Plan: Make sure you plan for your day and have strong boundaries on your time. I want to meet people’s needs in the moment, so this can be a hard practice for me personally. However, it turns out most people respond quite well to a time block boundary. You don’t have to say, “Tuesday is a mental health day for me. Could we do Wednesday instead?” Simply say, “I’m booked for Tuesday, what time on Wednesday works for you?” Don’t let other things encroach on your time. Make a plan for how you will use your time. Even though it is a mental health day, we should still be cognizant of how we are using that time to fill us up.
Execute: Now do it!
Reflect: Take some time at the end of your day to think about your day. What worked? What didn’t? What do you want to keep? What do you want to toss? How did you feel before, during, and after? Revisit this when you plan your next mental health day.
Don’t Stop: Plan your next day. Even if you don’t think you need it, plan it now. Your future self will thank you.
I just want to encourage you that this is a practice, and by that definition, it will not be perfect. It will take time and will evolve. That is okay. You are worth the time and the work. It will benefit not only you, but your family, your work, and other close relationships you have.