Making the Most of a Mental Health Day

We’ve all had moments when it feels like the weight of the world is on our shoulders. It can be hard to get anything done during those times because everything feels so heavy. We find ways to soldier on from day to day but, once in a while, it’s important to take some time to restore and reflect.

When we’re feeling overwhelmed, taking a mental health day to focus on self-care can really help lighten the load. While it’s tempting to see a “day off” as an opportunity to lounge around in our pajamas, snacking unconsciously in front of the television, there are other ways to make the most of this valuable time.

Move Your Body

Give yourself permission to ease into your day without judgement. If you want to skip the alarm clock, feel free — just don’t spend the whole day in bed. Instead, go to sleep at a reasonable time, get a full night’s rest and then get up and get moving! Even if it’s just 30 minutes, this can really help you shake off negative emotions and physical strain.

In fact, studies show that exercise can combat feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. It doesn’t have to be a strenuous workout at the gym, either. Walk around the block, do some yoga, or take a bike ride through your neighborhood. For fun, blast some music and dance like nobody’s watching. You may be surprised by how much this boosts your mood.

Deep Clean & Organize

Take a quick look around your home or workspace. Does it feel clean and organized or do you see dust and clutter? While some people thrive in chaos, there’s evidence to suggest that a messy environment can actually affect our mental health. For this reason, you might want to use part of your day to get things in order.

Be ruthless in your pursuit for peaceful surroundings. Be honest with yourself and throw away or donate anything that you no longer need or use. Let go of possessions that remind you of negative things, situations or people. This process can be emotional, but very therapeutic, so don’t be surprised if you emerge with a clearer mind.

Eat Well & Hydrate

When difficult things are going on in our lives, it tends to have an effect on our nutrition. Some people struggle to eat anything when they are feeling stressed, while others head for the comfort foods. While this might be okay for a very short amount of time, it’s really best if you find a way to maintain healthy eating habits during challenging moments. After all, you need to keep up your strength in order to keep going!

If you plan to be indulgent on your mental health day, keep in mind that a heavy, bloated stomach won’t boost your mood, so restrict your splurge to a single meal or snack while eating well for the rest of the day. At the same time, be sure to drink enough water — dehydration can cause headaches and may trigger anxiety.

Explore Outdoors

Entire songs have been dedicated to the benefits of wide open spaces, because being out in the fresh air, whether under sunny skies or a canopy of stars, can feel incredibly liberating. You may be able to surrender your worries, if only for a little while, to the great outdoors.

While many people enjoy camping, you don’t have to head to the wilderness with a tent to reap the rewards of being out in nature. Instead, be a tourist in your own town and explore areas you’ve taken for granted. Look for unfamiliar trails or a take a scenic drive. You’ll be amazed by how many treasures are hidden all around you.

Get Unplugged

Before technology became such a prominent part of our lives, it was easier to take a few moments for ourselves. Now, our friends, family, and coworkers can be in constant contact and may even be frustrated if we don’t respond to messages immediately. When we’re already struggling, this added pressure can make us feel even worse.

On mental health days, make it clear that you might not be responding to messages quickly (or at all). Don’t feel guilty about this. Healthy boundaries are important! Without the distraction of devices, use this time to read a book, meditate, or even catch up with a friend. You could also grab a journal and jot down all of the things you want to get off your chest. Just try to give yourself a few hours without your phone in your hand.

A mental health day can go a long way to helping you manage stress. The next time you’re feeling run down or overwhelmed, find some time to engage in self-care and decompress. Resist the temptation to sit on the couch all day and, instead, make it a day for active recovery. You’ll enjoy a much-needed break from the daily grind and still feel like you accomplished something!

Jeanne Croteau

Jeanne Croteau is an adjunct psychology and social sciences professor as well as a contributing writer for ForbesLife, Social Moms, and more. As a married mother of six, she strongly believes in living a healthy lifestyle and enjoys being outdoors, cooking, and watching hockey.