health

So, you've taken a day off for your mental health. Here's the best way to spend it.

Australians are feeling really, really tired.

A worldwide survey found that Aussies had one of the highest rates of burnout of any country last year. Almost four in five of us suffered burnout, and almost half said their hours spent working overtime increased significantly.

On top of that, one in five Australians will experience some sort of mental illness in any given year. 

Any expert will tell you - from a GP to a psychologist - that just like you'd take a day off for the flu or an upset tummy, sometimes, you need to take some time off for your head. 


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So - you decide to take a day off for your mental health.

What's the best way to spend it? 

Is staying in bed all day doing more harm than good? Are there any strategies that might help with a reset, or improving mood? And are there any no-nos?

I spoke to doctor and mental health advocate, Dr Kieran Kennedy, for some tips. 

1. Get rid of the guilt

The most important thing is not to spend the whole day feeling guilty because you're not at work. 

"Taking any kind of day out can be hard, whether it’s a mental health day, a sick day or otherwise. 

"Guilt is a huge part of this, and in a society that often tells us our worth is attached to our productivity and ability to be up and at it for others, it’s understandable."

Dr Kennedy suggests you acknowledge the guilt is there, and then set it to one side. 

"Our worth isn’t found in a relentless push to work harder, and taking a day for health of mind is just as valid as one for physical ills."

2. Put down your phone

Unplugging from work goes without saying. If it's possible - don't check emails or notifications. 

But Dr Kennedy also says to make a real effort to put down your devices. 

"I’ve been talking to a lot of people lately who are feeling the mental pinch when it comes to info overload. 

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"The regular updates, case counts, emails and info can be a good thing, but when it comes to a mental health day, it’s important to make the time your own. 

"Unplugging from devices even if just for a few hours can do our mind a world of good."

3. Make rest time count 

How do you actually return to work the next day feeling... rested?

Dr Kennedy says that much of the downtime we have "isn't actually recharging our brain".

"When it comes to really allowing the mind to rest and take a day, it's important to know that divided attention often isn't restorative. For a mental health day, try to focus on the 'one thing at a time' rule. 

"If you're watching a movie, just watch it. If you’re taking a walk, ditch the phone. Often we split rest time activities amongst three or more competing needs (aka the watching a movie, texting, emailing and planning next week’s schedule all at once). 

"This is actually more stressful than restful when it comes to health of mind, so to make a rest day count, do one thing at one time."

4. Exercise and venturing outdoors

This is particularly important for anyone under lockdown restrictions at the moment. 

Dr Kennedy says, "research consistently shows that even a short amount of moderate intensity physical activity can have big payoffs for relieving anxiety, stress and low mood."

"Similarly, time outside in nature is science-backed for being restorative too. Including one or both in a mental health day is definitely a good prescription for health of mind."

5. Mindfulness

Even if it's just for five or 10 minutes, practising mindfulness or meditation can be a great way to relieve stress and reduce rumination. 

Ideally, mindfulness would be something we practice every day, but we've also all got to start somewhere. 

Dr Kennedy says that even practising mindfulness for one day, like when you're feeling low, can have benefits. 

He recommends some guided breath works or meditations on YouTube, or apps like Headspace or Calm. 

6. Finding moments of flow

One of the best things any of us can do to recharge is find an activity that we truly lose ourselves in. 

"Flow is a mental state in which we're relaxed but keenly focused on what we're into," Dr Kennedy says. 

"Time slips away, and there's a sense of joy and calm. It's why when we finish creating or exercising we sometimes think 'where the hell did that time go?'

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"Finding some time for flow states on a mental health day can help release stress and tension that’s often built up behind. It can be anything and depends on the person, but art, music, cooking, exercise and even gaming are just a few examples."

While it might not be possible to achieve all six of these tasks on your mental health day, it's worth prioritising your health and wellbeing when you're having time off. At the very least, ensuring you do something you truly enjoy is a good way to escape your head for a while.

With that said, for some of us, a mental health day won't be enough. 

If you've noticed changes in your sleep, physical pain and aches, an increase in irritability, a feeling of disconnection or increased recklessness, especially over a period of more than two weeks, it's probably time to see your GP

Sometimes, that's the best use of a mental health day; making an appointment with your doctor, and looking at a mental health plan. 

If you are under the age of 25, you can contact your local headspace centre, which offers free and confidential treatment.

If any of your symptoms include suicidal or homicidal thoughts, then contact 000 or your local emergency health service.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.


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