Ways to Make the Most of a Mental Health Day

The heartwarming response to one woman's "mental health day" notice has given headlines – and workers everywhere – something to talk about.

Web developer Madalyn Parker wrote an email to her boss to let him know she'd be taking a few days off to care for her mental health. His response? "You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work."

The email, which went viral after Parker posted it to Twitter, ignited an important discussion about mental health that spread like wildfire across the web.

In light of that, I compiled a few ideas about how to spend your mental health day — all easy, inexpensive and proven by science to strengthen your pysche. Read them over and put them in action next time you take a mental health day.

 

1. Meditate

Studies show as little as 25 minutes of meditation – also known as mindfulness – eased feelings of stress associated with work. But be wary: Deep breaths and closed eyes aren't the anxiety antidote they may seem to be. Like training any muscle, it takes time to train train your mind to relax during a meditative session. That's why mental health experts say you need to practice meditating in order to reap its full benefits.

Making time for meditation is on my to-do list (how ironic is that?), but I do incorporate breathing exercises when I feel extra anxious. The 5-5-5 method works wonders – Inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds. For best results, rinse and repeat 5X. And remember to pay attention to proper breathing form. Breathe in through your nose and out with your mouth, and try to inhale using your diaphragm – not your chest. That means belly out, folks.

2. Read a book

Poetry or prose, comics or cookbooks – Your brain doesn't discriminate. No matter your literary preference, research proves that reading in your off-time is an effective antidote to stress. It also boosts your memory, augments your vocabulary and increases your chances of getting quality Zzz's.

With an extra eight hours on hand, a mental health day provides ample time for a reading binge. And in you aren't in the mood to dust off your book collection, the internet's got your back. Check out Elle's list of the top 25 books every woman should read before the end of 2017. That's enough book worming for many a mental health day, wouldn't you say?

I'm somewhat ashamed to say I haven't crossed many books off my reading list in the last few... years. But hey, the intent is totally there. At the top of my list are career and self-improvement books like Grace Not Perfection and The Career Code, as well as my witty writing book, Lapsing Into a Comma.

3. Do some cleaning

If you're one of the people like me who finds cleaning therapeutic, you should be happy to hear there's a method to the madness. The psychology of cleanliness says that keeping your home prim and proper produces a range of mental health benefits – improved focus, energy and mood, to name a few. 

But you don't need a degree in HGTV to reap the rewards of cleaning house. Pick up a home magazine at your corner store or browse the web for inexpensive organization ideas. For the latter, I highly recommend perusing a good home improvement or DIY blog. I find my organization and decor inspiration from places like Almost Makes Perfect, Apartment Therapy, Fall for DIY and iHeart Organizing.

Remember not to overwhelm yourself with chores on a day designed for R&R. I know firsthand the guilt-inducing strength of a lengthy to-do list. But I also know succumbing to my every urge to "do this, not that" will only damper my "relaxing" day off. In other words, tidy up until you've had enough, then move on to the next thing (or, you know, nothing at all).

4. Spoil yourself

Busting your butt at work warrants some self-praise every now and again, and a mental health day is the perfect time to give it. Research shows that “people who are able to comfort themselves have a better immune response to stress, so they don’t get as anxious, especially in social situations.” That said, it’s not a stretch to consider self-pampering both a treatment for stress as well as a kind of preventative medicine. Pretty cool, huh?

Engage in a pamper sesh in whatever form your prefer — be it a massage, bubble bath or shopping spree. Redbook magazine lists an array of luxe spa treatments for your every ache and pain — plus a few DIY versions to try at home. Their suggestions include a eucalyptus facial, hot-stone massage and even chromotherapy and hydrotherapy.