Hello stress reduction.
The Benefits of Taking a Mental Health Day, According to a Psychologist
Hello stress reduction.
Taking a mental health day shouldn’t be so hard, in fact, with all the benefits it can cause for our brains, it should be something that is honoured and celebrated. There are some cool changes that happen to our brains when we take a mental health day to drop our anchor, rest, recuperate, and connect - whether that be with ourselves, loved ones or with nature.
What we do know for certain, is that mental health days don’t automatically restore our psychological health - it’s what we do on those days (hello stress reduction) that foster positive changes in our brains and in turn promote mental wellbeing.
While there are some surefire ways that mental health days improve our physical function, it’s really important to pay attention to how a much-needed day off to promote stress reduction can have on our brain, particularly when we consider stress to be our biggest and most silent killer.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255. In an emergency, call 911. If you are concerned about your health, wellbeing or sleep, you can also speak to your GP, who will advise a correct treatment plan.
Why are so many of us stressed?
Given the amount of time we spend at work, stress mostly comes from our workplaces. Pair that with our ever-changing and fast-paced lives, our over-consumption of media, tech, and unrealistic expectations, and we are often led to an unhealthy lifestyle and unhealthy changes in our brains.
What does stress do to us?
Not only does stress impact us physically, but it does psychologically too. Prolonged periods of stress can cause inflammation, impacting our memory, causing depression, anxiety and an overall increase in cognitive failures. Mental health days are the perfect solution to de-stressing and can cause some powerful changes in our brains that prevent the complete depletion of our mental resources.
Why are mental health days important?
1. They allow our brains to slow down
When we use the day off to drop our anchor, even if we spend the day being a couch potato and having some much-needed downtime, we are giving our brain the ‘slow-down’ it needs. Slowing down allows our brains to make sense of its recent interaction through processing. Downtime allows us to turn attention from our external worlds towards the internal via reflection and helps to integrate information from broader brain regions to problem solve - in comparison to when we focus consciously on resolving a specific problem.
2. They allow us to regroup
Not only do mental health days allow our minds to rest, but they also allow for our stress hormones to be reduced by turning off our body’s high-alert stress response. This allows our brain to replenish our stores of motivation and attention, lower illness, combat burnout and boost our moods.
It’s so important to consider that it isn’t just our bodies that rest and replenish, it’s our brains too. We might spend our mental health day outdoors (which is often what we need) to exercise and reconnect with nature. Being outdoors, in green spaces, for a period of 20 to 30 minutes, significantly lowers our cortisol which is our stress hormone. Pair that with exercise, and the stress hormone of adrenaline is also decreased, as exercise promotes endorphins and chemicals which act as our brain's natural mood lifters and painkillers.
3. They let us catch up
Days off under the guise of a mental health day let us catch our breath - or so to speak. For those who spend their days off meditating, doing breath work, or even journalling, their brains can relax. This allows the body to follow suit. Meditation can help in reducing and even reversing the physiological signs of stress, adding up to the benefits it has on our brains by restoring our brain's cognitive resources, particularly those needed for attention and concentration.
3. They let us rest
To put it simply, when we don’t give our mind the space to pause and refresh, it just doesn’t work as efficiently as possible. Mental health days allow for us to do just that - rest. Sleeping, napping or having deep rest, not only helps our body by preventing the immune system from breaking down, but it also helps our brain.
Sleep allows our brain to clean up toxins from the day, process emotional situations better, consolidate memories, and it helps us turn off our fight or flight response. Not only does sleep help reduce our stress, but it also allows us to be more productive by reducing brain fatigue, helps invest in our emotional capacity and allows us to concentrate more, which ultimately helps us execute decisions.
Just like taking a day off when we are a little under the weather, taking a day off to aid our mental resilience and facilitate positive brain changes, should be promoted. Taking time off to give our brains a break, to restore energy and improve our mood and productivity, isn’t such a bad idea at all - and sometimes that’s the most important decision to be made, to take the day off to rest, restore, and recuperate.