As I sat in front of my laptop with my coffee with oat milk resting on the table in front of me, prepared to write the article I had planned out, something hit me: I couldn’t do it. Maybe it was the sunny day beckoning me to go outside, or the underlying anxiety about my upcoming college graduation. Whatever it was, I for some reason could not write about summer hair accessories (yet).
I considered going to a cafe to get my creative blood pumping again or changing into a cute outfit, but even considering getting up and doing those things exhausted me. I couldn’t understand, I was doing everything right: I made and ate breakfast, changed out of my pajamas, made some coffee with cups to spare. That was normally what it took to let my brain know it was time to be productive, but she didn’t care. Suddenly, it dawned on me, and it was so obvious: I hadn’t taken a mental health day in months.
I define my mental health days as a span of 24 hours where I only focus on myself and what I want to do. It is not a mindless day where I sleep until 2:00 in the afternoon and laze around, it has a purpose. It’s simple, it’s sweet, and it’s effective in getting me feeling refreshed.
They are not days I describe as unproductive, they’re ones where I put a pause on the work I should be doing to focus on myself. Mental health days are productive for your heart and soul, and their sole purpose is to encourage relaxation. They’re generally looked at as days you spend doing things to better yourself so in the upcoming days, you feel more energized and have fewer creative blocks.
However, mental health days, and mental health in general, are overlooked by the professional, working world. Capitalism has put into our heads that we have to be doing something productive at all times. We constantly have to be working on tasks or skills to make us stand out from others in resume lineups or revising our cover letters to sound even more eager for a job.
The idea of capitalism actually makes a bit of sense: as the wealthy corporate leaders and their companies mint money, their workers will also bring in more money and the standard of living improves for everyone.
But people are greedy.
People hoard their wealth and pay their workers barely or not enough to actually live. The free market enables corporations and private companies to dictate where prices lie in their competition with one another. It has pushed us to an extreme individualistic society in which the culture supports doing things solely for yourself, ignoring that other people may need help. Greed is okay and even encouraged by the people who support capitalism, but when it comes to possibly halting the income of wealth for corporate leaders and taking a day off for yourself, paid or unpaid, then “selfishness” becomes a problem.
Taking a day off is not selfish, but we’re told that is it, especially if it’s not because you’re so ill that you can’t walk or have other physical ailments. Our capitalistic society has trained us into thinking that not doing anything productive for the corporate world is synonymous with laziness, forcing us into feeling guilty for even considering a day away from work. Even calling off work for being sick makes me feel guilty and question if I’m really too sick to go in.
The work culture in the United States is toxic, but it’s ingrained in us the day we’re born — literally. There is no federal law in the US that requires companies to give paid maternity or paternity leave to their employees. The Family and Medical Leave Act only states that people can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and this only covers about 60% of Americans. The businesses get to decide whether to give a parent paid leave or not.
This idea that it’s normal for work to consume our entire lives has poisoned our brains and allowed us to work ourselves to mental and physical exhaustion. It’s an idea that needs to change, but obviously not one that can overnight.
After the year we’ve had, we deserve more than ever the option for a few days off to calm our brains. Taking days off from the constant movement at work can help your creativity in the long run, overall helping you feel like less of a capitalist robot and more like a person with a life to live. This is unfortunately not available to everyone because of the way our society is structured; taking days off could mean not being able to afford groceries. But even setting aside an afternoon or evening to have a purposeful day to yourself is extremely important to one’s mental health. This isn’t to say making a to-do list for your day or evening is necessary, but being mindful of what you want out of the day will help you feel rejuvenated. Rather than mindlessly drifting throughout the day, ending it with the feeling of a day wasted, it’s beneficial to have a rough idea of what you want to do for a stress-free time.
I choose to focus on my skincare routine and give my skin a day to breathe without wearing a mask or makeup. These are the days I actually follow through with my morning skincare routine. Doing so makes me feel clean and like I have my life together, which alleviates some general anxiety.
You could spend the day trying new things, expanding your knowledge or exploring new hobbies you’ve been wanting to try. No one’s mental health day is better than another’s — this isn’t a competition. If you have a goal to binge Netflix and catch up on your shows, then that’s a great option for you. The idea is to just feel like yourself again.
Normalizing taking days off for your mental health will help us get to the point where it’s expected of companies to provide more days off for us. As more people grow up with the idea that your mental health should be your priority, hopefully in the future, our society will mirror that ideology. Without taking a few days or afternoons off for yourself to prioritize your happiness and wellbeing, our lives will continue to be solely ruled by work.
We deserve to enjoy living and take time for ourselves without feeling strange guilt. Your place of work will still be there when you get back.