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What is World Mental Health Day?

What is World Mental Health Day?
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October 10 is World Mental Health Day. Every year the World Federation for Mental Health designates a day dedicated to raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilising efforts in support of mental health. In the midst of a pandemic – with the isolation of lockdowns and the fear and anxiety surrounding Covid-19 – the group has chosen a vital theme for this year’s day: Mental health for everyone.

What is a mental health day?

What is a mental health day?
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In addition to the WHO’s official World Mental Health Day, it’s important for people to take regular informal mental health days for themselves, says David A. Merrill, MD, PhD, a neurologist and psychiatrist. “Mental health day” is a social term with no precise medical definition but many doctors still recommend it as a way to give yourself a break and focus on taking care of your psychological health, he explains. “Mental issues should be taken just as seriously as physical ones,” he says. “Your mind and body work together and problems in one can lead to problems in the other.” Taking a mental health day may help prevent a nervous breakdown.

How do you take a mental health day?

How do you take a mental health day?
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This varies from person to person but it should involve mental and physical activities that focus on self care, improving your mood, treating any mental illness, and just being kind to yourself, says Cheryl Rode PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist. “Mental health days are important for people of all ages and can even be done as a family,” she says. This could include things like using a personal-time-off (PTO) day at work and going for a hike outdoors, taking a break from social media, making your favourite meal, doing some yoga, or writing in a journal. However you choose to pamper yourself, the key is to do it regularly because the benefits of a mental health day are pretty amazing.

It can improve your concentration

It can improve your concentration
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You know how it’s just easier to focus when you get back from a long weekend? There’s a scientific reason for that. “To be able to focus your brain must be able to block out all external stimuli, something it can’t do when you’re stressed out or overworked,” Dr Merrill says. Short-term stress can break your focus but over the long-term stress can have serious cognitive impacts, reducing concentration, learning and memory, according to research published in Nature. Thankfully these changes aren’t permanent and even taking just one day to destress can improve your cognitive abilities, he explains.

You could drop a kilo or two

You could drop a kilo or two
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Stress can increase your weight in two ways: First, many people eat junk food as a way to deal with stress; second, stress causes an increase in the hormone cortisol which encourages fat storage, Dr Merrill says. In fact, it’s such a potent connection that managing stress is one of the things doctors recommend for permanent weight loss. From a practical standpoint, taking a mental health day can give you time to focus on what your body really needs, to make healthy meals, and to eat slowly and mindfully. From a health standpoint, a mental health day will lower your cortisol levels. All of these things can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, he explains.

It’ll save you money

It’ll save you money
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Poor mental health ranks as one of the costliest forms of sickness. Even one bad mental health day a month costs millions of dollars in lost productivity over a year. Taking a mental health day won’t just help your employer’s bottom line though, it can help yours too, saving you money in the long run on medical costs for chronic health problems caused by poor mental health. It can also help save some dollars immediately as meditation or a walk outdoors is a lot cheaper than bottles of antacids, sleeping aids, or junk food.

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You’ll sleep better

You’ll sleep better
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One of the first signs of poor mental health is poor sleep, Dr Merrill says. “Stress leads to anxiety which makes it difficult to relax which in turn makes it hard to fall asleep and get good quality sleep,” he says. “Then it becomes a vicious cycle, as a lack of sleep makes you exhausted which increases your stress, leading to more symptoms.” Insomnia is just one of the signs you’re not taking good care of yourself. One way to interrupt this painful pattern is to take a mental health day. After spending a day doing gentle and enjoyable things, make sure to save time for a relaxing bedtime routine like a warm bath or a good book.

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You’ll have a better relationship with your partner

You’ll have a better relationship with your partner
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Anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship knows how much one person’s mood can affect the other’s, so taking a mental health day is not just doing you good, but it can also help your spouse and your relationship as a whole, Dr Rode says.

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You’ll become more optimistic

You’ll become more optimistic
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Doing the same old thing every day can make you feel like you’re caught in a hamster wheel and your life isn’t under your control, Dr Merrill says. “If you get stuck in these negative thought loops long enough, you begin to lose confidence that you’re going to be okay,” he explains. Taking a mental health day can help you break those negative thought patterns by showing you that you are in control of your own life and are capable of taking care of yourself, he says.

Your productivity may skyrocket

Your productivity may skyrocket
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The best bosses understand that stressed-out workers are not great workers. In fact, workers who get regular mental breaks, including mental health days, have higher productivity, according to a study published in the Journal of Management. Unfortunately, there are a lot of managers out there who don’t get this and push their employees to keep working until the verge of burnout, says Alison Green, management expert and author of Ask a Manager. And the problem continues even while working from home – there is such a thing as Zoom burnout, for example. “As long as you’re not using any sick leave the rest of the year, I don’t think it’s a big deal to take a couple of mental health days, as long as you’re thoughtful about when you do it and don’t choose days that will cause problems for your employer or coworkers,” she says.

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