Understanding Mental Health Days

Every now and again I take a “mental health day.” These are typically needed in one of two situations.

  • After a major event in which I’ve been heavily involved.
  • During a span of time in which my official time away from my vocation work are spread out 1.

I treat mental health days as mini-sabbaticals, and not an “extra day off.” In fact, I’ll sometimes take a mental health day on my normal day off. On these days I step away from chores and errands and home life to do something different 2.

Since I’ve taken up photography as a hobby, many of my mental health center around short day trips to enjoy different photowalks. I spend the time alone — walking, pondering, and glimpsing beauty. Sometimes I’ll meet up with someone for lunch, but other times I’ll even eat in solitude. It’s time to recharge and become whole again. My pictures sometimes make it into my vocational work later on, but during the process this benefit is not on my radar. The point is purely to be out enjoying this world.

Even when my energy has been drained so low I find the prospect of going out unattractive 3, I still do more than sit around surfing the web. On my “sequestered” mental health days I’ll often take up a long put-off hobby project 4, start a new book, or watch a movie which takes significant mental energy to decipher and enjoy. I may also spend a good amount of time writing 5.

Taking a responsible mental health day takes some preparation. It’s important people understand I’m not simply disappearing, the congregation puts a great deal of trust in me, and I take this trust seriously. I’ll typically mark the day out a week or so in advance, and then make certain my normal responsibilities are covered. My sermon gets prepped, visits happen, and phone calls are made. I’ll also tell some people when I’m preparing to step away and re-center so it doesn’t look like I’m just playing hooky. I may even post what I’m doing on Facebook or Twitter to give the congregation a heads up.

Mental Health days are important for everyone. But they are especially vital for people in vocations like the pastorate — where there is very little difference between being “on” and “off.” Doctors, Nurses, Police Officers, EMT’s, Fire Fighters, teachers, and even politicians need to take time to step away from the rigors of their vocation and recharge. In vocations such as these the notions of a “work week,” “week end,” or “holiday” are mostly meaningless. When there is a need, they are “on,” so the typical recharge times built into our cultural rhythm don’t apply to them 6. After a while the law of diminishing returns begins to take hold, and more and more effort is needed to be expended in order to accomplish increasingly less amounts of productivity.

If you don’t have the habit of taking mental health days, especially if you are in a helping vocation, I can’t recommend them enough. Sometimes a day away from “normal” life, allowing other aspects of our being to breath and grow, is what we really need in order to be present for others as we pursue our call.

  1. When there’s a long time between my vacation days. What’s in the post proper just sounds more intelligent in my head. 
  2. This is possible because my day off is Monday, the rest of my family is at work or school. 
  3. These days are typically “post-event.” My introversion takes-hold and even being alone near other people is overwhelming. 
  4. Like converting my Raspberry Pi to a media server. 
  5. More than is typical for me, anyway. 
  6. No one in a “helping” vocation really experiences a “three-day” weekend, for example.