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When Work Weighs You Down, Take a ‘Sad Day’

Have you ever felt nervous or afraid to take time off from work to look after your mental health?


Marisa Kabas, a writer and political strategist who lives in New York City, recently posed a similar question on Twitter, inspired by Simone Biles, who bowed out of Olympic events this week to protect her mental health.

受宣布退出奥运赛事以保护自己的心理健康的西蒙·拜尔斯(Simone Biles)启发,住在纽约市的作家、政治策略师玛丽莎·卡巴斯(Marisa Kabas)最近在Twitter上提出了一个类似的问题。

“It was so shocking to so many people,” Ms. Kabas said on Wednesday in an interview. “Because the whole mentality is be strong, and push through the pain.”


The tweet drew thousands of responses, many from employees who said they do not disclose the real reason they need time away from work, or feel pressured to lie about it because they are embarrassed. Others said they had never taken a mental health day.


As a freelancer who has written prolifically about her health problems, including anxiety and depression, Ms. Kabas said she sometimes wakes up and decides, “I can’t do it today,” and takes the day off, a luxury she didn’t feel she had as an employee.


About three-quarters of people in the United States who work for private industry, state or local government have paid sick leave, but surveys suggest that a number of these employees are unlikely to use sick days for mental health reasons or are scared of being punished for doing so.


If you’re among the hesitant, experts say it’s time to start thinking about how to protect and prioritize your mental well-being, especially as millions of employees who worked remotely during the pandemic start returning to the office.


“You wouldn’t feel bad about taking time off when sick. You shouldn’t feel bad about taking some time off when you’re sad,” said Natalie C. Dattilo, a clinical health psychologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Your body needs a rest, your brain needs a break.”

“你不会为生病请假而感到愧疚。因为心情不佳而请假休息同样不应该让你感到愧疚,”波士顿布莱根女子医院的临床健康心理学家、哈佛医学院精神病学讲师娜塔莉·C·达蒂洛(Natalie C. Dattilo)说。“你的身体需要休息,你的大脑需要休息。”

How do you know if you need a ‘sad day’?


There’s no official definition for a “sad day,” also known as a mental health day. Typically, it is paid time off drawn from sick days (or personal days) to help employees who aren’t feeling like their usual selves, offering an opportunity to refresh their minds; do something meaningful; or simply take a break from daily stressors. The “sad day” is only a temporary fix, and not meant to address deeper problems, but sometimes a little time away can make a big difference.


Your company may not specify that sick days can be used for this purpose, but “mental health is health,” said Schroeder Stribling, the president and chief executive of the advocacy group Mental Health America. “The two are inseparable.”

倡导组织美国心理健康(Mental Health America)的主席兼首席执行官施罗德·斯特里布林(Schroeder Stribling)表示,你的公司可能没有指明病假可以这样使用,但“心理健康就是健康”。“两者密不可分。”

The signs that you need to take time away from work may not necessarily be obvious, Ms. Stribling said. Indicators include changes in your mood, productivity or ability to concentrate. You may also notice that you are less patient and more irritable than usual, or are having trouble sleeping.


You might also have physical symptoms. For example, “if I start getting headaches, that’s a sign of stress for me, and I need to address that with a mental heath day,” Ms. Stribling said.


The bottom line: Given the extraordinary stressors of the last year and a half, regardless of your specific symptoms, “if you feel like you might benefit from a mental health day, you have earned one,” said Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school, whose recent podcast explored the benefits of the “sad day” and the importance of building a culture of compassion within the workplace.

归根结底,宾夕法尼亚大学沃顿商学院的组织心理学家亚当·格兰特(Adam Grant)说,考虑到过去一年半的特殊压力,不管你有什么具体症状,“如果你觉得自己可能从精神健康日中受益,你就应该过一个精神健康日。”他最近的播客探讨了“悲伤日”的好处,以及在工作场所建立同情文化的重要性。

Some companies may require employees to provide documentation, such as a doctor’s note, when they use sick days, so make sure you understand what the law says in your region. In New York City, for example, an employee is not required to provide documentation unless more than three consecutive days of sick leave have been used.


How do you ask for a mental health day?


Your workplace culture and your relationship with your manager will dictate how open you choose to be about why you’re taking time off. You should not feel compelled to divulge more than necessary.


“I think sometimes we over-share when we’re anxious or perhaps feel a little bad about having to take time,” Dr. Dattilo said.


In most situations, just say that you need to take a sick day, and leave it at that, the experts advised.


“I think the safe advice is not to be upfront,” said Andrew Kuller, a clinical psychologist at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. Not everybody values mental health, he added, and “unless you’re close with your supervisor, it is a risk.”

“我认为安全的建议是不要太坦白,”马萨诸塞州贝尔蒙特市麦克莱恩医院(McLean Hospital)的临床心理学家安德鲁·库勒(Andrew Kuller)说。他补充说,并不是所有人都重视心理健康,“除非你和上司关系密切,否则这是一种风险。”

But say you work at the type of organization where you can tell the truth without fear of being punished. In that case, you are still under no obligation to reveal why you want to take a sick day. However, if you want to share (or are interested in reducing some of the stigma around mental health) you might approach your manager and say, “I think I would really benefit from taking a day just to recharge a little bit,” Dr. Grant said. “I would like to come back to work with all of my energy.”


When employees are mentally and physically exhausted, it affects the quality of their work, their productivity and the people around them, Dr. Grant added.


“I think it’s easier to have a conversation about burnout than it is about feeling sad or depressed or anxious, so I would probably play it safe there, and highlight why this is good for the organization, not just good for you,” he said.


If you’re feeling up to it, you can also try to assemble a coalition of people within your department who are concerned about mental health fatigue, said Dr. Grant, whose latest book, “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know,” challenges readers to shift long-held thought patterns. As a group, you can discuss concerns like missed deadlines or errors that might be compounded by burnout, then bring these issues to your manager, who may be motivated to find a solution. That way, you can try to change the system for everyone, including yourself.

格兰特说,如果你觉得能做到,你也可以尝试在部门里为关注心理健康疲劳者们组织一个联盟。他的新书《再想想——知道你所不知道的东西的力量》(Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know)挑战读者们改变长期以来的思维模式。作为一个团队,你们可以讨论一些问题,比如错过了截止日期或因工作倦怠而加剧的错误,然后把这些问题交给你的经理,他可能会有动力去寻找解决方案。这样,你就可以试着为每个人改变这个系统,包括你自己。

What do you do during a ‘sad day’?


In deciding how to use a mental health day, it helps to think about what brought you to this point in the first place. Do your personal relationships need attention? Are you exhausted from your workload and desperate to disconnect from everything? Did you have a particularly stressful week and want to spend some time decompressing? Maybe it’s a combination of several things.


Thinking it through ahead of time will help you use your day in the most helpful way possible. While one person might benefit from a massage or a day of pampering, another person might want to paint or garden. Others will find the most value in reconnecting with friends or family members.


The day might also provide an opportunity to rethink your day-to-day activities. “Are they giving you pleasure or meaning?” Dr. Kuller asked.


Next, think about ways to take care of yourself on a regular basis, he added, like meditation, yoga or cooking a healthy meal. Make a plan to do more of those things going forward.


Whatever you do, don’t spend the day checking your messages or feeling guilty, the experts said.“Self-care is not a selfish act,” Dr. Grant said. “People who are selfless to the point of self-sacrifice end up burning out.”


So instead of thinking, “I should be at work right now,” try to reframe your thinking in a more positive way, Dr. Dattilo said. For example, she added, try saying: “It would be great if I could be at work right now. But today is a day that I need to take care of myself, so that’s what I’m going to do.”

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