What To Do On A Mental Health Day

A cold winter day last year, I found myself at home instead of on campus. I wasn’t sick. No headaches, cold, fever, sniffles, But neither was I cutting class to stay wrapped in a blanket and binge watch the latest on Netflix.

I was taking a mental health day.

Though definitions vary, the idea refers to a day deliberately taken off work (or in my case, class) to engage in activities to alleviate stress or enact countermeasures to deal with underlying mental conditions in order to return as a more productive student/worker with better health. 

Though a controversial move still, with employers both for and against it, the concept of a mental health day has started a dialogue on treating mental illnesses, asking why we don’t give serious conditions like Depression and Anxiety the same care we would a cold or migraine. 

In short, I wasn’t in a pleasant headspace at the time and barely making it through class and coursework thanks to all the distractions. With midterms coming up, my house getting more and more filthy due to neglect, my eating out more due to exhaustion, increased hospital visits, my feelings of inadequacy in class, and my inability to tell any friends what I was going through, I decided that I needed to take a mental health day. Though it didn’t magically cure all my problems, the small break was what I needed to put some parts of my life in order again and return the next day with these improvements in place. 

In case you ever decide to take a mental health day as well, here are some suggestions and tips to make the most out of it.

Wake Up Early

What?” You might be thinking, “I thought this was meant to relieve stress, not make it worse!” I agree that early mornings are terrible, but remember that a mental health day isn’t a free-for-all summer holiday or a regular sick day. An extra hour or two of sleep is all right if you know you desperately need it, but getting up early with a plan as to how you’re going to manage your schedule will make you feel so much better than stumbling out of bed just as the sun is going down and realizing that you have no time to get anything useful done.

Prep Healthy Meals

Take the time and effort to make yourself a filling but nutritious breakfast, and stay hydrated. In addition, cooking some extra food and putting it away for the following days will give you a head-start and save you time later. Some easy ideas include soups, salads, fruit yogurts, curries, and stuffed rice balls. If your fridge is devoid of anything except an expired carton of milk or maybe half a chocolate bar (we’ve all been there), it’s time to get yourself out and do some shopping. 

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If you’re physically up to it, aim to take a 1-2 hour long walk, or perhaps a run instead. If you're in the mood for something more exotic, fill up a thermos with a refreshing drink, pick a scenic route, and get out early enough to watch the sunrise. Along with the fresh morning air and beauty of nature, the sense of superiority you can wield over your sleeping acquaintances later on will add more to your day. Bicycling for groceries, playing in the park, yoga, swimming, or even working out are also excellent options to build up your sleep drive for the following night.

Household Chores

If your sink is full of dirty dishes, your laundry basket overflowing, your floors dusty, and the bathroom grimy, a mental health day is the ideal opportunity to fix these things. In addition to providing some more light exercise, these activities ensure that your mood will be lifted when you come home in the following days to a spick and span house with everything where it’s supposed to be, allowing you to pick your neatly folded outfit from off the shelf instead of salvaging something not too smelly from the washing machine or something crushed from the underneath the pile on 'the chair'.

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Screen-less Day

It’s common knowledge that most college students frequently have their eyes glued to a screen, whether in class or outside. Reports are typed on computers, messages and mails are dealt with through our smartphones, teachers make presentations using PowerPoint and Prezi…all these things take a toll on your optical health and a mental health day is a good way to escape the clutches of the glowing screen for a while, and maybe rest your eyes by listening to an audiobook, reading a paper-book, drafting an assignment in a notebook instead, or maybe engaging yourself with a quick cooking experiment or art project.

Catch Up on Coursework

A mental health day is the ideal opportunity to sit down and really take charge of your studies, be it catching up on your readings, emailing professors for clarifications, putting a dent in some assignments, or making progress on that group presentation you’ve been dreading. It might also be a good time to prepare some material such as a CV or resume for job-hunting or higher studies that you might otherwise only have time to do on the weekends. 

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At the end of your mental health day, as your mind clears and you settle down in a clean space with a home-cooked meal before you, know that you’ve taken the right decision for yourself and that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Resolve to return to your schedule with confidence, knowing that you will be a better version of yourself tomorrow than you were yesterday.

Good luck and remember to take care of your mental health.