The trickle-down effect our economy is having on American workers is that we are stressed more than ever about getting good jobs and keeping those jobs. As a result, fewer and fewer of us are taking time off.

day off

According to an online survey taken last fall conducted by Harris Interactive, American workers are not using all their earned vacation days, forgoing two days more than they did the previous year.  The study also found that even when we do take time off, more than half of us don’t really stop working; we continue to respond to work emails and check in at the office during our vacations. The two most common reasons respondents cited for not taking the extra days off were: “fear of being replaced” and “too much work.”

But what effect is all this extra work having on us? According to Matthew Sleeth, MD, author of the book

24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life, we, as individuals, are becoming more and more depressed.  “Our technological tools allow 24-hour productivity and connectivity, give us more control, and subtlety enslave us to busyness itself,” he writes.

World Health Organization (WHO) statistics for 2012 reveal that about one in every 10 Americans is being treated for depression. Americans tend to work more hours than any other country in the world in fact; Japanese workers come in second, according to WHO.

How do you know you need a break from work? The symptoms are different for everyone, but here are a few questions to consider:

  • Do you find yourself putting in more hours but getting less accomplished than you used to?
  • When you are at work, do you worry about what is left undone at home and vice versa?
  • Do you have trouble “turning off” or “unplugging from work” and find yourself doing work-related tasks 24/7?
  • Is your sleep being affected by work-related stress?
  • Have you skipped or cut down on vacation days or personal days because you have too much work to do?

Here are some steps to take for a successful day off from work

If you answered yes to these questions, you need some time off. Maybe taking a full vacation or even several days off is not a possibility for you right now. What you can – and perhaps must – work into your schedule however, is a day off. Here are some steps to take for a successful day off from work:

1. Own up to it

Don’t call in sick. The term mental health day has been over-used and sometimes misused, but that is what you really need. There is no harm in relaying that you need a day off to your co-workers or superiors. Chances are good they realized you needed a day off before you did.

2. Plan for it

Pick a time just after a project is completed or when things are not too hectic at the office. Don’t leave anyone in the lurch. Let your staff know you will be gone that day. Leave messages on your voicemail, your e-mail, and with any assistants that you will be out of the office.

3. Delegate.

Ask others to cover for you while you are gone in case something unexpected comes up. Leave as specific instructions as you can, and then let them know when you will be back.

4. Decompress.

Now comes the tricky part for most of us. Take the day “off.” If part of what has been stressing you out is that chores have gotten out of control at home, set an amount of time in the morning to do the most important tasks, and then leave the rest of the day – the biggest chunk of time – for relaxing. By the same token, if you have been worried you haven’t been spending enough time with family, set a time during the day to be with them – say, a lunch date – and then leave the rest of the day open for you to re-charge.

Don’t check work e-mails; don’t catch up on work projects or planning, and, instead, try to put work-related matters out of your mind. Think of ways to relax that are best for you: listening to music, reading a book, taking a run, window shopping, going to a movie. It’s your choice; just make the day your own.

5. Don’t feel guilty.

Try to cut any feelings of being a slacker out of your mind. If you were a slacker, you wouldn’t need this time away from work. Think positively, and realize that a more refreshed you will be a more productive you.

6. Return the favor.

Maybe you can start a new trend in your workplace of accepting the idea of a mental health day after a big project has been completed or a major deadline has been met. Depending on the size of your company, perhaps you can set up a rotating “day off” policy. Be there to cover for co-workers as they are for you. Be creative.

Taking a well-chosen mental health day can reap benefits for you and your workplace by giving you a fresh perspective on your job and yourself. Go for it!

Sources:

Vacation Deprivation” survey, Harris Interactive on behalf of travel site Expedia from September to October, 2012

Sleeth, Matthew, MD,  24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life,  Tyndale House Publishers , 2012.