You're exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed. Your workload feels insurmountable and the more you try to tackle it, the harder it becomes. You haven't spent time with friends, gone to the gym, or eaten anything that wasn't delivered in weeks. You feel out of touch with your life outside of work and that only compounds your anxiety. Your body is telling you need a day off, but your mind can't even conceive of it.
Welcome to job burnout—a growing workplace condition that as many as 67% of Americans have experienced, according to a recent Gallup poll. "A lot of burnout really has to do with experiencing chronic stress," Dr. David Ballard, head of the APA's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, tells Forbes. "In those situations, the demands being placed on you exceed the resources you have available to deal with the stressors."
If this sounds all too familiar, it's probably time to take action. Maybe quitting your job, or even taking a two-week vacation isn't realistic at the moment. But a personal day to recharge and reset? Sometimes, 24 hours can make a difference.
Sure, you may not have the flu or a broken bone, but that doesn't mean you have to feel guilty for taking a breather. "Many people...don't feel entitled to prioritize their well-being," psychologist Alison Ross tells US News and World Report. "In my view, the short-term gains from giving oneself a break – even if it's one day out of the office – can make a big difference in terms of reestablishing a better sense of well-being."
Call it a sick day if it makes your boss feel better, and tell yourself it's a mental health day if it alleviates any personal guilt. What's most important is that the next 24 hours are stress-free. Once you've set aside the day, it's time to consider the best way to reset and recharge. Barring doing work on your day off, there is no wrong way to spend your personal day. But setting your intention and paying attention to your most pressing needs is crucial. "A mental health day should be designed to give your mind, body, and spirit just what it's craving most—which is different for every person," work-life expert Kathy Caprino tells Shape. With that in mind, here are some options to help you make the most of your day off.
If you want to feel productive without logging on
Clean your fridge, reorganize your closet, Marie Kondo your desk drawers. Find that cluttered or dirty spot in your home you've been meaning to tackle, put on your favorite podcast and go to town. Take your time, enjoy the process and don't spend more than a few hours on it. The idea is to accomplish one small task on your backlogged to-do list that will make your life a little easier when you return to work. Maybe a cleaned-out closet will make you want to get dressed the next morning, or a freshened up desk will inspire new ideas.
If you want to kickstart a healthy habit
When you're in all-work, no-play mode, everything—even crucial self-care habits—get tossed aside. Pretty soon, the idea of taking a yoga class or going for a run seems like a luxury you can't afford. Your day off is a good opportunity to remind yourself how important your physical and mental health are to your overall well-being, not to mention productivity. Take an exercise class, download a meditation app like Headspace, go for a bike ride, and while you're at it, consider how to make time for one of these healthy habits on your workdays. If you've been eating takeout, you might want to treat yourself to some fresh produce and prepare some healthy meals for the next few days. For inspiration, check out some quick (and budget-friendly) recipes here.
If you're missing that connection with people you love
Is there a friend you haven't seen in ages or a family member you just need some quality time with? Burnout can make you feel like your losing yourself, and connecting with loved ones is the best way to remember what matters to you most. Whether exploring a new part of town with a friend, grabbing lunch with your sibling, or just Facetiming with your mom for an hour, catching up with your core folks can reset your priorities and ground you when you're feeling lost.
If you want to plan your next move
So the thought of going back to work in 24 hours makes you sick to your stomach and you know you need to change your job, heck, your career trajectory. Deep breath. You can't figure it all out in one day, BUT you can get yourself on the right track. The first thing to do is look at your finances, figure out how much you need to earn, how much you've saved and whether or not you have enough to live on if you really need to quit your job. Next, start thinking big picture. Ask yourself these larger career questions and write your answers in a journal, read up on some job-shifting advice, and check out this 6-step plan to help you figure out your next move. Don't expect to have all the answers right away, but making room to consider what's possible—financially and professionally—will set you on right path and help you feel more in control when it's time to go back to work.
If you just want to feel better
If you're feeling physically sick or mentally unable to cope, use this time to set up doctors appointments—whether with specialists, primary care physicians or therapists. If you can see someone on your day off, great, but just getting some appointments on your calendar is a huge step in the right direction when it comes to prioritizing your health over your day-to-day job responsibilities.
If you're simply exhausted and need to shut down
Sleep, my friend. Sleep as long and as hard as you can. And when you wake up, binge watch all the shows, read all the books, take all the baths and wear all the cozy slippers and robes. Stock up on guilt-free relaxation and give your body what it needs. Restorative sleep and relaxation is essential for physical and mental well-being and if you get enough of it, you will be 100% sharper when it's time to get back to work.
No matter how you spend your personal day, don't forget that it's PERSONAL. If you're planning on doing work, that work should be dedicated to your life rather than your immediate superior's needs. While you might not be able to cure burnout or fix all your work problems in 24 hours, hopping off the treadmill for a day gives you a chance to regroup, recharge and gather the strength to make bigger changes down the road.