Stressed Out? Take a Mental Health Day

by Teresa J Mitchell

Taking a BreakMental Health Day is on Saturday, May 28, 2012. It's all about finding ways to support your mental well-being and take care of yourself.

Stress affects everyone's health, but if you're pregnant or have a new baby, you have an extra reason to focus on self-care. Sometimes, you need to take a day off that's specifically geared toward stress relief and burnout prevention.

According to Brandon M. Smith, an expert in workplace health and founder of The Workplace Therapist, these four signs indicate that you might need a break from work.

  1. You're not sleeping well or have developed insomnia.
  2. Stress carries over from week to week.
  3. You're snippy with your spouse, kids or your co-workers.
  4. You feel a general sense of apathy and don't care about your work.

While a single day might not solve the underlying problems, it can provide a much-needed break. You can rest, regroup, and come back with a more positive perspective.

How Stress Affects Your Baby

For a new mom, stress can express itself as depression or that your energy and interest are depleted. You might not be able to provide the loving interaction your baby needs to grow and develop.

Your stress can affect your baby before birth. Research demonstrates that babies of stressed out moms tend to be born earlier, weigh less and need more specialized medical care at birth.

Prenatal exposure to stress can affect your baby's brain development. Higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol alter areas of the fetal brain, especially those dealing with memory and impulse control. Stress can even affect your baby's iron levels.

Are you stressed out? Dedicate a day to self-care for you and your baby's well-being.

How to Take a Mental Health Day

Whatever stressors you face -- family responsibilities, relationship conflicts or workload issues -- these tips can help you make the most of your day off.

Pick a Day. Choose a day for your break. If possible, let your boss know a week or more ahead of time that you need to attend to some important personal matters. Once you've gotten the approval, plan your self-care day.

Decide what you need. If you're exhausted, your body needs rest. If you can't face another day, you might focus on fun. If you're just overwhelmed and don't know what you need, take a few minutes to reflect. Do you think you'd benefit the most from some pampering? Would your time be best spent making a few changes to relieve stress in the future? Only you can figure out what you need -- so don't short change yourself!

Taking time to relax: Relaxing might mean spending the day puttering around the house in your jammies. It could involve a massage and a day at the spa or even a nature walk.

Have some fun. Plan whatever is going to be "fun" for yourself. Invite a friend along if you feel like and share an activity you've always loved to do or try out something new that you've wanted to experience but hadn't had the opportunity.

Time to make adjustments or changes? If stressors are building up, you might want to spend part of your day restructuring. Start by making a list of things that drain your energy and then work on minimizing them. Look at your priorities and see if you can cut out some of your larger causes of stress.

Headed for burnout? If you're concerned that your overall stress levels are greater than a mental health day can accommodate, you might want to schedule a "staycation" or vacation soon. Finding a support group or talking with your doctor or a professional can also help.

Work out a plan for ongoing stress relief. Even if your schedule seems full, taking time for meditation, exercise or one of these relaxation tips helps you avoid burnout.

What activity helps you feel refreshed and invigorated? Is it a day catching up on sleep, reading or listening to music? How about biking, hiking, walking or cooking up a storm? Share what works for you!

Medical sources:
- American Academy of Pediatrics. (April 29, 2012) Mom's stress during pregnancy can affect baby's iron status". Accessed May 1, 2012.