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August: Tara Talks

I am struggling with my mental health. How do I ask my boss to have time off for mental health days? Do you have any tips for managing mental health in the workplace?

I’m so sorry to hear that you’re struggling. I have zero idea what the specifics of your struggle are, but I can confidently say that this year has been especially trying and that you are not alone in that struggle. That’s not to say this year is the only reason you’re struggling; rather that this year added additional pressure in a widespread fashion, and it’s pretty difficult not to be impacted on some level. 

So the first question is simple. Sorta. My immediate two thoughts are, “Is there a policy already” and, “Ask directly.” That’s what I mean by simple. I don’t know what company you work for, but they may already have a policy around mental health days. It’s definitely worth looking into and even discussing with HR, if possible. Either way, that would be my first go-to, and it feeds directly into my second thought — to ask directly. 

I would schedule a meeting with my boss and ask them directly about time off for mental health. To make it even easier for them to say yes, I would share the results of my HR policy search and maybe even bring a proposal for them. 

In case you need language, asking directly might look something like this: 

“Hi, boss. Here’s why I’ve asked to meet with you. I love [my job/this company/our working relationship/fill-this-in-with-whatever-is-true], but I’m struggling. I’d like to take some time off for my mental health. I spoke with HR and I searched our employee handbook and I found [XYZ information or lack thereof]. I’d like to propose [lay out details of your proposal]. Are you open to this?” 

For the record, the proposal would be something about how many days off you need, whether this is ongoing or limited, and how it will impact your work and the company. Your boss hopefully cares about you as a person, period. However, good bosses have to perpetually strike the balance between the people they oversee and the health of the company (which then impacts the people they oversee). If they care about you, then my hope is that they’ll try to work with you while also making sure you’re taking care of the logistics of taking time off for mental health days. 

Your second question is surprisingly difficult to answer. There are so many unknown variables. Your boss may be supportive or unsupportive. You might have a flexible position and schedule or one that is very static. You might be able to decrease hours and not feel the strain or you might need to work the exact hours you’re currently working in order to meet your financial needs.

My point is this: My tips for managing mental health are both coping-related and circumstance-related. By “coping-related,” I mean to say that there are things you can do if you have little to no control over your circumstances. By “circumstance-related,” I mean to say that there are suggestions and tips I have that might lead to changing your situation, which could then alleviate some of the stress of mental health issues. 

Some coping-related tips and suggestions for during the workday would be:

  • taking quick, daily walks (less than 10 minutes each, preferably outside)
  • meditating (even for five minutes)
  • streaming soothing music 
  • briefly connecting with a trusted colleague or friend
  • jotting down five things this job allows you to do in your life

These are all intended to be quick things that you can do in the middle of your day or during a break.

If you’re able to implement some circumstance-related tips and suggestions, then I might try some of the following:

  • flexing hours to work fewer days per week
  • flexing hours to fewer hours on specific days and more hours on other days
  • working remotely
  • decreasing workload or hours
  • changing offices or location to get an outside view or to change up people around you

I have no idea if the circumstance-related tips are even possible, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw some out there. 

All that said, it would behoove you to stay tuned in to what’s working and what’s not by doing simple tracking. This can be done with an app, the Notes section of your phone, a Google Sheet, or by keeping it old-school and jotting things down in a notebook. When we track basic things, we can actually look and see what has changed for us (or what hasn’t). If you decide to take 10 minute walks each day, jot down how you’re feeling before and after the walk over the course of the next month, and then start to assess whether you see any trends or patterns in mental health changes. Walking is just an example, of course. You can do this very thing with any tip you try. 

You know this already, but there isn’t one quick fix, regardless of how much I wish there was. And it probably goes without saying, but mental health is damn important. I’m sincerely hoping that you have a work environment where you can approach your boss, ask for what you need for your health, and be heard and responded to accordingly. Good luck with this!  

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