Practicing self-care comes in many forms, including eating well, getting the right amount of exercise and sleep, spending time doing things that make you feel happy and mindful, keeping a good work-life balance, and, of course, taking care of yourself when you feel sick. Phew! Though it makes perfect sense to ditch your job for the day when you feel physically awful, more leaders and companies have started to recognize that it’s also ultra-important to take time for rest when you’re feeling *mentally* fatigued too. (We totally applaud this viral email thread.) But what’s a hardworking, self-employed boss to do when there’s no one to cover for her during tough times?
I’m one of the nearly 41 million people in the US who currently freelance or work for themselves, and I’ve owned my own web production and content studio for nearly two years. Though I do my best to maintain a healthy headspace while working with a mix of clients on fast-moving projects, there have been a few instances where I’ve truly had to get offline and power down to re-group. I’ll be the first to admit that this is super tough to pull off when you run your own show — and the hours you work directly affect how much money you make — but sometimes there isn’t much of a choice. Since I don’t have paid sick time or personal days when I feel overwhelmed, need to process emotions, or have to handle personal stuff, I’ve had to figure out what to do when I need to ditch work for the day. Facing the same struggle? Here’s how to ease the guilt while keeping up with your business.
DIVVY UP YOUR TO-DOS
I have a never-ending checklist that stays in view during the entire duration of my day. I start each morning by looking at my list and calendar, and I wrap work by making sure I’ve checked off high-priority items before I close my computer. Since taking time away from work means items won’t get addressed, I do my best to avoid letting the days that follow become a total nightmare. Instead of stacking my leftover to-dos from my mental health day on to the next day’s list, I re-assess the group by priority and divvy the tasks up. Then, I add a few tasks to each of the next couple of days. This might mean I have to work an extra hour or two each day or spend a Saturday catching up, but it’s definitely worth being able to step away from a job when I need to. Even more, this manageable method has really helped make missing out on a full day of work feel way less overwhelming.
COMMUNICATE CLEARLY WITH YOUR CLIENTS
In business, communication is key; this applies whether you work for someone else’s company or for yourself. Much like you’d need to email your manager and team when deciding to stay home for a mental health day, you should make it a point to check in with your clients and contractors *right away.* I find this is extra important if my day spent offline will interrupt scheduled calls and meetings or shift project timelines. I’ve also learned that being transparent and resetting expectations helps a ton, so I’m always sure to explain that I’m not feeling well and will be unavailable for the entire day.
If you feel uneasy, remember that people are just that — people — and that everyone experiences days when they don’t feel well. Your clients will understand and appreciate your honesty, along with knowing they have your full focus and best energy when you do work on their projects.
RELAX AND RECHARGE THE RIGHT WAY
While taking a mental health day is a great way to practice self-care, there are right and wrong ways to do it. Though it might be tempting to lay around all day snacking on serotonin-boosting snacks, psychologists caution against any activity that doesn’t contribute to feelings of renewed energy. Instead of succumbing to the urge to park it on the sofa for the duration of your mental health day, try one of the following ideas to get your vigor back.
1. Get some fresh air. Take a walk around the block or head to the closest park for some feel-good fresh air. Nature is a proven mood-booster, and scoring a vitamin D fix from the sun will also help you feel better.
2. Squeeze in a workout. This might be the last thing you want to do (especially if you’re tired or burnt out), but endorphins pack a powerful punch when it comes to raising your energy levels. 20-30 minutes of moderate activity is all you need!
3. Spend some QT with someone you love. Home for the day? Make it a point to see a friend or family member for lunch. If everyone’s booked solid, pick up the phone and call someone you care about. You’ll get an instant gratitude fix remembering how much people adore you too.
4. Read or write. Get lost in a book, or write out the things that are causing you to feel overwhelmed, stressed, or upset.
5. Indulge in a creative hobby. Working for yourself can be all-consuming, which makes it hard to find time for the creative hobbies that light you up. Treat yourself to time spent doing your favorite thing, be it listening to or making music, painting, sewing, drawing, or something else.
A good mental health day should leave you with improved patience and fresh energy that makes coming back to whatever you’re working on much more inspiring. What a relief!