Why Self-Care Days Are Great For Brain Health

We understand that in our culture, there still lingers something of a puritanical work ethic; we grow up believing that working hard (and a lot) is inherently, morally good (via Study.com). This is why terms like "hustle" and phrases like "work hard, play hard" dominate our lives where it comes to the working world and how we are supposed to exist within it. But as it turns out, all that "hustling" without a decent break and without a proper work/life balance isn't doing much for our health and wellbeing (via McClean Hospital). 

In fact, Dr. Andrew M. Kuller of McClean, a mental health-dedicated hospital, says that even when we really need a break, we feel guilty or bad for taking one. He explains, "There is definitely stigma associated with mental health, and some companies don't advocate that people take a day off to focus on self-care." Nonetheless, he says, doing just that is absolutely essential. 

"We all have a point at which we get overwhelmed, we're engaging in unhelpful behaviors, and our thought processes become very negative," says Kuller. "If you're feeling stressed out and drifting away from a healthy set of behaviors, those are things you could think about and try to rectify by taking a mental health day." 

How a self-care day heals your brain

Taking a mental health day can help interrupt a pattern of chronic stress, which is essential not only for your mental health, but for overall brain health as well. According to Very Well Mind, chronic stress can cause several problems for your brain, including rewiring the way it responds to stressors (negatively), increasing the risk of new or worsening mental illness, killing brain cells, and even shrinking the size of your brain. 

It's essential to recognize the symptoms of stress and overwhelm, and take time for self care. Licensed psychologist Ashley Hampton tells Healthline, "If you feel overwhelmed, stressed, have trouble focusing or concentrating on work or at home, or are more irritable ... consider taking a mental health day. If you think about your life as a plate with sections for work, family, life, and things you like to do, and the plate is overflowing in all areas but the things you like to do, it is time for you to take a break and participate in self-care." 

A self-care day does not mean catching up on errands or laundry or other to-dos that feel stressful; it means truly dedicating the day to doing only what feels good to you. In order to get the biggest benefit from your day off, it really needs to be a day off. Hampton explains, "If you enjoy having a massage, reading a book, watching a movie, then do those things. The goal is to reduce any negative emotions, like stress and overwhelm."