Mental Health Day

 Let's talk about taking a mental health day

Teachers aren't great about taking days off. For some of us we have to be unable to get out of bed to call in sick. I think Covid made us a little more likely to take a day off when we feel under the weather.

But many of us are still very unlikely to take a mental health day. I only took my first one last year.

So, how do you know you need a mental health day? 

  •  You are feeling more stressed, overwhelmed or exhausted than usual

  • - You are not sleeping well due to pressures you are facing at work

  • Your emotions are all over the place, e.g. you might cry at the mere thought of school

  • You are unregulated at work (e.g. unable to effectively use low-key behaviour management strategies and skip straight to snapping at students)

  • You are seeing negative side effects from what is going on at school that are affecting your other relationships

  • You feel a day at home to get things in order/catch up/decompress will make a large positive impact on your mental health and performance at work

What does a mental health day look like?

Let your school know you won't be coming in. You do not have to provide specific details to your school about why you are unfit for work. However, if it's due to ongoing pressures that won't be alleviated by having just one day off, letting your school know that you are struggling can enable them to consider implementing support to assist you. I know not all admins are on the same level, and some may be the cause of your issues, but if you think they could be of help, let them know.

I find it best to let my school know the day before. This means I can prepare my class for a relief teacher so I can wake up that morning and not have to think about relief notes. It is also more likely you'll actually take the day off instead of waking up that morning and thinking you're fine and talking yourself out of it.

Find something to occupy you for the day. Is there something that you do to relax and recharge? Do that. If you need to see a friend for a debrief and unwinding, do that. If catching up on school-related items is what's going to make you feel better, do that—but try not to let it take up the whole day.

I find that when I take a mental health day, I usually spend the first half of the day worrying. Was I really bad enough to take a day off? (The answer is always YES.) How is relief teaching going? (They are paid to be there and probably happy for the day's work.) How are particular students coping without me? (I will be able to support the students better by having looked after myself first.)

By the afternoon, I usually feel a lot more relaxed and start to recharge.

I spent a bit of time reflecting on what got me to this point and thinking of an action plan for going back. Is there something I can put in place to try not to get to this point again any time soon? Do I need to seek help (from admin, colleagues or professionals)? If you are not feeling better after 1 day off, consider talking to your doctor about taking a more extended period off to recover.

Remember, prioritising your mental health is essential for your well-being and effectiveness as a teacher. Taking a mental health day can be a proactive step towards maintaining balance and resilience in an increasingly more and more demanding profession. So, if you recognise the signs, don't hesitate to give yourself permission and space to recharge. You owe it to yourself, your students, and your loved ones to prioritise self-care and seek the support you need to thrive in both your personal and professional life.

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