By law, all employees can take sick days for their mental health. So, how can you best take care of yourself while you’re off?

All employees in the UK are entitled to take time off work if they are unwell – and that includes mental health problems. As with physical illnesses, if you are off sick for seven calendar days (including weekends), you can self-certify, which means you do not need to provide medical evidence – and while it can be helpful to be open with your employer about why you are unwell, employees do not have a legal obligation to disclose medical conditions or illnesses to their employers.

Despite these protections, ‘sick day guilt’ – feeling guilt or reluctance around taking time off, and struggling to relax when you do – is a common experience, which can hinder your ability to fully rest and recoup when you need to. When it comes to taking sick days for mental health, you may feel unsure of what to do on a mental health sick day. Here, we’re sharing tips and ideas to help you gently rest and recover.

Resist the urge to work

This applies to both unnecessarily checking in with your job and picking up work around the house. This day is for you to focus on taking care of yourself and getting better, and that should be your priority over the never-ending list of tasks that we’re all faced with at times.

If there are things that absolutely can’t wait, this could be a good time to think about how you may be able to delegate tasks to others. This could be at work, by reaching out to others to cover tasks while you are off, or at home by speaking to those in your support network and asking for help with things that you are finding overwhelming.

Do things that make you feel good

There’s no rule that says that, if you’re taking a mental health sick day, you must lie in bed all day (although, if that’s what you need, then go for it!). Take a slow walk through a local forest or parkland, watch films that make you laugh or that bring back happy memories, call up loved ones for a chat, read books, go for a leisurely swim, work in the garden, have a bath, take yourself out for a coffee, visit the library, work on your hobbies or do anything else that nurtures you.

You could also try journaling about the things you are experiencing at the moment. Browse through our advice on starting a journaling practice.

This time is about doing what you can to take care of your mental health. Exactly what that will look like will be different for all of us, and we shouldn’t feel guilty for taking care of our wellbeing in whatever way works for us.

There’s no rule that says that, if you’re taking a mental health sick day, you must lie in bed all day.

Nurture your body

When you’re going through a difficult time, finding the energy to take care of your body can be a challenge. But, where you can, it’s a worthwhile action. Tick off tasks such as brushing your teeth, taking a soothing shower or bath, and getting changed into something comfortable.

Nutrition plays a significant role in our mental health and wellbeing, so fixing yourself a plate of something wholesome and delicious is a great act of self-care to incorporate into a mental health sick day. Fruit and veg, wholegrains, legumes, lean meats, and nuts are all food groups that have been linked to overall improved mental health. You may also want to choose food that makes you feel good for other reasons – for example, perhaps a nostalgic meal from your childhood that fills you with warmth, or recreating a meal you have fond memories of such as a first date dinner.

Try to drink plenty of water (most adults should aim to drink between two and two and a half litres of water a day) to stay hydrated and, where you can, avoid food and drink that is very high in sugar and fat, as this can have a negative impact on your mood.

Speak to your GP or a mental health or wellbeing professional

It may not be necessary for everyone, but if your mental health has been impacting your ability to go about your daily life for a significant amount of time, this could be a good opportunity to speak to your GP about additional support. They may be able to make a referral to you, or discuss medication and further treatment,

Alternatively, you may also wish to look into private counselling or other wellbeing professionals such as life coaches (read our guide to figuring out whether you need a life coach or a counsellor).

Reaching out for support for the first time can be intimidating, so giving yourself time and space on this day can be helpful for taking that initial step.