In 2019, researchers found that Americans left 768 million days of vacation time unused in the previous calendar year. This is a symptom of the growing trend of workers feeling worried that they are replaceable and need to deliver above and beyond all the time. But in reality, those who take time off and keep a healthy work-life balance are able to bring more to their jobs and live healthier and more fulfilling lives all around.
The pandemic has accelerated the rise in people working from home. While there are many benefits to working from home (hello, sweatpants all day), over the past two years, the number of workers reporting feelings of burnout has increased. Establishing work-life balance when both work and life are happening in the same space is challenging, which makes practicing self-care all the more important for your mental wellbeing.
If you need some inspiration for how to recharge on a day off, here are a few ideas to consider!
Fun things to do on a day off
The American Psychological Association suggests that spending time outside leads to better stress management, boosted productivity, and an improved mood. Lots of outdoor activities allow you to care for both your physical health and mental health by promoting movement.
Is there a hike you’ve wanted to check out but aren’t able to fit into your schedule after work? A mid-week mental health day is a perfect time to check it out as the trails and other outdoor spaces tend to be less busy in the middle of the week.
Or maybe you used to play tennis as a kid — grab a friend and challenge them to a few sets! Reviving old hobbies can be a great way to enjoy spending time outside. It can also be a way to relive the nostalgia of childhood.
If you want to try learning some new skills, hire a teacher who can help you learn something new. This free time is for you to invest in yourself however you see fit. Try something you’ve always wanted to try — don’t worry about the new skills being practical.
Here are some ideas of things you may want to try:
- Riding a horse
- Basket weaving
- Growing house plants
- Throwing ceramics vases
If you’re teetering on the edge of burnout and being active doesn’t sound all that fun, throw a blanket in your car, grab a book, go through your favorite drive-thru, and find a nice park for a picnic.
Bonus tip: If possible, leave your cell phone behind while you’re outside. Enjoy the time without constant notifications from all your apps or social media accounts. Can’t ditch your phone entirely? Try Do Not Disturb mode instead.
Productive things to do on your day off
When you think of self-care, you might imagine a spa day with relaxing elevator music, a warm steamy sauna, and maybe a few slices of cucumber covering your eyes. But sometimes the best self-care is lowering your blood pressure and heart rate a few notches by taking care of a few nagging tasks that have been hanging over your head for a while.
Keeping your home pleasant to live in has a positive impact on your holistic wellness. Researchers have found that the act of cleaning can have a positive effect on your mental health. Another study, from Indiana University, found that a clean home had a positive impact on people’s physical health.
It doesn’t have to be the entire day, but deep cleaning a cluttered space in your apartment or focusing on some unfinished DIY projects around the house can make your space more restful. Overall, this will boost your mental well-being by giving you a space where you can truly relax.
If you’re someone who often feels overstimulated by mess and clutter, then maybe the best way to spend the day off is by dedicating it to being a productive day. Go grocery shopping and fill your fridge with good food for the week, try a new recipe for your meal prep, deep clean the living room, or repot your plants.
Chores may get a bad rap, but crossing items off your to-do list can be a big stress reliever.
Bonus tip: Turn on an episode of your favorite Netflix TV show or podcast episode. Watch it while you’re cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry — and just like that, spending time doing chores goes from boring to indulgent.
Take an “unconventional” day of the week off
Lots of people enjoy the rest that a three-day weekend can afford. But if you really want to maximize the benefits of your mental health day, take Wednesday off. Dawna Ballard, professor and scholar of Chronemics (the study of time and communication) at the University of Texas, Austin, recommends that this will be the most rejuvenating to the mind and body.
That’s because of what she calls “pacers.” We all have different internal tempos, but the modern workplace tends to override them. Our workplace tells us how quickly we should work, how much time we need to spend working, and too often disregards the well-being of the people who work there.
By taking a Wednesday off and breaking the workweek into two parts, you’re able to spend a day listening to your internal pacers. This can help regulate work-life balance and bring calm to your perspective on work. It can also help promote productivity by being a stress reliever.
Bonus Tip: Taking Wednesday off has the added benefit that lines are typically shorter. Whether you need to go grocery shopping or have a doctor's appointment, take advantage of the shorter lines and less crowded waiting rooms.
Ideas for mental health half-days
Depending on your career, there are certain times of the year where taking the whole day off of work just for a mental health day just isn’t possible. Be honest with yourself though, is it actually not an option, or are you taking on too much responsibility for others? If that’s the case, take a full day off and realize that the world didn’t crumble to pieces because you took the day off.
But for many people, the reality is that it isn’t possible to take a full day off of work — in that case, try taking a half-day. Turn off your cell phone and step away from your computer and try to bring balance back to your life with those few added hours at your disposal.
Mindfulness is a great option for stress management that can take as little as a few minutes. There are many apps that can lead you through a mindfulness exercise.
You can also do a self-guided practice. Start by finding a comfortable, quiet place to sit and set a timer (for beginners, start with five minutes). Take several long, slow breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Feel the ground beneath you. Gradually find an intention that you want to take with you for the rest of the day — it might be to be more calm, present, powerful, or centered.
Bonus Tip: A good mental health half-day is also a chance to check in on loved ones with a phone call or pull out some stationery and send friends and family hand-written notes.
What to do with a day off of work at home
If you’re itching to take a day off but have nowhere to go, that’s okay! Find a DIY art project or a good book to read. You might also want to tackle some unfinished tasks that have been hanging over your head.
What to do with a day off alone
Take the time to check in with yourself. Journaling can be a great mental healthcare tool. Grab a cute notebook and head to a local coffee shop. If you need some journaling inspiration, try starting with a prompt.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- What do I love about my life right now?
- Are there areas of life that bring me more stress than joy?
- What makes me feel alive and how can I do more of that?
- When I think about myself, what do I feel? What do I love about myself and what can I work on?
What to do with a day off with friends
You can be a mental health advocate in the life of your loved ones by planning to take the day off together. Making plans together helps keep everyone accountable for prioritizing their well-being over the grind.
Spend the vacation time like a holiday in your own city. Find a new art museum, restaurant, or thrift store to visit. Find a concert or sports event that you can go to. Studies have shown that shared experiences can increase our feelings of connectedness with others.
For a more lowkey day with friends, find a new recipe you want to try, go grocery shopping together, and then cook together. This can be a great way to catch up on how everyone is doing while doing something together.
How to not waste a day off
Start the morning off by asking yourself what you need. Then honor that. If you’re tired, spending the first few hours eating a good breakfast and watching your favorite tv show on Netflix might be what you need.
Other times, you may need some adventure — look up a local hike, try out a new restaurant, or make some new friends.
Maybe what you need is a productive day spent tackling the unfinished projects in your life. There is no “right way” to practice self-care. Use the extra day however you need.
Activities that are good for mental health
The point of a mental health day is to prioritize your mental wellbeing. According to research, Americans are more stressed than ever before. Everything from lopsided economic distributions to information overload is increasing our stress levels.
The University of Massachusetts recommends exercising to help with stress management and combating mental health issues. Research links exercise to improved sleep, a better mood, lower stress levels, mental alertness, and other benefits.
Research suggests we can improve many mental health conditions through positive social interactions. Those with fulfilling intrapersonal relationships are happier and have fewer health problems throughout their life.
Listening to music, especially when in the context of music therapy where a person works with a professional, is shown to help with feelings of anxiety.
Your own mental health journey will be unique to you. Listen to your body and honor the physical and mental needs that arise. One way to find a work-life balance on a day-to-day basis is by using a calendar scheduler like Clockwise.
Clockwise helps you take back time in your day by blocking similar projects together to help you maximize your focus time. Schedule some fun things in the day or see where there are windows of time throughout the workday you can use to invest in yourself.
13 top ideas of activities to do on your day off
Need some quick inspiration for your upcoming day off? Below is a list of activities worth considering:
- Go for a hike, play an outdoor sport, or grab a book and spend some time reading at a nearby park
- Try learning a new skill such as horseback riding, growing houseplants, or indulging in an online course you’ve wanted to dig into
- Sign up for an exercise class or follow a workout on YouTube at home
- Declutter and clean your home, followed by checking grocery shopping off your to-do list
- Meditate, do yoga, or journal
- Catch up with a friend via phone, or over dinner at a restaurant neither of you have tried
- Clean out your closet and donate clothing and items you no longer want
- Schedule the appointments you’ve been putting off (like going to the doctor for a check-up) and treat yourself afterward
- Be a tourist in your neighborhood — go to a museum, check Groupon for local activities nearby, or take yourself on a date to a fancy restaurant
- Spend the day volunteering with a cause you’re passionate about
- Unleash your inner child and grab some new coloring books, build a pillow fort, or play board games with loved ones
- Set aside time for those professional development activities you never get to such as updating your resume or LinkedIn
- Dream up your next vacation and start planning the details