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No more excuses: Take a day off

By Bob Barnett, Special to CNN
updated 10:45 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Feeling overwhelmed and stressed out is not normal, experts say
  • See a rough patch coming at work? Schedule a three-day weekend
  • When you're less stressed, you'll likely be more productive

(CNN) -- You're so stressed that even your stress is stressed out. You're overworked and overwrought, aching for a day off to chill and recharge, but you keep putting it off.

Well, no more. It's time to take a day off.

"We try to convince ourselves that feeling overwhelmed and stressed out and not having time to take a day off is normal -- but it's not normal," says Dr. Adam Perlman, executive director of Duke Integrative Medicine. "It's just your reality at that moment."

If you're going to do it though, do it right. Don't wait until you're totally losing it and then call in sick. Lying to your boss, and sticking it to your fellow overworked colleagues, isn't good mental health karma. Plus, it's not really that helpful.

"A crisis response may provide relief, but it's not really prevention," says Dr. Lloyd Sederer, medical director of the New York State Office of Mental Health.

Instead, plan it. See a rough patch coming up? Now is the time to schedule a three-day weekend or two. That way, your colleagues can plan around it.

"It's about learning your own self-management, an ongoing steady attention to a healthy life," Sederer says.

Still not convinced? Time to turn the mirror around: Your very inability to plan a one-day escape may be the best evidence that you really, really need it. If any of these excuses sound familiar, you probably need to take a day:

I'm too stressed even to plan time off. "That's learned helplessness," Perlman says. "It can be a self-defeating and dangerous thinking style. Your ticker-tape thoughts that 'I'm too busy to take a day off' (are) a warning sign. You're undervaluing your own self-worth. Isn't your health and well-being worth taking the time?"

I have way too much work. Time isn't that linear. Sometimes you can solve a problem in a creative flash while other times you just stare at the screen for hours without really getting much done.

"Mild to moderate stress can improve performance, but with excessive stress, performance falls off -- we do things less well," Perlman says.

When you find better ways to handle stress, Sederer says, "You'll not only be more productive but able to think more clearly and work at a higher level."

Why not push through until I can really take time off? Because chronic stress is bad for your health, body and mind.

"Your heart rate goes up, blood pressure rises, your blood sugar metabolism is impaired, you gain weight and your immunity is lowered," Sederer says. "We're made of carbon and water, not titanium (and) steel. We can't endure constant stress forever."

I'm fine, really. Stress can be sneaky, especially if everyone around you is keyed up, too.

"Denial is a powerful thing," Perlman says. "If you're feeling fatigued, feeling low on motivation, having difficulty sleeping, getting palpitations or feeling anxiety, or noticing that you're irritable and your relationships are feeling more challenged -- those are all signs of stress. A lot of people just get into overdrive, a prolonged state of being revved up."

If you experience stress symptoms such as these, take action -- like a mental health day.

What would I do? If you're asking yourself that question, you really need a day off.

One day won't change your life. In the end, it's about finding work-life balance, every day. But you've got to start somewhere.

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