I frequently have bad mental health days, and while it's true that I suffer from diagnosed depression and anxiety, the worst days are when I'm feeling particularly stressed about work or feeling burnt out by adulthood. Learning how to take care of myself on the bad days has been a lifelong venture. Even more challenging is paying enough attention to my wellbeing to catch the warning signs— to take care of myself before I have a Really Bad Day. But the strategies I use to self-care and reboot myself are the same for both.
Keep a routine.
My job grants me a lot of flexibility through flex time and the ability to work from home, and I used to take advantage of this quite a bit. However, I learned that it was easy to allow work to take over most of my day when I took advantage of that ability frequently, which would then lead to burnout. Keeping a routine— that is, going into the office from 9-5 and leaving my laptop there overnight— forces me to separate work from my free time and makes me more productive.
- I try to fit as much work into those 8 hours as I can, particularly when I know it's the only block of time I've got. Less self-imposed distractions.
- I feel much less guilty about not working or checking in after hours when I know my laptop is in the office, and I couldn't even if I wanted to.
Work from home.
To completely contradict the first point, I take opportunities to work from home. However, it's no more than one day per week, and no more than one or two times per month. I've learned that working from home too frequently leads to feelings of guilt, apathy, and disconnection. When work is particularly stressful, or when I'm feeling burnt out, working from home is a welcome reprieve.
- I'm able to focus without the feeling that my every activity is being watched, and interruptions are unlikely, so I'm better able to keep a flow.
- I don't feel guilty taking a break to reward myself with something fun or to refresh when I'm stuck on a particularly frustrating problem.
Do something creative.
When I'm feeling down, I find that I'm able to turn things around if I use that negative energy to create. I often escape into creative writing, but I also love painting, playing the ukulele (badly), singing, coloring, sketching, and do-it-yourself projects. It's freeing to do something without a point, only for yourself, and only because you want to.
Escape in other ways.
More often than not, if I'm feeling depressed or tapped out on a day that I don't have to work, I'll escape by focusing on something that doesn't require much effort from me. Often, that's television, but it can also be video games or reading a good book.
Go for a long walk.
One of my favorite things to do when I'm feeling disconnected from the world, or overwhelmed by my various obligations, is to take a walk. To get lost in my neighborhood by taking routes I've never been down before, and then finding my way back home. The fresh air and low impact exercise, combined with music that makes my soul happy, is often more calming than any of the other strategies I mentioned. It's a form of meditation for me, and I come out of it with proactive strategies to tackle the things that are stressing me out.