Things to consider when you’re off work with a mental illness

off work sick with mental illness

I have such admiration for people who can continue to work whilst being treated for mental illness. I struggled so badly that I had to quit my job and was subsequently out of work for over a year whilst I built up my confidence to return.

I know for some people going to work is the one thing they continue to excel at whilst their mental health suffers, but for me it simply wasn’t an option.

It took me a long time to come to terms with that. When I lost my career I felt like I lost my identity, but I wish I’d realised that is was OK to be off work. It was OK to need help. It was OK to take as much time as I needed. It was more than OK – it was necessary.

Whether you’re off work for a day, a week or a prolonged period of time; you should use this time to make your recovery as wholesome and speedy as possible.

Don’t beat yourself up

Once you’ve decided to take time off, it can be common to feel guilty about being at home resting whilst your family and friends go out to work. You may feel bad that your colleagues are left with more work to do, but remember they’re mentally well enough to cope with added stress whilst you are not.

With the physical symptoms of mental illness often hard to see, certain employers often doubt whether they are there at all. This can be very frustrating – but try not to let it get to you. It’s merely a reflection of how little knowledge most people have about mental illness, and not an indication of whether or not you should return to work. That’s a decision that should be made by you with the advice of your GP.

Consider your finances

If you’re unemployed or off work long term this can be very stressful for a lot of people. If you’re running out of savings you should be honest and consider making a plan for the future. If you live in the US you may want to have a read of the DRB Capital structured settlement review. I was receiving benefits and Statutory Sick Pay when I was off sick abd residing in the UK, more information on which can be found here.

Any extra cash can be pivotal when you are no longer earning full time, and this will also help take the pressure off you rushing back into work when you’re not totally ready to do so.

off work with mental illness

Implement a routine

When you’re out off work for a prolonged period of time it can be hard to find structure in your day. I know for me the days often ran into one another, with sleeping taking priority over eating, showering and staying in contact with family. You should try to avoid the days slipping away by implementing a loose routine.

Try setting your alarm every morning and try to follow a basic self-care routine. This could be something as simple as getting up before midday and making a cup of tea. Over time you can add more difficult tasks such as washing, cooking breakfast and leaving the house. This will give some purpose to your days without adding too much expectation or pressure.

Try to stay active

This doesn’t mean going a run everyday or religiously going to keep-fit classes like I did, but it will benefit you to get out of the house and move around a little most days. I know how hard it can be to get out of bed and it’s OK to spend all day sleeping when you need it. But if you do feel the urge to do something like rearrange your bedroom or pop to the supermarket then you should capitalise on that positive attitude.

Completing the smallest tasks can feel like a big win when you’re at an all time low. I remember one day following a bad spell of my depression I suddenly felt compelled to clean my windows. It felt like such an achievement and as silly as it sounds, it was such a great day for me and my recovery.

What steps are you taking to help with your mental illness whilst you’re off work?

How to stay happy on a sick day

tips for sick day

Getting sick is SO frustrating. You eat your veg and take your vitamins but sometimes the body can’t fight off infection without a few rest days. I don’t know about you I can’t wait until we’re all floating heads inside robot bodies (joke).

As someone who prides myself on prioritising fitness and healthy eating I am horrified at the idea of having to take time off work to recover from illness, but I’m starting to see the importance of sick days and nipping it in the bud instead of struggling on and feeling miserable.

With that in mind here are a few simple and easy to follow tips that you might not have thought of for staying happy on a sick day.

Eat carbs

Although you might lose your appetite when you feel sick it’s key to keep eating to ensure you have enough energy to recover. My favourite comforting carbs are pasta, mashed potatoes, rice or a huge pile of toast smothered in peanut butter. If you’re too tired to cook grab a Cliff Bar for an energy boost with zero effort.

If you’re not hungry or you can’t really taste food, I recommend making a smoothie jam-packed with spinach and bananas (I love this post from Amy about the health benefits of bananas) and leave to chill in the fridge before drinking. A nice cold beverage will soothe a sore throat and help keep you hydrated too.

No guilt

There are two types of people, those who call in sick at the drop of a hat and those who would rather die at work than take a day off. Hello! I’m the latter.

I really hate taking days off due to sickness and only do it when my back is playing up because I physically can’t get out of the house. To me, sitting at home feeling guilty is more painful than showing up for your shift when you’re under the weather. I’d rather suffer that day than let anyone else down, but we all know that’s a pointless attitude to have.

I’ve been trying to work on my guilt – in every aspect of my life – for a while now. I’m definitely getting better, but it takes time and practise. If you want to truly feel better about yourself on a sick day then try your best to remember that your health comes first, and without it you’re useless at work, as inconvenient as that may be!

Get dressed

I was ill recently and spent the first day in bed, wearing the same pyjamas all day with my hair matted and my face unwashed. The next day I forced myself to get up, take a shower, get dressed and managed to drag myself to the store to buy some medication.

I felt so much happier on the second day, and although that may have been the medication I also just felt more alive because I was dressed in something other than smelly old PJs. You also might like to take it a step further and treating yourself a face mask. I like this Garnier Sheet Mask because it requires minimal effort but really plumps up dry, dehydrated skin.

Open a window (or at least the curtains)

Fresh air might not be what you’re body is craving, especially if you’re cold, but consider opening all the curtains in your home when you’re feeling unwell.

Studies have shown that workers in sunlit areas are more productive than workers without exposure to natural light, so if you want to speed up your recovery having a natural light source is a good idea.

Not only does natural light increase endorphins and serotonin leading to improved mood, but did you know it can even boost your white blood cell count? Get those curtains open!

Stay connected

Being home alone all day can be a real downer. I’m a total introvert but even I think that being sick needs company! Obviously if you’re infectious (no, I’m not talking about your infectious charm) then it’s a but unfair to subject others to your germs, so you might want to find company via phone. Normally my mum is the first person I speak to when I’m sick because she’s the best at sympathy. Mums are good for that!

Chat to friends on Twitter or WhatsApp but avoid emails in case you get sucked into work related enquiries. Text that friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with, or Skype your long lost cousin. Whatever keeps you occupied and in the loop with other humans is essential.

How do you stay happy on a sick day?


Coping with the physical effects of anxiety & depression 

depression anxiety weight gain panic attacks

You or someone you know is probably dealing with anxiety, depression or maybe even both. I’ve dealt with both simultaneously for the past 4 years and I’m not yet fully recovered. I’ve come a long way since the beginning, when I was unable to work and spent every day in bed ignoring phone calls and not eating or washing. My mind was so exhausted that I needed time to recuperate, to recharge before slowly coming to terms with my illness and how it affects my day to day life. I wanted to talk about the physical effects of anxiety and depression, from my own experience. It’s something that no one really warned me about, even though I was diagnosed by a doctor and have received treatment for several years. I’m not a qualified mental health expert, but I have lived through it for some time, so maybe it’s of use to you or someone you know who might be suffering.

Weight loss/gain

I spent the first few months in bed like I said, and when I wasn’t sleeping my only interest was going to the gym. A strange response for someone previously uninterested in fitness, but for whatever reason any energy I had I poured into my daily workout. This led me to lose more weight than I ever had previously, a happy side effect as far as I was concerned even if it wasn’t for the right reasons. Not a healthy mindset I’m sure you’ll agree. After I began taking my prescribed anti-depressants I did experience some weight gain; whether this was a sign of the beginning of recovery or the increased appetite which was described in the pill packet I’m unsure. Overall, I’ve realised that my built in response to both anxious and depressed feelings is to eat. To be honest I’m at a loss as how to shake off this coping mechanism off completely, and it’s definitely attributing to my weight gain as well as low self-esteem which can have a more negative affect on my mental health. It’s a vicious cycle I’m caught in at the moment without any real idea how to escape it. My way of dealing with it currently is to accept that recovery is a long road, and that changes in my mind and body are to be expected. They are not good or bad, or even permanent. They just exist and will adapt as my health improves over time.

Panic attacks

I had anxiety and depression for years before I experienced a panic attack. It wasn’t even something I worried about. I think this is partly because I was too anxious to put myself in a situation difficult enough for it to occur. I’m very wary of new places and unusual social outings and can tell what will freak me out. Overall this has been a bad way to handle things, because when I did pluck up the courage to do something out of my comfort zone I had a panic attack as a result. The physical symptoms I had were nausea, blurred vision, needing the toilet, feeling faint, racing heart, shortness of breath and excessive sweating. Combine this with the mental symptom of feeling like you are dying and you have pretty terrifying scenario on your hands. I’ve done some group CBT sessions and the best advice I learned was that you should remain where you are for as long as possible, instead of following the natural urge to leave for somewhere else, somewhere ‘safer’. The panic attack is inside you, not the room, and will subside naturally once you have relaxed. Interestingly, if you leave the location (e.g. the supermarket) you are more likely to develop an irrational fear of that place because you fear it happening again. So panic attacks lead to more panic attacks; annoying right? The more you focus on your symptoms, the harder it can be to let it pass. I’ve heard some people say they distract their minds by counting in their heads or remembering something that takes focus like their first car registration. I was alone on a train so I just focused on taking long deep breaths, even though it felt impossible. It did eventually help and I managed to stay on board and it hasn’t affected my ability to use public transport.

Muscle tension

When I get anxious I instantly become very self-conscious. This is especially true in social situations where I’m expected to hold a conversation for long periods of time. One of my irrational fears which stems from when I had to leave my job due to depression was that people were going to ask what I did for a living. The answer would then be “Nothing, I’m unemployed because I have depression” a phrase which I was in no way willing to say out loud. I was so ashamed of myself that I would ask my friends to pre-warn new acquaintances about the reasons of my unemployment so that I wouldn’t have to face the horror of that conversation. Even then, I was still so self-conscious that my entire body felt frozen whilst I floated aimlessly through these social outings. Unless I was plied with alcohol (a terrible decision) I would stare at the floor, hoping no one would ask me a question. If they did I would give a brief answer before turning to my partner or friend who received the usual ‘glare’, suggesting they should hijack the conversation and take it from here. Ideally, I would stay near the perimeter of a large group of people where I could stand rigid, jaw clenched with my tongue pushed up hard against the roof of my mouth, pretending to listen to whatever the ‘normal people’ were talking about whilst I mentally drifted in and out of the room. This muscular tension which my body seemed to create as a defence mechanism became commonplace.  The one thing that I have found consistently rewarding throughout my depression is exercise. I was the perfect outlet for me to express myself physically, use up the nervous energy that was running through me and loosen up tight muscles. In particular, Pilates, Body Balance, Yoga and Willpower & Grace have all helped me with muscle tension. If you can afford to go for a spa day and get a massage it will help immensely. It sounds patronising to say a massage will help your depression – it won’t – but it can help soothe the physical pain whilst you continue battle with the mental symptoms.

Have you experienced any of these symptoms?