Here's Why Experts Say Using Your Sick Days Is More Important Than You Realize

by Julia Guerra

Have you ever experienced that deer-in-headlights moment when your fingers are frozen on the keyboard, unable to press “send” and digitally inform your boss or professor that your body and/or mental state is totally spent and that you desperately need the day off? Same, girl. TBH, I’m willing to bet all of us have been there at least once, and when you think about it, it’s pretty sad to realize that so many of us don’t even know when you should call out sick these days, all because of this strange, unspoken expectation that you should "suck it up" and "power through," no matter what’s going on internally. Not only is this way of thinking absolutely ridiculous, it puts your health at risk, and sorry not sorry, but no business meeting or class project is worth that kind of stress.

Trust me, friend, I know all about the high levels of anxiety that can ensue when you’re on the cusp of calling out sick. What’s worse, I’m pretty sure just the mere thought of calling out sick makes me feel that much more mentally and physically ill, even if I’m 110 percent positive that I’d be incapable of performing at my optimal best in any capacity (and I work from home, BTW). Whether you’ve come down with the flu, caught a stomach virus, or simply woken up feeling mentally drained, sometimes your body and/or mind needs a break, and you really shouldn’t feel obligated to go into work or school that day just because you could probably muddle through an assignment or two. You work to live, not the other way around, remember? Your overall health has to come first, no matter what’s being asked of you.

Unfortunately, though, this just doesn’t seem to be the status quo. According to data from the market research company Statista, one in five Americans under the age of 45 took zero sick days in 2017, and 60 percent of those who did used them sparingly, taking, on average, less than five days off. And, OK, granted, I totally understand that some people get sick more often than others — I had the flu for almost an entire month last winter, while I’m pretty sure my Dad hasn’t endured more than a common cold in all my 26 years of life. But even if you’re just having an off day mentally, you should still take advantage of the sick time allotted to you.

I’m not saying you don’t know when something is off in your body, or that you don’t realize you’re just not all there mentally or emotionally. What I am suggesting, though, is that maybe the real issue is you never think you’re sick enough, or tired enough to deserve a day of rest and relaxation. And this isn’t necessarily your fault, but in order to decipher whether or not what you're feeling calls for a sick day, you have to be honest with yourself about how you genuinely feel.

"If you are not up to performing your job to the best of your ability, taking a sick day is your best course of action," Robert Glatter, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, tells Elite Daily over email. It's also a good idea to call out sick if you're feeling overly anxious, depressed, and/or that you aren’t in the right mental frame of mind to be on your A-game, he adds.

However, depending on your job, special circumstances might require you to do some work at home or pop into the office for a bit, even if you're not quite feeling your best. Erika Martinez, Psy.D., CDWF, a licensed psychologist and founder of Miami Shrinks, notes that things like tight deadlines, or similar responsibilities that can significantly affect your reputation in the workplace, can often be dealt with by "taking mini-breaks throughout the day, making sure you stay hydrated and eat healthy foods, getting enough sleep (power naps included), and avoiding over-caffeinating," until it's all over, and you have the flexibility to either go home early or take the next day off entirely.

Once you can kind of set aside any pressure you might be feeling from your boss, colleagues, classmates, or, you know, yourself, it’s time to realize enough is enough, and that you deserve a day off. That’s when you can draft your email, or leave a message on your boss’ answering machine explaining the situation.

So where do you start? Well, you know that age-old saying, “honesty is the best policy”? That’s definitely going to apply here. There’s really no reason to be anything but direct with your boss, professor, or classmates when you’re not feeling well because, TBH, you haven’t done anything wrong. I know that, you know that, but if your psyche doesn't know that, and it's telling you otherwise, clapback ASAP because your body deserves, even needs a day to binge-watch Netflix, lie on the couch, and not move for 24 hours.

"Think about how you would feel if you were the boss, and were receiving such an email or text," Glatter suggests. "When crafting an email or even a text, don’t be wordy or circumspect — a direct approach is in your best interest." And if you're going the email route, Martinez adds, feel free to list your symptoms if you feel comfortable doing so, and make sure to let your supervisor know you have a plan to ensure that any work that is missed will get done. Of course, even if you don't have a solid game plan for when you start to play catch-up, that's OK. Your health comes first, so do yourself a favor and worry about your assignments later. Because that day off is all about y-o-u.