Feeling stressed and anxious at work is common, but if it gets to the point where it’s severely impacting your mental health, you may need to take some time off. Getting time off work for stress and anxiety can be tricky, but there are a few things you can do to make the process smoother.
Talk to Your Manager
The first step is to have an open and honest discussion with your manager. Explain that you’ve been struggling with stress and anxiety, and it’s started to negatively affect your work and wellbeing. Give specific examples of how it’s impacting your focus, energy levels, productivity, etc. Make it clear this isn’t about just taking a vacation – this is about addressing mental health concerns that are interfering with your ability to perform at your best.
Come prepared with a plan for how much time you need off, whether it’s a few days, a week, or longer. Explain how you intend to use the time – whether it’s meeting with a therapist, trying medication, practicing self-care, etc. Having a plan shows this is not just an excuse to take random time off. Offer to work on transitioning your ongoing projects before you go so your absence isn’t severely disruptive.
The key is to frame this as wanting to proactively address your mental health now so it doesn’t spiral into a bigger issue down the road. Position it as being in the best interest of you and the company long-term. An open, collaborative approach is more likely to get your manager’s support.
Provide Medical Documentation
Written documentation from a health care provider can also help legitimize your request for time off. See your physician or a therapist and explain how work stress is impacting you. Ask them to write a letter stating their recommendation that you take a certain amount of medically necessary leave to address anxiety, depression, panic attacks, insomnia, etc.
Having that official recommendation on letterhead can go a long way in getting your manager to approve the request for leave. It shows this isn’t just you wanting random time off, but that a health professional feels time away from work is critical for your wellbeing.
Look Into FMLA and Disability Accommodations
The Family and Medical Leave Act requires covered employers to provide employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for medical reasons. To qualify for FMLA, you must have worked for the company for 12 months and logged at least 1,250 hours in that time. Not all companies are covered, so check eligibility requirements.
You can use FMLA leave intermittently, meaning a few days off per month, rather than 12 weeks consecutively. This may be an option if you just need some occasional mental health days. Applying for intermittent FMLA can be done for ongoing anxiety and stress.
Long-term disability benefits may also be an option if your anxiety has you fully unable to work for an extended time. Talk to HR about the details of your company’s disability policy. There is usually a waiting period before benefits kick in. Disability insurance through the state or a private insurer are other options.
Utilize Sick Days and PTO
If you don’t qualify for FMLA or disability, then utilizing any earned sick time and paid time off is the next best option. Check with your HR department about the policies around using PTO and sick days for mental health purposes. Some companies have specific mental health sick days allocated separately from physical sick days.
Be prepared that your manager may request a doctor’s note to take sick time when it’s for stress and anxiety. Build up your PTO as much as possible so you have enough to take several consecutive days off while not losing pay. Even taking 1-2 mental health days a month using sick time can offer periodic relief from workplace stressors.
Consider Other Accommodations
If taking extended time off work isn’t feasible, explore whether other workplace accommodations could help mitigate your anxiety. For example, could your start time be shifted to avoid traffic? Could you work remotely a few days a week? Would switching to a less hectic department or going part-time help?
Put suggestions in writing to your manager and HR about specific accommodations you think could improve your stress levels. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for mental health issues under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Sometimes small tweaks to your work environment, schedule or responsibilities can make a big difference in managing workplace stress. It’s worth advocating for changes that can enable you to perform at your best.
Taking time off for stress and anxiety may not be easy, but it can be absolutely necessary for preserving your mental health and avoiding burnout. With proper planning, open communication and utilizing available resources, you can get the time away you need to take care of yourself. Prioritizing self-care now better equips you to stay healthy and productive at work in the long-run.