Press pause

Press+pause

Amy Nguyen

When stress builds up, it can feel like the atmosphere is caving in. Pressure builds up and can easily push someone to their limit. It is important to keep in mind that taking a break is okay. Sometimes students lose sight of priorities, but when feeling overwhelmed, taking a “pause” from school is an overlooked option.

Stress won’t fade away without a solution, and taking a mental health day from school can help, albeit temporarily. “Sometimes the confluence of events is too much and we need to take a time-out for ourselves,” therapist Amy Ziegenhorn said.

Students need this time to rejuvenate themselves, analyze how they handle stress and how they can deal with that stress moving forward.

Ziegenhorn is pleased that the idea of mental health days is growing in acceptance, as society becomes more and more aware of the stressors people are under, and how they impact individuals. Recently, her employer, who specializes in mental health, began allowing sick time to be used for mental health days. Receiving recognition of mental health issues is a positive step within the workplace, along with the school system as well.
If a student feels like they need a break of some sort, their family can let the school know if they chose to stay home. Unlike teachers who have a limit for sick, personal and emergency days each year, students do not, associate principal Randy Klein said. This leaves room for students to take those days as they need.

Jacque Richards has allowed her daughter Julia Richards ‘19 the opportunities for mental health days since fifth grade. Richards has become increasingly aware of her child’s mental health, even if the days are used very rarely. “I feel that my child is a human being, and I recognize that she has stress at times,” Richards said. “I feel it’s important for her to have some control and for her feelings to be acknowledged and respected.”

Julia believes these days are beneficial, although she has only taken about five since the opportunity arose. She uses these days off when personal issues or stress interfere with her schoolwork. They offer Julia and others like her a beneficial break when school is too much to handle. “I believe a small portion of the student body takes mental health days,” she said. “I think there are other parents like mine who understand and allow their children to take these days off from school.”

Although numerous benefits are shown upon taking a day off, using them the wrong way can have the opposite effect. Days should not necessarily be taken to cram for a test, but rather to rewind. “What I see a lot of with high school students is, they say to themselves, ‘if I just have one more day, it’ll help me,’” AP Psychology teacher Jesse Dowell said. “But a lot of what we see with teenagers is procrastination. They take that extra day, but they may just sit around and not use it to its extent, like they needed to, and this can actually make their anxiety go even higher.”

Finding the right routine for an off day is a key factor to a helpful day free of school. However, students are not the only ones that have mental health days available to them.

French and english teacher Tamara Andrews said that there are a couple times a year where she finds herself overwhelmed. Last spring, her doctor explained that she was experiencing situational adrenal fatigue, which is also known as burnout.

Now aware of the outcomes of her stress, when she became overwhelmed this year during school, she acknowledged the issue and sought a solution to help. “I ended up crying in one of my classes, which was a red flag, since that’s so unlike me,” she said. “I talked to my principal, and he checked in on me, I really appreciated his support. He said I was able to take some time off to make some appointments that I had been too busy to take care of, and he wanted to make sure I am well, and encouraged me to take the time I needed.”

After this two day break from school, plus the weekend, Andrews could feel the benefit. She is a firm believer that all of us, both students and teachers, need to take care of themselves, in every way possible.

By recognizing that a break is needed, personal limits are acknowledged.  “You are also giving yourself permission to step back from the stressor and re-evaluate your tactics and progress,” Ziegenhorn said. “You can reformulate your plan and you can take the time to boost your enthusiasm and stamina. Essentially, it helps you get your thoughts straightened out, because when we get overwhelmed, we don’t think as clearly.”