Why taking time off is imperative for mental health
Lucky. Exhilarated. Alive. For many of us, having the time to really feel these natural states is a luxury. Most of the time we’re too focused on getting to our destination to take in our surroundings. But on a recent Monday I took a vacation day in the city, a self-mandated mental health day.
Taking more than a usual morning minute to stretch my limbs and rub my tired eyes, I felt lucky. I walked down my 5-floor walk-up smiling at the half-painted walls on the 4th floor. I stopped on the 1st floor at my mailbox and marveled at my name typed boldly next to a happy face. Next to my box sit the other tenants’ names, scribbled haphazardly in faded blue pen on old yellow paper. Normally I’d whiz past these subtle quirks like a fireman’s rush to duty. But today, I could revel in my building’s charm and scars of its past.
I continued my day at a Little Italy restaurant cupping my espresso across the street from Hansky’s street art featuring the ultimate mash-up: Aziz Ansari’s face plastered to Ironman’s Tony Stark. Beside the masterpiece reads Starks and Recreation. I can’t conceal my expletive-eating grin. Buzzed on caffeine and besotted with downtown love, I sat and carefully observed the early morning routines of others – the way each restaurant hosed the pavement as morning commuters averted eye contact and leapt over the coiled hose like it was a Skip-It from days of yore.
As time went on, I realized that while I’m burning the nine-to-six oil, there’s another world on these streets. Once the office doors shut, the streets become empty and full of possibility. It’s that time when you can feel the city’s scorching summer energy rolled into a ball. When you’re ready, you can throw it across the bridge and manifest its energy in unparalleled ways.
Though the purpose of my mental health day was to catch my breath, I knew the best use of time would be to maximize it and to discover downtown in ways I’m not permitted during the work week. I began my day sojourn conquering a bucket list pillar: attending a martial arts class. Typically I’d be too scared to enter a primarily male class in the Financial District filled with gladiators and brawny Bruce Lee acolytes during the 6 p.m. gym happy hour. So, I braced myself for a morning class with few other participants. As I lunged my leg in the air and threw a Streetfighter punch towards the mirror, I felt an ineffable sense of strength. Conquering your fears isn’t so hard; you just need the confidence to Citibike over the initial hill.
I made my way back to Manhattan and through Washington Square Park. I placed myself firmly on a bench in front of the fountain and pulled out a sandwich. An NYU student sat next to me and asked me where I got it. “Olives,” I said. She hadn’t heard of it but she did tell me about the frozen treats at Wooly’s Ice on Centre Street. There’s no better time to catch up with strangers and exchange secrets and self-disclose than during your day of rest. Though some studies have indicated the psychological benefits of a four-day work, this is not a reality for most. But what I did learn from my mental health day is that it’s important to be kind to yourself. Take a few moments to slow the pace. By remaining curious and vigilant, we’re absorbing the city’s kinetic energy and opening our minds to innovative ideas. We’ve got to remember to look up when we walk.
Kristine received her master’s in psychology from New York University. E-mail her at StreethsrinkNYC@gmail.com.
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