The closest I had to mental health days was when I was in the military and I had my mandatory, scheduled therapy appointments. Back then, in the early 2000s, we weren’t really hip to the notion of taking a mental health day. Although looking back on it, I could have made those days more impactful.

All too often, when we think about taking a mental health day, we only take self-care measures that are temporary. We get the once-every-couple-of-months mani/pedi and maybe some other spa-like services. 

What we don’t usually do is set ourselves up for self-care every day. Self-care doesn’t have to happen in a vacuum. In fact, we should be practicing some form of self-care every day. 

May people think self-care has to be expensive or that it’s for people who have a lot of free time. That doesn’t have to be the case either. My biggest suggestion is to use your mental health day to both indulge in self-care and create a routine or system that integrates self-care every day — not just when you can take the day off.

Here are the essential things to do when you take a mental health day:

Practice at least three acts of self-care

How you practice self-care is really up to you. Extra sleep, bubble baths, walks in the park, are all good ways to practice self care without spending too much money. Think of what you can do that doesn’t require too much and let it be a huge part of your day.

If you need more ideas, check out Olga Phoenix’s Self-Care Wheel. It’s got a lot of great ideas for all areas of self-care.

Buy or create a gratitude journal

Maybe it’s because I’m in the bookstore a lot (or browsing them online) but having a gratitude journal is a great first step in establishing a self-care routine. It doesn’t have to be fancy and it doesn’t even have to be pen to paper (digital works too). It just has to be a place where you will consistently write your thoughts.

What goes into the journal? Each day, simply take the time to write down three things for which you are grateful. That’s it. You don’t have to go into detail about or create the next great novel about your day. But I do want you to do it first thing in the morning. By doing it first thing, you set your mind up for an attitude of gratitude and that will help make your day just that much better.

Create a music playlist 

Okay, so maybe the journal isn’t for you. I know it wasn’t for me for the longest time. Instead, what I do is create music playlists for different emotions. Those emotions could be how I want to feel, or they could be how I am feeling at the moment. There were playlists for being angry and there were playlists for motivation or believing in myself (I still have those last two).

The great thing about playlists is that they allow you to actually feel. You don’t have to keep things stuffed down inside of you or hide them from the world. Express yourself in song. It did wonders for me as I recovered from PTSD.

Create your own “toolbox” for mental health

Having a set of tools at the ready is essential for developing good coping mechanisms when you don’t have the entire day to devote to your mental health. This toolbox is totally of your crafting and contains the tools you need to mitigate or deal with certain emotions or situations. While there are apps like Virtual Hope Box and PTSD Coach, having your own set of customized tools is best because it’s specific to you and your circumstances.

To build this toolbox, you’ll want to include things that will count as self-care in various situations. You’ll want something for when you’re anxious, depressed, angry, sad, frustrated, etc. But not just to serve the emotions, but to know what to do depending on your location. How you perform self-care at home in the middle of an argument will be different than how you handle it in line at the grocery store.

Common tasks like deep breathing, meditation, leaving a situation, and positive self talk are things you can add to your toolbox. You can also take inspiration from the apps I mentioned (or other calming apps) to build the tools you need to keep you mentally healthy.

In the end, mental health and self-care aren’t just one-day events. These are practices you can do every day in order to have a healthy life mind, body, and soul.