A Case of the Cognitive Flu

We’ve all experienced days when our mind and body feel like two separate beings. Physically, we may feel fine, ready to handle our normal routine. Yet, mentally, the mind is fuzzy, sore, fatigued and completely overwhelmed. At this point, it’s hard to do anything fully.

Ironically, if the roles were reversed, and instead of our minds hurting, the body felt sore and fatigued, or even ‘flu-like,’ many would stay home and rest. Physical symptoms are readily acknowledged and action is usually taken to get and feel better. And, one’s likely to receive some sort of thanks, as many workplaces appreciate employees who stay home when sick to prevent jeopardizing the health of other team members.

However, when symptoms are mental, they rarely receive the same acknowledgment or response. A person with the ‘cognitive flu’ usually perseveres full-steam ahead, without acknowledging the lasting impact or consequence. Our mind, in many ways, controls our thoughts, emotions, and actions. So, when it’s not fully present or healthy, personal safety, productiveness, and physical health are largely at stake.

There’s no shame in taking a personal day for mental health

Just the other day I stayed home from work for a personal mental health day. I was truly experiencing symptoms of the ‘cognitive flu.’ I felt so overwhelmed, and preoccupied, and at the brink of tears. My mind was spinning with big decisions and to-do lists. So, recognizing this, I asked myself: will I be productive in my work today? When the honest response was ‘probably not,’ I called in and took it off. I realized that I did not have the energy or focus to do my job right that day—and— doing my job wrong would be worse than the consequences of taking a mental health day.

If my life experience resonates with you, then realize that you may too greatly benefit from a mental health day, every now and then. Truth is, you don’t have to be in dire condition to qualify. Most people are struggling with daily stressors that make it hard to regulate thoughts and manage emotions effectively. A day or two away from work and away from obligations may give you the opportunity to get back on a healthier track.

If you need a little additional convincing, here are a few signs that warrant a personal mental health day:

Your mind is distracted! To use a metaphor, it feels as if you’re on a perpetual roundabout, and you keep missing your exit. Our minds do this. When there is something pressing, something that requires attention or time, something that usually has large consequences—that’s when the mind circles, and our thoughts go round and round without solution. To exit that roundabout, you may need a mental health day, to actively tackle what’s on your mind by doing something about it. Addressing the thoughts and worries through action can help to alleviate them.

You’re not taking care of yourself! Haven’t slept, eaten, or worked-out recently? Neglecting personal health and wellbeing can quickly spiral out of control as we risk our optimal functioning. It’s important to consider that, in the grand scheme of life, you are remembered for your really good days (i.e. optimal performances) and, unfortunately, your really bad days (i.e. big mistakes). Yet, the days in between, or the regular workdays, are really not as memorable. So, it’s important you make use of the regular workdays to, at times, take care of yourself. Take a mental health day to energize and reboot; to prepare for more really good days!

Stress on the horizon. There are also times when you can be proactive with the use of a mental health day by recognizing future stressors and planning ahead. There are times when work interferes with personal priorities, things that make you happy, etc. Foreseeing a conflict, especially of this personal nature, can spike stress quickly. It is important to recognize this and strategize early, to make sure you are not sacrificing too much. Sometimes, a day to yourself to meet personal needs is required to prevent future, undue stress.


One day off is not going to derail your hopes and dreams. In fact, it may oppositely bring more clarity and confidence in your purpose and direction. Take care of yourself.

Don’t let the cognitive flu get you down!