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How To Take A Sick Day (For Adults Who Find This Hard)

A child in PJs cuddles a hotwater bottle

“Is it a bad day to be sick mummy?”

After a feverish night my son awoke this morning with those heavy eyes that told me he was not OK for school.

But at age 7 he was already concerned about the impact this would have on me and my work (my husband is away). Would I need to cancel lots of clients to stay home with him. Obviously I reassured him that when he’s poorly than that’s all that matters and he just needs to rest to recover.

But it got me thinking about this problem that is so common for people, and makes us so vulnerable to burning out: we don’t take the time to recuperate when we need to.

Do You Find It Hard to Call In Sick To Work?

If yes here are some questions to reflect or journal on:

❓What worries and emotions do you have when you are unwell about taking a day off sick?

❓What are the obstacles to cancelling work and taking care of yourself?

Here are some common responses that I’ve heard from my clients in therapy:

  • I’m letting people down

  • I’m not bad enough to warrant cancelling

  • others will think I’m flaky

  • I don’t have time for this

  • I don’t deserve to rest

These can lead to anxiety, shame or guilt.

Now consider which experiences in your life have informed these reactions. For example were you made to feel guilty or an inconvenience by your caregivers when ill? Were you made to feel dangerous (bringing bugs into the house), or to blame somehow? Did you parents never take a day off themselves or believe that you should ‘push through?’.

These questions help us to make sense of our reactions which then invites compassion and frees us up to try out a new way.

The good news is it’s never too late to learn a new skill, including how to care for yourself when ill.

How To Care For Yourself When You Are Ill

Here are the things I’ve been guiding my son to do today in the hope he’ll do these things for himself when he’s an adult one day too. Take a look and consider how you can do this for yourself.

  • I called school and told them he wouldn't be in. This is hard as an adult, we often feel like we need permission from someone before doing so. So here it is: I give you permission to rest and recover.

  • putting on fresh pjs and a soft Oodie so he’s comfortable and cosy.

  • changing his bedding after his sweaty night so his bed feels fresh too.

  • doing low stimulation activities, like reading, audio books and tv (rather than complicated Lego sets). As an adult you need to tell others you're ill today, put an out of office on and take work-related apps off your home-screen whilst you are ill.

  • getting out his ‘old favourites’ of his CDs and books to listen to even though he has outgrown of them developmentally. As an adult this might be the equivalent of putting on old reruns of Friends or similar (my favourite is the old comedy Black Books!)

  • making the bedroom dim in case he doses off.

  • cutting up fresh fruit for vitamins.

  • staying nearby so he feels reassured (can you tell a friend or family member how you're feeling so they can check on you?).

When you remove work you are removing stress. You may think you are able to tolerate some stress but you won't be resilient enough to cope with set backs in the day. There is also research that shows how stress slows down the recovery times from injury and illness so it really is worth taking the time to recover without extra stresses.

The other important thing to note is that you will still get unpleasant thoughts and emotions when you go against your usual pattern of behaving. This doesn't mean we should be at the beck and call of these negative internal pressures, you are still entitled to rest and may have to bring these negative thoughts and feelings along for the ride. As you become better at attuning to your needs and responding accordingly these will become less intense.

What Next?

If you're reading this and thinking you'd love to rest but can't cope with the intensity of thoughts and emotions then try this blog post which includes an audio to help you ground yourself.

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