Today, I took a sick day.
In the past, I would have wrestled with this decision thinking, “Am I sick enough to take a sick day?” “What will my colleagues think when they find out?”.
Those days have long passed. Today, my symptoms were giving me a message, and the message was this: Rest!
So, I did just that.
What used to stop me from taking sick days?
I used to wrestle with the above questions because my performance was important. How can I perform if I am not present? I was a victim of perfectionism, and perfectionism does not allow for sick days.
How others perceived my performance was another big factor. I cared too much about what others might think. Would they think that I was faking, weak, or lazy?
I realize now that all of these questions were simply manifestations of my own insecurities and judgments against myself.
As I have worked through these issues, I no longer hesitate to grant myself a day of rest when I need it.
What are your reasons?
I am certain that I am not the only one who suffered from this internal battle before deciding if a sick day was warranted.
How many of us show up to work when we are sick and miserable? How many of us trudge through the day – half conscious – barely able to function?
Not to mention, when ill, we arrive into work coughing and sneezing, doing our best to contain our area of contamination, but are spreading our germs all the same.
Why didn’t you stay home?
Perhaps you are afraid of letting your co-workers down because you are needed on a team project.
Perhaps you think that the team cannot function without you.
Perhaps you work in the human service industry and believe that you must maintain ongoing contact.
Perhaps you don’t want to catch up on all the work that you will miss.
Perhaps you’ll take a financial hit.
Do any of those reasons warrant taking your health for granted?
If your answer is yes, can you see that there may be something deeper at play? After all, without good health, eventually you may not be able to work at all.
Presenteeism is a real issue
There’s a term for this: presenteeism. Presenteeism is the “phenomenon of people, despite complaints and ill health that should prompt rest and absence from work, still turning up at their jobs” (1).
As a Naturopathic Doctor, there’s an added stigma that doctors don’t get sick. We do our best to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle of course, but like everybody else, we too fall ill.
Personally, I was feeling quite proud of myself. I survived the winter season without a sniffle. I then went on a cross-oceanic trip to Asia without falling to any bouts of traveller’s diarrhea. By the time I got back, I was feeling pretty great!
Then, the jet lag, a shift in weather, and a wedding that required a drive to the next city over just 2 days after landing proved to be too much on my system.
It happens, and it’s okay.
If you want more reason to stay home, studies imply that the costs of presenteeism are almost 2x as important as absenteeism because presenteeism has a larger effect on productivity loss compared to taking the day off (2).
Is it worth it?
If you ask me, the smarter strategy is to take care of your health problems as soon as they present – rather than ignoring, pushing them aside, and allowing them to simmer and worsen.
If your workplace has a culture that shames those who take sick days, well then clearly there are some questions to be asked regarding whether your workplace truly values its employees.
Believe me, chronic stress will have dire health consequences in the long-run. I see it all the time in practice.
If you don’t want to hear it from me, learn from the older generations. Many sacrificed their body to a combination of hard work, lack of exercise, poor eating habits, alcohol, smoking, lack of medical care and in their old age, regret it (3).
Sometimes life requires that we over-extend ourselves. Modern society is very conducive to causing us stress. So what do we do?
We take a sick day, or what I like to refer to as a “self-care day” — without any fears, shame or regret — when our body and mind can no longer keep up.
“We can only do our best work when we are in our best state.” – Dr. Tran
When we are NOT in our best state, it is a sign that we need to focus our energy on taking care of ourselves. Our bodies are very good at giving us signals.
Here’s what you do:
- Bundle up in your most comfortable pair of pajamas.
- Feed yourself healthy, nutritious, easily-digestible food (I personally like soups and congees).
- Keep a bottle of water constantly filled by your side.
- Sweat it out.
- Give yourself a break.
One of my rules in life is this: I can’t take care of anybody else until I take care of myself first. It’s akin to safety message that you hear every time your board a plane, “Passengers should always fit their own mask before helping children, the disabled, or persons requiring assistance.”
Makes perfect sense. How can you help anyone if you’re passed out with no oxygen?
What if I get sick all the time?
If you get sick often, that is a sign that your immune system is weak. There are many things you can do to boost it. To help get you started, read my post on this topic.
Of course, for all serious matters, seek professional help.
To book an appointment with me to discuss all matters related to health, follow this link.
If it is an emergency, go to the Emergency Department.
Final words: Listen to your body. Have some self-compassion. Put yourself first, and take the time to take care of YOU.
You deserve it. 🙂
1. Aronsson G. Sick but yet at work. An empirical study of sickness presenteeism. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 2000;54(7):502-509.
2. Cooper C, Dewe P. Well-being–absenteeism, presenteeism, costs and challenges. Occupational Medicine. 2008;58(8):522-524.
3. Hare D. Regrets, they’ve had a few. Victoria, BC: Trafford; 2009.