Don’t feel guilty for taking care of yourself

Mental and physical health can be a struggle

Being sick is awful. I am writing this article while nursing flu-like symptoms, so I feel pretty gross. In fact, I have spent the past three days terribly ill. With the moaning and groaning out of the way, I arrive at my actual point — I feel guilty about being sick.

Logically, I know that I am sick, and that going to work or school would only make my condition worse and could potentially infect others. So, staying home is simultaneously protecting myself and other people.

This all makes good, logical sense. However, I cannot help but feel like I am somehow cheating the system by staying home.

I think as a society we are somewhat conditioned to feel this way. Under the Canada Labour Code, which defines the rights of Canadian workers in workplaces under federal jurisdiction, an employee is able to earn a maximum of 10 paid sick days per year. With only 10 days of paid sick time annually, one might reasonably try to “bank” these days for a more serious illness. However, in reality, refusing to take these sick days may turn a minor illness into a more serious one by heading into work.

These 10 days only apply to federally regulated workplaces. Each province itself has different rules and regulations for sick leave. In Manitoba, for example, there are only three days of unpaid sick leave are guaranteed per year. Which, needless to say, is abysmal.

A student taking a day off often means missing a full day of class time that might be critical to a test, exam or essay. While many professors upload notes and slides, some do not upload anything.

In my experience, class instruction also typically expands on ideas only touched on in the lecture notes or slides. This problem is only made worse by instructors who may dock marks for absent days. This effectively encourages students to come to school when they are ill. I cannot speak to the experience of other students, but I have absolutely gone to school while sick out of the fear that I would miss important content.

There is also, of course, the social aspect to consider. By not going to work or school, you run the risk of appearing less capable than your coworkers or peers, especially if you need to stay home in order to take care of your mental health. We also miss out on periods of socialization that might be critical.

But the fact of the matter is that your mental and physical health trumps these factors.

That test you are worried about can get deferred. Your essay can be extended, and if you have sick days then you should use them. Going to work or school when you are ill might seem like you are weathering the storm that is your body and mind, but really you are just hurting yourself.

High workloads, a lot of responsibility, mental health struggles and chronic illness among other factors can lead to higher levels of stress in life, and it has been shown that stress can have serious impacts on mental and physical health. The last thing you need while trying to recover or cope with an illness, physical or mental, is something that can make that illness last longer or become even worse.

If you will not think of yourself, think of others.

When dealing with a communicable illness, follow the advice of reputable resources or your family doctor on when it’s safe to return to work or school. Stay healthy, Bisons.