Sick Day Struggles: When "Powering Through" Isn't the Answer (And Why We Feel So Guilty)

Sick Day Struggles: When "Powering Through" Isn't the Answer (And Why We Feel So Guilty)

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Ugh, this cold/flu combo has knocked me for six. My head is pounding, my throat is scratchy, and my body feels like it's been hit by a truck. As much as I want to "power through" (hello, Type A personality!), I know I need to rest. But even with a supportive company like Hey Sister! (seriously, they're the best; I have already had 3 phone calls to rest and it’s only 10 am), I still feel this wave of guilt saying the words, "I need to take the day off."

Why is that? Why do we feel so much pressure to push through when our bodies are screaming for a break? I even found myself in tears after messaging my team. It's ridiculous, I know. But I'm also not alone in this.

The "Soldier On" Mentality and the Working Woman

Are we conditioned to believe we have to be superheroes? Do the old-school "soldier on" ads still haunt us? Or is it the fear of letting our teams down? Whatever the reason, the guilt is real, especially for us women who often juggle work, family, and a million other things.

Unpacking the Sick Day Guilt: What Research Says

Research sheds light on why this guilt is so pervasive, particularly among women:

  • Societal Pressures and Self-Expectations: Women are often held to high standards of productivity and responsibility. This can lead to feelings of guilt when taking time off, even when we're legitimately sick. We want to be seen as dependable and likable and worry that taking a sick day will damage that image (Psychology Today).
  • Workplace Dynamics: The pressure to avoid taking sick leave can be self-imposed even in supportive workplaces. We worry about falling behind or being seen as less committed. This internal struggle, known as the recovery paradox, can lead to burnout if we don't prioritise rest (Psychology Today).
  • Overcoming the Guilt: It's important to remember that taking time to recover is not a sign of weakness. It's essential for our well-being and long-term productivity. Being honest with ourselves about our needs, setting realistic expectations, and practising self-compassion are key steps in overcoming sick-day guilt (Happiful Magazine).

A Chat with Jade Walker

I decided to reach out to our amazing Director of Health and Wellness, Jade Walker. Not only is she a whiz with natural remedies (she's been loading me up with tips to get better), but she's also a mum of twins who gets the guilt on a whole new level. Take it away Jade…

As a single mum of twins, I totally get this feeling. But this also came way before becoming a mum. Every time I was sick, or especially if I’d have to take a day off for debilitating period of pain, I felt an overwhelming amount of guilt. What was worse, was when people did actually made you feel guilty about it. 

As a Naturopath, I see this problem have detrimental effects on people’s health. This drive to push through when our bodies are telling us to rest is causing an epidemic of burnout. Ironically, this makes you sick even more often. Conversely, some people push their stress so far that they end up triggering an autoimmune disease. This is where the body’s immune system attacks a certain organ or system within the body. 

There’s a reason we feel like laying in bed when we’re sick, because our body’s trying to reserve all of its energy to fight that infection, or heal whatever needs healing. The longer you delay this important process, the longer it takes to recover and the more risk you place on yourself from becoming chronically unwell.
So here’s your permission slip to take the time off you need to recover so that you can, in turn, have even better health in the long run. (And to hell with anyone who’s stuck in their outdated soldier-on mentality).

So if you're nodding along, know that you're not alone. It's time we normalise taking care of ourselves when we're sick. Let's be kind to ourselves, listen to our bodies, and ditch the guilt. Rest isn't a luxury; it's a necessity.

P.S. I'm off to bed. Thanks, Hey Sister!, for being the best!

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