A Detroit Native Is Encouraging Others to Play Hooky for Their Mental Health

An experience with burnout inspired the movement
Erayna Sargent Hooky Day
Erayna Sargent photograph courtesy of Erayna Sargent

Although World Mental Health Day was on Oct. 10, there is a new holiday to pencil in for your self-care: Hooky Day. Set to take place on Oct.22 — you can pledge to participate in the holiday here — this year will be the first time this day is observed. Erayna Sargent, founder and CEO of the mental wellness brand Hooky Wellness, came up with the concept of Hooky Day. The Detroit native has her bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in Business Administration from Grand Valley State University and Indiana University, respectively. She built her career in brand management and innovation across the consumer goods category and tech, working with businesses like Nestle and Intuit. But, in June, she changed direction when she started Hooky Wellness. Inspired by her own journey with mental health, her hope with the company is to encourage the working class to put themselves first. The program’s mantra is, “work hard, self-care harder.” Here, she explains more about what that means.

Hour Detroit: Why is mental health important to you?

Erayna Sargent: About two years ago, I suffered from burnout after working in a toxic work environment. That gave me personal experience with how painful that marketplace is. Securing mental health is extremely complex and can create its own stress. I started to look at trends and understand that stress is a health epidemic of the 21st century. We are a culture that competes for burnout, in theory. That is what caused me to pivot into mental health.

What is burnout?

Burnout is the unsuccessful management of ongoing stress. Burnout can result in reduced patience and empathy, the feeling of energy depletion, exhaustion. You find that this is where a lot of negativity comes in, and this is where a lot of people become pessimistic about their jobs. There’s a reduction in overall professional efficiency and production. It’s really very similar to symptoms of anxiety and depression, but it’s tied to a result of chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been managed over time.

What are the causes of workplace stress?

Employee stress is skyrocketing. I think the interconnectedness of the global economy is increasing the level of competition. You not only have to focus on what you’re working on today, you also have to worry about what could be coming as a competitive threat in the future. It’s in the American culture: achieve, move up, grow, and do. There is constant multitasking, where, not only are you focused on achieving your own goals, you’re trying to help your team weave through all of their projects and achieve their goals as well. There’s a culture of saying “yes” and often taking on much more than our bandwidth allows. Either you’re going to burnout and it’s going to force you to say “no” every so often, or you can prevent burnout by taking a step back. Once you have a better understanding of what your capacity is, that gives people the ability to say “Hey, I can’t do that right now. I can re-prioritize these projects so that I can create the additional bandwidth to take this on.”

Where did the idea for Hooky Day come from?

In 2018, Americans gave back 768 million unused vacation days. The concept of Hooky really bloomed from encouraging people to give themselves permission to take a much-needed break. Hooky Day is about the intentional prioritization of one’s mental health. We will put everyone else and all of our projects before we’ll put ourselves [on our to-do list]. If you miss out on self-care and you are not taking care of your mental health, it’s going to be even more challenging to reach your goals, because you’re burned out. No matter how much you give, you’ll never be able to give your 100%.

How does Hooky Day work?

Anyone who is feeling like they are overwhelmed with life can take a Hooky Day. I believe everyone deserves to be a little selfish sometimes. If you don’t prioritize yourself, no one can do it for you. Even if individuals can’t take off Oct. 22, repurpose another day. Hooky Day is what you need it to be. It’s all about replenishing whatever part of you is running on “E.” It’s about recharging. Some people’s Hooky Day is going to be about sleeping. It’s digging into your own personal being, it can be about growth, learning, and development. We want to give people the space to find a path that’s best for them. Although it’s a one-time event, it can cause a ripple effect.

How do you take care of your mental health?

My No. 1 way is staying in regular therapy sessions. It’s very important that I have regular sessions with my therapist, because it helps me deeply understand my past so I can unlock what I want to do in the future. Yoga and meditation is something that I’ve started to do more recently. It’s that connection with mind and body that I really love. I try to meditate three to four times a week at the beginning of my day. I try to find a moment of stillness and recenter before I open my laptop and start pinging emails away.

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