Self-care is one of those concepts we all know about. We pay lip service to the notion of wellness and self-care, but do we practice true self-care?
It’s one thing to drink all your water, take naps, and exercise on the weekend. But how well do you take care of yourself at work?
Why Self-Care in the Workplace Matters
If you don’t believe self-care matters much, you’ll be unlikely to implement a great self-care plan at work. So why does self-care matter in the workplace?
For starters, let’s agree on what self-care is: taking actions to support your physical, mental, or emotional well-being. Self-care in the workplace involves taking actions to support your well-being so you are productive and engaged while working.
Simply put, self-care prevents stress. Did you know organizations spend more than $300 billion annually due to employee stress? Whether stress manifests in physical illness (missing work), hazards and poor decision-making, or a toxic work environment, stress doesn’t contribute to career success or fulfillment. In addition to an unhealthy, negative work environment, stress also impacts the bottom line negatively, and that’s why many employers are committed to preventing stress.
How to Practice Self-Care in the Workplace
Self-care is a great way to prevent stress. Let’s identify specific actions you can take to combat stress, improve your mental and emotional health, and stay positive and focused while working.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Sit All Day
Experts say sitting is the new smoking. So by all means, no matter what else you do to implement a self-care practice, please don’t sit still all day. Some options to help you stand and move more throughout the day include purchasing a standing desk, setting a timer on your phone to remind you to take a two-minute walk or exercise break every hour, and hosting walking meetings. If you haven’t tried taking a slow walk while meeting with one or two colleagues, give it a go. You might be surprised at how much more productive and positive your meetings feel when you move while you strategize.
If getting outside during breaks or lunch hour is an option, soak up some sunshine and breathe in fresh air. Doing so can reduce fatigue, decrease burnout, and improve mental health.
Take Time Off
If you’re not using your PTO each year, vow to use it up this year! There’s no reason to waste your hard-earned benefits, and research proves that people who take regular vacations and days off for self-care perform better at work, feel more fulfilled, increase creativity, and report reduced negative rumination. In short, taking time off—whether a full two weeks of vacation time or one mental health day periodically—reduces stress and helps prevent burnout and unhealthy stress management habits from taking root. In fact, 71% of people report feeling more productive and happier after taking time off.
Participate and Collaborate
Have you noticed a correlation between spending too much time alone and lack of self-care? That’s because being with others, communicating, and collaborating on projects keep us engaged in the workplace, prevent isolation, and boost creativity.
What if you’re introverted? Spending strategic time with others (perhaps one-on-one or in a small group setting) benefits you, too. When you interact with others during the workday, you give your brain a break. You practice soft skills, and you build rapport with colleagues or clients. Additionally, you are less likely to take on too much responsibility or too heavy a load of work if you collaborate with others, delegate tasks, and allow people to help when needed.
Whether you choose to join an Employee Resource Group (ERG), schedule a weekly coffee chat with a friend from another department, or opt to meet face-to-face with your supervisor rather than over the phone, spending time with other people boosts your sense of self-worth, career fulfillment, and morale.
Isolation is a key contributor to mental health decline. Depression and anxiety alone cost the world economy over $1 trillion in lost productivity, according to the World Health Organization. When we isolate ourselves, we tend to neglect our mental health. Poor self-care goes hand-in-hand with mental health decline. Some risks associated with poor mental health include substance abuse, poor diet, physical inactivity, poor safety habits, and fewer preventive health screenings.
To prevent these risks, reach out for help. If your employer offers an Employee Assistance Plan, take advantage of those counseling sessions. If your employer doesn’t provide benefits to prevent mental health risks, explore options in your community. Seek help from your career mentor (find one if you don’t already have one) and ask them to connect you with resources, health care professionals, or accountability to ensure better self-care.
A free, easy way to take care of yourself, improve your mood and outlook, and prevent mental health decline is to start practicing gratitude. When you practice gratitude in the workplace, you’ll not only be practicing self-care but also improving the lives of the people you work with—because gratitude benefits others, too.
Start your day by jotting down a note to a colleague, expressing gratitude and appreciation for help. Take a moment while walking to the breakroom to stop by someone’s desk to recognize their recent accomplishment or to thank them for helping on a project. End your day with a short gratitude list, reflecting on ways coworkers have contributed positively to your day. No matter your approach, if you practice gratitude at work consistently, your own mood and outlook improve, and this improves your interactions with others.
Create a Great Vibe
Part of self-care is creating an environment you feel good about. Almost everyone notices an improvement in mood and attitude when they feel comfortable, inspired, energized, or calmed by their workplace environment.
Tailor your workplace environment to create the vibe you need. If you operate at a sprint, create one spot where you can find calm in the midst of your hurried pace. Opt for lamps instead of overhead lighting. Add an easy chair to your sterile office environment. Hang a painting of a relaxing ocean scene.
Whether you need a boost in energy or a moment to chill out, meet your own needs and improve your self-care practice through creating a thoughtful workspace.
Say Yes… and No
Lastly, when considering sources of stress and burnout in the workplace, we have to look in the mirror. What part do you play in actively preventing stress? How are you taking care of yourself daily?
Part of taking responsibility is setting boundaries. When you become assertive about saying yes to what brings positivity and growth and saying no to what drags you down or increases stress, you’ll make great strides in caring for yourself—at work and beyond.
The Ultimate Goal of Self-Care
Keep in mind the ultimate goal of self-care isn’t to improve yourself so you can earn more money or land a promotion. The point of practicing self-care in the workplace is to become the best possible version of yourself.
Take stock of how you’re spending time and energy. Are you investing more in your career than in personal wellness? Are you taking time for personal relationships? When was the last time you belly laughed? How much quality sleep are you getting? Are you carrying your phone around in fear of missing a message about work?
When you start investing in who you are and stop sacrificing your well-being, you’ll notice the time you spend at work is more valuable, meaningful, and fulfilling than before you implemented a self-care practice—all of which contributes to you being more productive, effective, and positive at work.
Be sure to check out Lensa for practical ways to boost wellness in the workplace.