6 Ways Young People Can Practice Self-Care at Work
Ugh…self-care…again! It seems like anytime you complain about feeling stressed out or overwhelmed the response is always, “You need more self-care.” It comes up so often, it’s easy to simply tune that person out, nod your head and go back to ruminating about work instead of incorporating self-care at work.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what self-care actually is. It’s not taking bubble baths or going on long walks alone on the beach contemplating life. Self-care itself is simply the act of caring for yourself. It’s a mindset. You have to believe that self-care will benefit you in some way AND that you deserve to prioritize yourself over work, family, partners – everything in your life – and carve out time for yourself.
Don’t skip this step because it’s important that you give yourself permission to prioritize yourself over everyone and everything else in your life. You’re not being selfish or narcissistic by putting your needs first; it means you recognize you’re human and you can only be your best self when you’re taking good care of yourself and your needs.
Now that you’ve given yourself permission to take better care of yourself, the next step is to figure out what exactly it is that you need to practice self-care at work. This is your opportunity to start to incorporate some self-care into your work life while simultaneously helping you identify specifically what’s making you feel overwhelmed and which habits and behaviors help you the most.
6 Steps to Practice Self-Care at Work
1. Simply Take a Five-Minute Break
This might seem obvious but ask yourself, “When was the last time I took five minutes to simply rest?” You probably take breaks throughout your day but what are you doing? Are you scrolling through social media, paying a bill, calling back a parent or friend? While these things don’t relate to work, they’re not really a “break.”
Set a timer on your phone and when the timer goes off, stop what you’re doing and move away from your desk and sit down somewhere quiet. Close your eyes and take in a couple of deep breaths. Check in with yourself. How are you feeling right now? What are you thinking about? What are you feeling in your body? Once the five minutes is over go back to work.
2. Go Outside of the Office
Again may seem pretty obvious but studies have shown that getting outside into nature is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. Exposure to nature lowers stress, improves your attention span, improves your mental health and even can help you increase your empathy. Even if you live in the middle of a metropolitan area, simply getting outside, breathing in fresh air, feeling the wind on your face will help you clear your mind and allow you to return to work with a new attitude.
Look at your calendar for the week and identify at least two-to-three days each week where you have 30-45 minutes open and schedule in your outside time. Treat it like any other appointment and honor that time and space for yourself.
3. Take The Stairs, Walk Around, Simply Move Your Body
If your job requires you to sit all day, finding time to move can be tough. Oftentimes the idea of putting on workout clothes and getting to the gym can feel impossible so you want to find every single opportunity in your everyday life to move your body. If you’re going to be on the phone for a while, take a walk outside or around your place. If you need to do laundry, make sure to take the stairs up and down in your building.
This one can be harder to plan so make sure to look at your schedule at the beginning of each day and identify one or two opportunities to move your body. The more you do it, the more you’ll find new ways to move your body.
4. Notice Your Eating And Drinking While At Work
There is an acronym mental health professionals use – H.A.L.T. – when someone is feeling overwhelmed and stressed out and doesn’t know what to do. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Notice that the first one is hunger. Not eating enough, eating too much sugar, or drinking too much coffee not only affects your body, it affects your mental health.
Get out a journal and for three days write down everything you eat and drink as well as how you feel an hour after each meal. After those three days, you’ll start to notice where and when you eat too much, not enough, or foods that make you feel sleepy or hyped up. These are your clues as to which habits you might need to change. Before you make a bunch of changes, pick one habit like eliminating that second cup of coffee or find ways to eat one more serving of vegetables each day.
5. Acknowledge Your Work Accomplishments
Self-care isn’t just about eating, moving your body and getting more exercise, it’s also about how you speak to yourself about yourself. One reason people get anxious and overwhelmed at work is they feel like they’re not performing well enough or they feel really underappreciated by their managers. It’s important for you to learn how to be your biggest cheerleader because unfortunately most managers and bosses tend to only recognize your performance when something goes wrong.
Start collecting email messages, notes, and performance reviews where someone is singing your praises. Every time someone sends you a message that makes you feel good about yourself and your work, save it. Each time you start to feel down about work or wonder, “What am I doing here?” open up that folder and re-read all of those notes as a reminder of how much you’ve accomplished.
6. Create A “Shutdown” Routine At The End Of The Workday
Cal Newport, author of several books including, Digital Minimalism has a great end to the work day routine. Newport will take five-to-ten minutes at the end of his day to check all of his notes, emails and calendar and make sure his list of “to-dos” is up to date and that he’s not missing anything. He scans this list and his calendar and notes anything that seems urgent so he knows to address that task first thing. He then shuts down his computer and repeats the phrase, “Schedule shutdown complete.” If he has a work-related thought or starts to worry that he missed something, he reminds himself he checked everything and he knows once he utters this phrase there is nothing to worry about.
You can adopt Newport’s system or you can create one of your own. At the end of the day make sure you have a list of what needs to get done for the next day. Schedule these tasks throughout the day so after you hop off that 10 a.m. meeting you know the next thing you’re going to work on because you’ve already scheduled it. Create your own phrase that helps you establish the end of the work day and when you feel compelled to get back online, remind yourself of this phrase.
Once you’ve had a chance to try out each of these suggestions, figure out which one or possibly two helped you the most and was the easiest to incorporate into your life. Self-care is a habit and just like any other habit it takes time to incorporate it into your life. It’ll feel awkward and uncomfortable at times and you’ll wonder if “taking this walk in the middle of the day” is really the best use of your time.
Self-care at work is about being proactive rather than reactive. By practicing self-care on a regular basis you’re taking control of your life and how you address your stress. When you make yourself a priority you’re making sure your own cup is filled first before going out and helping other people. You’ll have fewer of those moments where you feel like you just can’t give any more of yourself.
One of the reasons many people struggle with incorporating self-care is it’s hard to see the immediate benefits so you have to trust that if you commit to it for 90 days, there will be a pay-off. Make it a point to continue to notice how you feel at the end of each day and make tweaks to the next day so you don’t repeat bad habits.
Careers are long and you’re going to be working for a long time so remind yourself work is a marathon, not a sprint and if you don’t take care of yourself along the way and fuel your body and mind, you’ll find it hard to reach the finish line.
Even better… when someone asks you, “What do you do for self-care at work?” you have the answer!
More resources for Millennials and Gen Z
How to Tell Your Manager You Need a Break
Why Doing “Nothing” Isn’t Nothing