Friday, July 19, 2024

Self-care in the workplace: A simple guide

Whether you work remotely or nine to five in the office, balancing your professional life and personal wellbeing is a challenging but essential task. Pressured by tight deadlines and high workloads in a fast-paced work environment, many employees struggle to incorporate self-care into their lives.

But this struggle is largely due to misconceptions about what self-care actually entails. 

Many workers think self-care is about keeping in physical shape and relaxing in their time off work, treating it as a luxury and limiting it to their personal time. You may think of spa days, meditation retreats or a morning workout before work.

In reality, practicing self-care is a necessity and requires you to take full responsibility for your health, setting goals to be the healthiest version of yourself both in the workplace and in your personal life. 

Using the same planning, organization and problem-solving skills your job demands, you can incorporate effective self-care practices throughout your workday.

Identify Your Individual Needs

Ask yourself, “What does self-care mean for you?”  While exercising and healthy eating are important self-care strategies for everyone, especially office and remote workers, we all have our own needs. 
 

Self-care extends beyond our physical bodies and involves all aspects of our lives. 

Research shows that workers who practice self-care to improve all aspects of their health perform better at work and are more resilient to setbacks in their personal lives and careers.

This means reflecting on how your own circumstances are affecting your well-being and taking steps to overcome your unique barriers to good health. Start by brainstorming aspects of your life you would like to change, considering your physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and financial needs. 
 
You can also try self-assessments from self-care toolkits to help you determine your health needs and set personal goals.

Maintenance Self-Care

 
Once you have identified your personal barriers in each domain, it’s time to plan strategies you can implement regularly to address them. For each barrier to well-being you have identified, brainstorm a few self-care practices and write these down as a to-do list. 
 
Remember that you will notice few improvements at first, but forming healthy habits from consistent practices will make a significant difference over time.  Brainstorm steps you can take towards your health goals which you can implement on a daily or weekly basis. 
 
Physical Health 

It may go without saying, but taking care of your physical well-being is essential to success at work and to enjoying a high quality of life. 

Physical self-care means taking steps to prevent and manage medical conditions and to help your body function at its best. And if you’re feeling perfectly fine, you can still take steps to keep your body in its optimal shape and feel even better!

If you have a desk job, you might have headaches or wrist pain from frequent computer use, or perhaps difficulty exercising and maintaining a healthy weight.

Some physical self-care strategies for you might include adjusting your workspace’s ergonomics, taking regular short breaks away from your desk, and scheduling walking meetings to discuss work matters with your colleagues.

And rather than grabbing fast food on your lunch break, taking time each morning to pack a nutritious meal will keep your energy levels high. 

Complex carbohydrates, high-protein food sources, and fresh fruits and vegetables will ward off physical illness, reduce mental fatigue, and arm you with the brain power to produce your best work in the office.  

Emotional Health

Since stress, depression, and burnout can wreak havoc on your personal and professional life, it’s essential to prioritize mental health as much as your physical well-being. 

Emotional self-care requires you to reflect on how your lifestyle makes you feel, understand how you cope with negative emotions, and develop more effective strategies to manage them.

If you are feeling stressed, finding a way to practice mindfulness such as adding short movement breaks or meditation sessions to your daily routine can help reduce stress hormones and alleviate tension in the body. 

Studies also show that when practiced consistently over extended periods, these relaxation techniques can provide life-changing emotional health benefits. 

It’s essential to find methods for improving your work-life balance if excessive tiredness or symptoms of burnout arise. Limit your working hours where possible and set time aside each day for things that you enjoy.

In today’s fast-paced work environment, many wear a busy lifestyle as a badge of honor and experience “productivity guilt” when their workloads are reduced. This makes feeling guilty one of the most common barriers to physical and emotional self-care.

Going the extra mile to help your boss and co-workers is a great way to build positive professional relationships, as long as you set healthy boundaries between your work and personal life.  Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential to your emotional well-being and your capacity to serve others.

This is why learning to say “no” to excessive workloads is important. When your supervisor or coworkers ask you for a favor, prioritize your own commitments and only agree to it if you are certain you have the spare time and energy. 

This also applies to work-related communication. By responding to your clients’ and co-workers’ messages outside of your working hours, you deprive yourself of needed personal time to attend to your health needs and other personal affairs. 

While you may need to take occasional calls from clients in different time zones, it is important to set aside some personal time in which you avoid responding to any work-related matters.

Social Health

Being part of a community is essential for survival. 

Many studies link social isolation with mental illness and premature death while tying strong community relationships to longer life expectancies. Social self-care involves maintaining positive connections with others and staying active within your community.

A simple strategy to add more social connection to your life is to initiate conversations with a few people each day. Whether it’s starting a friendly chat with a co-worker or touching base with a friend, talking to people can relax you and ease feelings of loneliness.

While small talk with acquaintances is beneficial, research shows that deeper relationships factor more in long-term health outcomes. For this reason, you should prioritize relationships with your family and friends with whom you have common ground. 

Commit to having meaningful conversations with these people each day and doing mutually fun activities together.

That being said, It’s equally important to minimize contact with people who treat you with hostility or disrespect since unhealthy relationships contribute to depression, low self-esteem, and a host of physical health problems. 

If you are experiencing such conflict with family or coworkers, you may need some time apart and possibly a meeting to clear the air and work through your differences.

Intellectual Health

While most people appreciate the importance of mental and physical health, younger adults rarely think about keeping their brains in top condition. 

However, brain health influences our essential cognitive functions, such as impulse control and decision-making, making it a cornerstone for well-being in other areas.

The saying, “Use it or lose it!” especially applies to your brain, so it is important to keep your lifestyle intellectually stimulating. Creative activities such as writing, painting or playing a musical instrument, and logical games such as bridge or chess are simple activities you can try in your own time to keep your brain sharp. 

But more long-term challenges, such as studying a course in a new field or an intellectually challenging job, provide the greatest benefit. 

Consider whether your job is sufficiently extending your thinking and problem-solving skills. Some easy ways to make your professional life more stimulating include:

  • Offering to shadow your boss in duties outside your job description
  • Learning about different roles in the company
  • Talking to and assisting your co-workers
  • Learning new skills by taking advantage of your company’s professional learning programs

Eating well and exercising regularly are also important ways to keep your brain healthy. 

Studies show that physical workouts which involve your thinking capacities, especially dancing, aerobics, and swimming, will slow down cognitive decline. This happens by encouraging cell and blood vessel growth, along with thickening gray matter in your cerebral cortexes.

You can reap these benefits with similar exercises on your breaks, such as yoga poses, tai chi stretches and short power walks.

Limiting sweets, fast food and consumption will also minimize brain inflammation and age-related decline.

Spiritual Health

Of all of the health domains, spiritual health may be the least understood. 

The term might make you think of worship and prayer to a higher power, yet religious practices are only one aspect of spiritual health. Self-care practices in this domain ultimately depend on one’s existential beliefs and can vary significantly between individuals.

For this reason, understanding your personal values and beliefs is key to finding the best spiritual self-care practices for you.

If you identify with a religion, consistently practicing its teachings and engaging with like-minded religious communities can strengthen your faith and fill your days with a sense of purpose and meaning.

But whether you are religious or not, spiritual self-care is also about strengthening your connection to the world and finding your purpose in life. 

Many get caught up in the grind of the modern world, pursuing a career and lifestyle that provides them with material wealth yet leaves them feeling mysteriously unfilled.

If you struggle to find meaning and fulfillment in all of your life experiences, dedicate some time each week to exploring your passion and try to make decisions throughout your day which align with your personal values. 

Financial Health

Good financial health means having a stable income which allows you to live comfortably, pay your bills, and treat yourself to expensive pleasures. This includes having enough to cover unexpected expenses in an emergency and still take holidays with your friends and family.

By proactively managing your income and expenditure, you can significantly reduce your stress levels and improve your overall quality of life. Simple financial self-care practices include:  

  • Sticking to a weekly, fortnightly or monthly budget
  • Tracking your spending with budget planning tools to identify unnecessary expenses
  • Making frequent payments towards any debts
  • Putting money into an emergency fund regularly for unexpected expenses
  • Understanding tax deductions you can claim and keeping records of any tax-deductible transactions.

Self-Care Challenge

 
When you have decided on your strategies, it is essential to ask yourself, “What might get in the way?” Then, consider how you might overcome these challenges or adjust your strategies to accommodate them.  
 
For example, if your work schedule leaves little time for physical exercise or recreation, you may decide to take frequent short movement breaks from your desk. 
 
Asking your co-workers for favors and using time management tools such as planners and to-do lists can also help by making your workflow more efficient.  
 
Most importantly, remember to set realistic expectations for yourself when implementing your self-care plan. It takes patience and practice for lifestyle changes to become habits, and your emotional and physical circumstances often change. 
 
You won’t always get through every strategy on your list and may find yourself taking days off from your self-care routine. 
 
And that’s okay.  
 
When you find your practice slipping, just refocus on your plan and well-being goals when possible.

Reviewing Your Self-Care Plan

Since your health needs change over time, you should continually adjust your self-care practices to reflect new needs. 

While major life changes such as a new job or moving house can introduce a range of new self-care needs, even short-term changes to your emotional and physical health, commitments and relationships can require you to adjust your lifestyle differently.

For this reason, it is important to monitor your self-care strategies and assess their effectiveness over time. 

Reviewing your plan regularly will allow you to identify new barriers to well-being and effective strategies to address them. By observing changes in your health as you implement each strategy, you can identify practices that aren’t working for you and replace them with more effective ones. 

Insight Measures

It is vital to consider your self-care strategies in relation to your personality and values. Insight measures are indicators that teach us about ourselves and that should inform how we practice self-care.

For example, socializing with friends, family and co-workers can be a significant stress reliever and energy source for extroverts. However, people who depend on frequent social interaction for energy may develop unhealthy habits to cope with extended periods of isolation.

A self-care plan for an extrovert could include frequent social interaction and practicing healthy ways to cope with being alone, such as mindfulness practices, exercise or contacting a support service such as Friendline. 

If you’re an introvert, however, frequent social interaction might drain you, and solitary activities such as meditation, quiet nature walks, or engaging in hobbies by yourself may be what help you unwind and recharge. 

But remember to share your thoughts and feelings with important people. Using your support network can be crucial for your emotional wellbeing, but it often comes more naturally to extroverts. 

Personal values questionnaires and personality tests such as Myers-Briggs are valuable resources for learning more about yourself. The results can explain why particular strategies are not working and help you decide what to do.

Progress Measures

As you implement your plan, having a reliable means of measuring your progress is very important when assessing your self-care practices.

Progress measures help you monitor how you implement your strategies and assess whether they are moving you toward your goals. For physical health, these measures can include keeping a food diary, periodically measuring your weight on a scale, and tracking your daily steps using fitness apps.

For social and emotional health, keeping a journal that describes your feelings, interactions with other people, and how you practice your strategies can provide you with essential data that informs your future self-care planning.  

As a bonus, you can use progress measures to hold yourself accountable, motivating you to stick to your plan.

Journaling

By keeping a self-care journal, you gather important data that informs your implementation of the strategies and helps you identify necessary adjustments to your plan. Journaling also keeps your plan at the front of your mind, which may help motivate you to practice self-care consistently.

At the end of each day, write a few sentences about what happened, how you felt, and any strategies you implemented from the plan. For best results, include:

  • A brief recount of your day
  • Self-care practices you attempted
  • Details about how you implemented these strategies.
  • Your emotional state over the course of the day
  • Challenges that affected your self-care practice
  • Any new health concerns or problems that might affect your plan

When done properly, practicing self-care will maximize your performance, productivity, and happiness at work while keeping you healthy and happy as you age. For best results, be sure to reflect on your own health needs and obstacles and then take proactive measures to address them.

When you combine this reflection with a continuous review of your strategies’ effectiveness, you become a healthier and happier version of yourself in every way!

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Tim Ward

Tim Ward

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