Self-care isn’t just a luxury for the C-suite; it’s an essential part of every job. It can combat the workplace stress that 44% of employees around the world experience – and improve our lives outside of our jobs, too.
What Is Self-Care?
Self-care is about taking care of ourselves ‒ not just our physical but also our mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. Developing the habit of self-care takes time and commitment, and it’s vital to building resiliency to the everyday stressors we encounter.
Self-care is also bio-individual: What feels soothing and relaxing to one person may not be as effective for someone else. What relaxes you is unique to your situation, your upbringing, your resources, and your preferences.
Nine Ways to Practice Self-Care During the Workday
Most people assume that self-care needs to take place on evenings and weekends, not during the workday. But self-care isn’t selfish; it should (and can!) be used every day. And your career should serve to improve both your personal and professional well-being, not be simply a means to an end.
Here are nine ways to make sure you’re taking care of yourself during the workweek.
1. Set boundaries and advocate for your needs.
Learn to say no if you have too much on your plate, especially if you want to stay excited and engaged at work. Although it might be appealing to look like an overachiever, saying yes to everything will eventually wear you out. Be honest with yourself about how much you can handle and always put your well-being first.
2. Go easy on yourself.
We’re often our own harshest critics. When you’ve made a mistake, ask yourself how you would speak to a friend or coworker in the same situation and then treat yourself that way. Mistakes are learning opportunities. Take accountability for what you did or didn’t do and start to turn the situation around by problem-solving.
3. Take walking and stretching breaks.
It’s easy to get caught up in the workday and not leave your desk for hours. But that practice isn’t good for us ‒ not for our backs and certainly not for our minds. The sedentary lifestyle that comes with most office jobs can lead to weight gain, back pain, and heart disease.
Not only do desk breaks allow for time away from your desk, but even simple exercises like walking and stretching are good for the mind and the body. Exercise is known to increase “happy hormones” like endorphins as well as serotonin, which regulates mood and appetite.
4. Stay hydrated.
Drinking more water throughout the day can help you feel more energized. Water bottles come in all shapes and sizes, and it can be fun to have a designated work bottle that you keep at your desk. Dehydration can cause your blood pressure to drop, which reduces blood flow to the brain and leaves you feeling exhausted. If you’re not a fan of plain water, here are some tips to brighten up your daily intake.
5. Give your eyes a rest.
Ever stared at a screen for so long that your eyes started to feel itchy and dry? Thanks in part to artificial light, headaches and blurred vision are common side effects of looking at devices for extended periods. For people who work on computers all day, blue light exposure is inevitable. Try instituting the 20-20-20 rule: For every 20 minutes spent using a screen, look at something that’s 20 feet away from you for a total of 20 seconds.
6. Schedule time for emails.
If your job involves lots of back-and-forth emailing, you can easily get bogged down in responding to people and lose time that’s needed for other tasks. Instead of interrupting your workflow every time a message is delivered, consider setting aside specific times that are dedicated to reading and answering emails. For example, check your inbox once when you start work, again before lunch, and then as the last task before you end your workday.
7. Opt for brain-healthy snacks.
Most people snack between meals, and snacking can be a healthy way to improve your energy when you hit that midafternoon slump. Brain-healthy and energy-boosting options include berries, nuts, seeds, green tea, dark chocolate, and seaweed. “What you feed your body impacts your brain, too,” says Integrative Nutrition Health Coach Meghan Vestal. “Supplementation works just fine, but getting nutrients from food is a more delicious way to keep your brain healthy.”
8. Make work friends.
Even if you’re not a social butterfly, having people you can chat with and rely on at work makes a world of difference. These connections can bloom into real-world friendships, too. Plus friendships are good for your health. Fostering a community of people is an important part of staying mentally well, and strong friendships can also lower stress levels at work and at home.
9. Celebrate small accomplishments.
Self-care also involves how you speak to yourself about yourself. Feeling overwhelmed and anxious at work is common, and many people may fear they’re not performing well enough or feel unappreciated by managers. It’s important to be your biggest cheerleader. Keep track of small accomplishments and remind yourself often that you’re doing a good job.
The Bottom Line
Burnout and exhaustion are often misread as signs that you’re a devoted employee and deeply committed to your career. But many people are now turning that expectation on its head. Overworking ourselves doesn’t allow us to reap the benefits of all that effort, especially when we’re too tired to enjoy our time away from the office.
Focusing on self-care at work can help balance productivity with the absolute need to support our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.