For some of us, work is stressful only sometimes. For others, it’s more-or-less constant. So let’s look into the ways you can practice self-care at work building an internal toolkit of stress-busting techniques that will give you ownership of your emotions, making you less reactive and more powerful to overcome any challenge.
Self-care: not just a buzzword.
Yes, everyone’s talking about #hashtag self-care and spa days and manicures and drinking herbal tea. All that’s great, but self-care isn’t and shouldn’t be something you do after work and on your days off as a treat. It isn’t something you need to spend money on. It isn’t even something that needs to be #insta-worthy.
Self-care is about prioritizing your own physical and mental health. It’s about creating a state of mind that allows you to cope with stress; a state of mind that will enable you to thrive.
Why would you limit that to outside of work hours?
Stress is a natural human response; we will never eliminate it from our lives. And work no matter what that work consists of is inherently stressful. Deadlines. Co-workers. Bosses. Expectations. Customers. Endless phone calls and emails. Noise, distractions, procrastination. Demands. …stress.
Some of us are more stress-prone than others. Some, like myself, have anxiety, and therefore become full-blown stress machines.
I’ve learned the hard way that managing stress and anxiety in the workplace is an absolute priority.
My life imploded in 2014 when I lost my job. It had been my first proper “grown-up” job with annual KPIs and performance reviews, office gossip and politics, new supervisors. I wasn’t ready, and it all went wrong.
It’s been a long time since then, yet even now as I write this, I tense up, my skin burns, and I’m filled with the same emotions: confusion, guilt, anger, and shame.
Yes, shame; I feel ashamed that I got fired. I hate writing those words. I feel ashamed that my anxiety meant I couldn’t handle a full-time job.
It took me two years to put myself back together; to build the skill-set to cope in the workplace, and to find the courage to apply for full-time jobs again.
And when I did get a full-time job, I used every single item on this list to keep my stress and anxiety under control. And it worked! I kept a lid on my anxiety, and my other skills and attributes could shine. After a year, I got promoted to a new, higher-paying job; one I liked much better.
That’s where I’m at now- in a job that, for the first time in my life, I feel I’m good at, that I enjoy. You better believe I still get stressed though. It’s still there. I still have to be proactive, every single day.
How to Practice Self-Care at Work
1. Use your lunch-break wisely
Don’t take the “lunch” part of “lunch break” too literally; it’s your break, and you can use it however you want. I eat lunch at my desk while I’m working, so I can then use those precious 30 minutes of freedom to get away from my workplace.
Here are some ways you can take full advantage of your break:
read a book
meditate or do deep breathing on a park bench
take a walk
do some stretching
do an errand such as going to the bank or a store
listen to an audiobook or podcast
write in a journal
read the news or some blogs
The main point is to get away from your desk and co-workers, both physically and emotionally, for at least 30 minutes. And you can do that with or without eating your lunch at the same time.
2. Take microbreaks
I have a superpower. I can take breaks without my colleagues even knowing that I’ve stopped working. I call it taking a microbreak, and you probably do it all the time too – you just don’t know you’re doing it, and you’re not taking full advantage of it.
Here’s what it might look like:
zoning out while you declutter and clean your workspace
walking to and from the bathroom
taking out the rubbish
walking to and from the water cooler or kettle
staring out the window for a minute or so
watering the office plants
The trick is to entirely disengage your mind while you do this. Every time your mind and emotions leave your workplace – that’s a microbreak. You may not be able to physically leave your workplace, but your brain can!
3. Drink water
Does something as simple as staying hydrated count as self-care? You better believe it does!
Drinking at least one liter across your workday will make a world of difference. All of that good stuff they say about water, and its benefits on our bodies and brains? It’s true. And a well-hydrated body and brain are much better equipped to cope with workplace stress. Add some lemon or berries for some flavor if you like.
Herbal teas, such as peppermint, chamomile, or lemon and ginger also count towards your daily water goal and have the added benefit of being super relaxing.
4. Try deep breathing
There is nothing as therapeutic as a few deep, relaxing breaths. If you’re stressed, or you’re on the road to becoming stressed, deep breathing is super useful.
The best thing is, you can do this at pretty much any time of the day. Just take a deep breath in from your stomach, hold it for a few seconds, breath out, wait a few seconds, and start again. Deep, slow, steady; then again.
5. Relax your muscles
Muscle relaxation is one of the purest forms of self-care you can do. You don’t need a bubble bath or masseur to do it; there are lots of ways to relax right now, and throughout your whole workday.
If you’re stress-prone or have anxiety, you’re probably used to being physically tense. You might not even notice that you spend most of the day feeling tight. Maybe it’s normal for you to be stiff and sore by the end of your shift.
Stress makes our muscles tense, and tense muscles make us stressed. It’s a vicious cycle. Do yourself a favor and be kind to your muscles.
Here are some simple ways to relax those muscles:
clench and unclench your jaw
rotate your shoulders
stretch your spine
move your head side to side and up and down- slowly!! Be gentle!
clench your fists and then release
massage your hands
If you’re able to leave your workspace, going for a quick walk is also super-effective.
6. Stretch it out
We have a poster on our wall that states we should take a stretching break every hour. It’s got a heap of tips and some sample stretches.
Lots of workplaces have something like that, and you know what? No-one ever takes stretching breaks!
Go against the crowd and try it out. Stand up and stretch. Try those stretches you learned in gym class, or follow a YouTube tutorial.
7. Be an organization wizard
Now, Jess, I hear you saying, you’re crossing into the productivity realm here. Yes, I am, so I’ll be brief: knowing exactly what you need to do, when to do it by, and how you’re going to do it, is critical to keeping your stress in check.
There are endlessresources on workplaceorganization out there, so you should explore and find systems that work for you. If you love organization as I do, go nuts; if it stresses you out, even more, keep it brief.
All I’ll say here is that you need a calendar system and a to-do system at the very minimum. At the start and end of each shift, know what your priorities are, and what can wait.
8. Try essential oils
Some people respond well to relaxing or energizing scents. If this is you, you might like to explore how fragrance can help de-stress your work day.
I have some hand cream with relaxing essential oils in it, and also a roller bottle of de-stress scents as well. I can physically feel myself relaxing when I use them.
9. Take anxiety seriously
This is the purest act of self-care. If you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, or you’ve already been diagnosed with one, then prioritize your mental wellbeing at work, please.
There are tons of great blogs out there (like mine, for instance!) focusing on how to create stronger mental health every day. Explore, and find resources you like.