5 Tips for Practicing Self-Care at Work

If you’re like most people, you probably feel like the demands of your job are outpacing your pay and free time at an exponential rate.

In America, we’ve always put our faith in the value of hard work. Where Europeans tended toward shorter hours and more free time, we focused on the ability to make money and believed outworking everyone else was the way to succeed. But the truth is, after adjusting for inflation, wages have remained flat since 1978. And employer contributions in terms of benefits like insurance have decreased.

So, what does all this mean? Now, more than ever, we need to take care of ourselves, not only in our personal lives but also at work. But how do you do that and still keep everyone who depends on you happy:

1. Listen to your body, says Sharon Salzberg, meditation teacher and author of Real Happiness at Work. Our bodies tell us when we need breaks, but we often counter our fatigue with things like caffeine and sugar.

Try to take a break every 90 minutes, says Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less. Creativity and attention work on biological rhythms, and we need to pay attention to those rhythms. Use your lunch breaks as true breaks. Where possible, schedule things like meetings for the times you feel most energized, saving the repetitive tasks for the others.

2. Set clear boundaries between work and free time. Today’s digital world can make it easy to become smothered with after-hours work demands, but don’t underestimate the importance your free time has on productivity.

Setting boundaries between the two protects the quality of your attention for both. Set a strict end time to your workday and shut off your phone and other electronic devices during family time. If you can’t resist the chime of incoming emails or texts, use an app like Freedom to block your online access during these times.

3. Bring a little of your personal taste and style to work. In a head-to-head comparison, one study showed that new employees who were allowed to decorate their work environment were more productive and satisfied than those who weren’t.

You don’t have to go all out, bringing a personalized throw rug and your favorite lamp. Your boss may not even allow it. Print a couple of photos instead and put them in an inexpensive frame, or bring a figurine or other curio that you can put away at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter what. Just having something you can call your own gives back a little of the control lost in the chaos of the workaday world. [1]

4. Never stop learning, especially at work. A LinkedIn Learning study showed that more than half of the people surveyed considered self-care at work to include self-improvement through learning. Seventy-one percent of those surveyed said they felt happier and more fulfilled when learning. [2]

5. And, finally, communicate in a way that creates a win for everyone. We can’t control others, but we can control how we communicate with them.

The late psychologist and mediator Marshall Rosenberg pioneered a method for achieving this goal called Nonviolent Communication. Using this method, you observe disagreements or sore points (like a coworker constantly showing up late for meetings) without judgment, identify the feelings involved without blame, locate the universal human needs at play, and request a positive outcome rather than demand it. Communicating this way sets up an environment of mutual problem solving that leaves everyone happier and more satisfied.

[1] https://experiencelife.com/article/7-self-care-strategies-at-work/

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/shelcyvjoseph/2019/08/28/you-can-practice-self-care-at-work-too-heres-how/#42b2b5ef2d99