The World Health Organization defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.” It’s a powerful tool that can help you manage stress in your everyday life — including stress in the workplace. If you’re starting a new job, or if you’re feeling stuck or stagnant at your current job, then it may be time for you to learn how to practice self-care at work.
Why Should You Practice Self-Care at Work?
Practicing self-care has many benefits for physical health, mental health, and even work performance. The benefits of self-care at work can include:
- Reduced stress;
- Improved mood;
- Improved concentration;
- Preventing burnout;
- Improved energy levels;
- Decreases in physical fatigue, such as muscle stress and headaches.
These benefits can positively influence not only your work performance, but also your attitude about your job. This can be especially beneficial for CNAs and other nurses because of their personal interactions with their patients.
Who Should Practice Self-Care at Work?
Whether you’re a certified CNA, a taxi driver, or a full-time candy maker, everyone experiences work-related stress and can benefit from practicing self-care at work. In fact, in a study done by Science Direct, it was shown that health care professionals tend to experience higher rates of distress in the workplace. This becomes especially true during widespread medical crises, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, which put a strain on an already high-stress workforce.
Despite higher rates of distress, health care professionals have shown to be less likely to seek out professional mental help due to stigma, as well as licensing concerns. These factors combined make it absolutely crucial for all health care professionals to integrate self-care practices into their work routine, to be able to address and manage the inherent stresses of the industry.
Ideas for Self-Care Activities at Work
If you’re entering a new career, or currently enrolled in a training program, you can set your intentions off on the right foot by practicing these self-care activities in the workplace:
- Stretch — stretching can relieve muscle tension as well as give our brains a break. You can stand from your workspace and stretch if you’re comfortable doing so, or there are specific desk stretches that you can do without having to leave your station.
- Drink more water — dehydration can cause irritability, fatigue, and dizziness throughout the day. Keeping a water bottle readily accessible is an easy way to reduce feelings of tiredness and improve your mood.
- Keep your workspace free of clutter — clutter can create feelings of stress, encourage procrastination, and increase the amount of time you have to spend on simple tasks. Having an organized workspace allows you to streamline easy tasks, such as finding a chart or record, and can inspire increased creativity and productivity.
- Variate tasks — performing a single task for an extended period of time can lead to feelings of frustration, ineffectiveness, and boredom, which can affect your entire workday or longer, depending on the project length. It’s important to, when possible, variate the tasks you’re doing throughout the day so that you feel stimulated and productive your whole workday.
- Take breaks when you need them — if you feel like you need a break, you shouldn’t feel guilty about taking one. These breaks can be as simple as walking the length of the hall, offering to grab coffee or lunch for your team, or even taking a second to walk outside. Denying yourself a moment to breathe and reset because it’s “not productive” can actually vastly reduce your productivity and motivation for the rest of the day.
- Integrate exercise — exercise is a proven stress reliever, so getting active during your day can help you stay sharp and motivated. This can include taking the stairs more often, parking further from your office or building, or biking to work if possible. Getting active at work isn’t about working up a sweat or burning calories, but rather about boosting your endorphins to maintain energy and improve your mood.
- Change up your surroundings — if you’re feeling frustrated and you have the option, try taking your work someplace other than your designated desk or station. A change of scenery can help refresh your perspective and soothe feelings of restlessness.
- Bring healthy snacks — hunger can make you irritable, and cause your energy levels to plummet. Bringing healthy snacks that you enjoy can allow you to snack guilt-free, and avoid hunger pains and mood swings.
- Store comfortable clothes — Having a pair of flats, a sweater, or blouse in your office or locker for temperature changes or accidental spills can help keep you comfortable and confident throughout the day.
Take Care of Yourself Before and After Work
Self-care in the workplace isn’t the only way you can reduce work-related stress. At-home practices, such as getting plenty of good quality sleep, eating a balanced diet, and preparing for your workday ahead of time can also help improve your work mentality and boost your performance.
Do The Activities You Like
It’s important to note that self-care can be highly personal, and what works effectively differs greatly from person to person. When performing self-care activities, try and center your experience around what tangibly betters your work experience and benefits you, personally. There’s no point in doing something in the interest of self-care if the activity isn’t actually caring for yourself or improving your circumstance.
Setting boundaries between work life and personal life is crucial. Depending on your job title or job needs, but you can start by:
- Not responding to work non-emergency work correspondence when you are off-the-clock;
- Having a separate account for your work documents, emails, and files so you are not accessing them simultaneously with your personal files;
- Leaving work at the office — resist taking files or paperwork home;
- Whenever possible, stick to a consistent schedule to train yourself into knowing subconsciously when it is “work time” and “home time”;
The degradation of these boundaries is often a huge contributing factor to burnout and workplace stress. Establishing these boundaries when starting a new job can be a form of self-care, and reduce your stress in the future.
Incorporate Mindfulness Practices
Mindfulness practices at work can be highly beneficial as well as practical because they can be done at any time. These practices can include:
- Breathing exercises;
- Positive affirmations;
- Visualization exercises.
These exercises can be performed on their own or in tandem with each other and can be tailored to what works best for you and your work schedule.
Do What You Can
There is no ideal amount of self-care that you have to perform in order to lead a more fulfilling career. Performing self-care is about doing what you can when you have the time. Putting pressure on yourself to perform self-care negates the concept of self-care. When entering a new job or career, there will be an inevitable learning curve while you get adjusted to your new routine, duties, and responsibilities. Including self-care into that learning curve can save you stress in the future, and set you up for success.
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