When work gets busy or stressful, the little things we do to make ourselves feel good are often the first activities to fall by the wayside. At a time when every minute at the office feels precious, spending some time enjoying a good meal, taking a walk or listening to music can seem like a frivolous and selfish gesture. As paradoxical as it sounds though, foregoing these small pleasures, which are gestures of self-care, can actually have a negative impact on our work. When you don’t care for yourself, your mood, productivity and quality of work are all likely to suffer. Additionally, you may not show up to work with the desired energy to share with those around you. Regardless of when your “busy” time of year is, it’s important not to lose sight of your needs as a person.
Carving out a little time for self-care every day can be hugely beneficial. To accomplish this feat, you need to understand what self-care is, why it’s important and how to implement it in your daily routine.
Self-care vs. self-help
Self-care has become an increasingly popular term associated with everyone from Marie Kondo to Jonathan Van Ness, but it’s not always super well-defined. There is no single school of self-care nor any particular set of behaviors that constitute caring for yourself. For some, self-care involves limiting social media time, while others find self-care in a trip to the day spa. Aisha Harris of Slate broadly defines it as “the concept of consciously tending to one’s own well-being.”
It’s also important to define what self-care isn’t. Self-help programs usually have an end goal in mind for you, whether it’s making you “highly effective,” teaching you how to “win friends” or helping you harness “the power of now.” By contrast, self-care is about enjoying the moment for what it is. There should be no drudgery whatsoever in the act of self-care. As Kate Carraway writes in The New York Times, “If self-help is about fixing something, self-care thinks you’re already great.”
Why self-care matters
Practicing self-care will benefit you professionally. It can help minimize burnout, increase team member engagement and even boost productivity. The simple fact is that we cannot divorce our personal selves from our professional selves. What we do outside of the office—from sleep to nutrition and beyond—affects what we’re like at work.
It’s a common response to shun self-care tactics when we get stressed, especially during busier cycles at work. The reasoning seems sound: “If I devote less time to myself and more to work, my stress will go down,” you say to yourself. But it never works, because to have a clear head, be our most productive and perform well, we need to care for ourselves. Studies show, for example, that students who eat breakfast do better on standardized tests. That’s a perfect illustration of the link between self-care and performance.
Building self-care into your day
Understanding the importance of self-care is one thing, but putting it into practice can be a more difficult task. Odds are many of you reading this blog have developed lifelong habits of ignoring self-care during stressful times. Rewiring your behavior doesn’t happen overnight, but if you make a conscious effort to incorporate self-care into your day, you’ll start to see the upside almost immediately.
When it comes to making time for self-care, a little goes a long way. Taking five minutes after a meeting to center yourself and focus on your breathing is an act of self-care. Clocking out, either literally or figuratively, for 15 minutes to enjoy a cup of tea is too. It really doesn’t take much time to release one experience of a meeting or intensive work so that you can be fresh for your next task. If you take these moments to pause, you can handle external pressures in a healthier way.
My 3 Favorite Workplace Self-Care Activities
All of these beneficial behaviors can be completed in under five minutes, making them ideal for integrating into your workday.
Meditate - Modern apps like Headspace and Calm make it easy to practice mindfulness meditation effectively no matter how much time you have. If you don’t wish to meditate, consider taking a break and listening to music or reading an article or a book.
Eat a healthy, delicious snack - Eating healthy doesn’t have to be something done only for nutritional benefit. Almost all of us have preferred snacks we can enjoy guilt-free. Taking a second to really savor that yogurt and berries, rather than mindlessly consuming it for calories alone, is a simple pleasure.
Go for a walk - Walking regularly and grabbing some fresh air is among the best ways to reset. You can even consider turning a meeting with one of your staff into a walk and chat, rather than sitting in an office. Watch how much more productive you can be when moving and solving problems.
Larger acts of self-care can also be a part of your lifestyle. One of the most important is setting appropriate boundaries at work for how you manage your time. We’re all tempted to say yes to everything we’re asked to do, but that can overwhelm us in a hurry. Understanding that you’re only human and have limits will keep you from burning the candle at both ends. Not everything is a priority, so it’s important to determine what has to be done today versus what can be done tomorrow or later so that you can get the time you need to refuel. Watching what you eat, getting enough rest, and going to the doctor are also part of a healthy self-care routine. Ignoring your own needs may seem like a prudent move at the time, but it never is in the long run. No matter how chaotic busy season gets, you have to carve out time for yourself.