Once we grasp the concept of self-care, many of us set off on our self-care journey with the best intentions. We have all sorts of plans for how we’re going to add self-care into our lives and make it part of our daily routine. When we do so, we don’t always consider our time at work at how we can incorporate self-care into our work days too.
Back To Basics
Self-care doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Before we can do anything else, we need to make sure that we’ve got the basics covered.
With our work days brimming with all the ‘doing’, it’s easy to forget to drink enough at work. If we do remember to drink, it’s often caffeinated tea and coffee. Caffeine is a diuretic so although there’s nothing wrong with drinking tea and coffee, unfortunately, they’re not the most hydrating of drinks. Carrying a water bottle, and remembering to fill it up, can help us to stay hydrated throughout the day.
It can be a challenge to eat nutritious foods when we’re working. When we come in from work feeling absolutely exhausted, often the last thing we want to do is to start cooking up a storm. Doing some meal preparation at weekends or during less-busy times can help to make evenings a little easier. This could include things like pre-cooking and freezing meals to microwave, preparing and freezing bits of meals, such as vegetables or sauces, and making sure that we have lots of ‘easy’ things in our cupboards. Some of us might choose to meal plan a week at a time so that we don’t have to think about it on the day. When it comes to lunches, we could prepare lunches in advance or even batch make and freeze a week’s worth at a time.
Having a bedtime might sound like an odd suggestion. Many of us haven’t had a bedtime since we were children. But giving ourselves a bedtime and sticking to it can help us to get enough sleep. When we set our bedtime, it might be worth having a bit of a ‘pre-bedtime-time’; time to wind down away from screens and devices.
Creating a positive environment can make a big difference in how we feel during a working day. Whether we work in an office, at home, in a truck, or somewhere else, keeping our work environment tidy can help us to think more clearly. Sometimes it can be nice to have positive reminders around us, too. We could pop these around the office, on our desk, as a background on our phone or computer screen, in the front of our diary, or somewhere else.
A chair might not sound like much but it can make a big difference. If our chair doesn’t support us properly then we can end up with all sorts of aches and pains. Making sure that we have a suitable, supportive chair in our place of work – whether it be at home or in an office, can help to prevent needless aches, pains, and back problems.
What we wear can affect how we feel. If we’re really uncomfortable or too hot or too cold, it can make the work days drag more than usual.
Working With Screens
Eye tests are easy to forget, but they can be absolutely vital especially if we’re a regular screen user. So many of us now use screens as part of our work lives. If we need glasses and don’t have them, or have the wrong strength of glasses, then we can begin to suffer headaches. It’s important to get our eyes tested every two years, or earlier if we’re experiencing problems.
Screen breaks can be important – particularly if we spend whole days in front of a computer. Even just getting up and going to get another glass of water can help to give our eyes a rest and our legs a stretch.
Managing Our Time
We deserve to have time off-off from work; mentally and physically. With the advent in technology and social media, many of us work extra, unpaid, time over our contracted hours. Sticking to our hours as much as we can help us to have some downtime. If we can’t fit all of the work we need to do into the hours we’ve been contracted, there’s a conversation to be had with a manager or employer to renegotiate expectations.
As well as working over our hours, many of us work through our breaks. We hastily snaffle a sandwich whilst sat at our desk and reply to emails on our phones while we’re in the queue at a coffee shop. It’s important that we take proper breaks – step away from our screens, get some fresh air, eat our lunch, and then come back to our desk feeling ready to tackle whatever the next few hours have in store for us.
Lots of workplaces now offer flexitime. If we work somewhere that allows us to flex our hours then we can tweak them until we find a routine that we’re comfortable with. We might be someone who prefers to find a good routine and stick to it, or we might be someone who likes to have a different routine each week. Whichever camp we fall in, utilising our flexitime can allow us to mould our working hours into a pattern that works best for us.
Within our relationships with everything, there are boundaries; and that includes the relationship we have with our work and the people we work with. Without boundaries, there’s no space between ourselves and all else, there are no limits, no guidelines. It makes managing expectations really difficult when our boundaries are wonky.
Lots of us get into the habit of having work things on our personal phones. Whether it be our emails, our work Twitter account, or another app such as ‘Slack’. By having these accounts on our personal phones, it can be difficult to switch off because even when we’re at home, work stuff can keep popping up and distracting us. Initially, removing work apps can leave us feeling anxious because we might be worried that we will miss something. But over time we will learn that if there really is something that can’t wait, then someone will usually find a way to contact us about it. It can also be helpful to switch our work phones off when we’re at home and to keep them in our bag or somewhere else where we can’t see them.
For those of us who work from home, we might not have a ‘work phone’ and ‘home phone’, or ‘work laptop’ and ‘home laptop’, but we can still mute notifications when we’re not at work. We can shut down apps and browsers containing work things when we’re not on work time.
Often we add our work colleagues and maybe our employers on our personal social media accounts. There’s nothing wrong with that (so long as it doesn’t break any company policies), but there might be times when we feel as though we should add people that we don’t really want to be privy to our personal lives. Workplace politics can be tricky, but we absolutely do not have to accept people onto our personal social media accounts if we don’t want to. Additionally, if we do add people, and then they talk to us about work things, there’s nothing wrong with politely telling them that we’re trying to keep our work and home lives separate, and asking them if they could email us on our work account so that we can pick it up during our work days.
Our work days are peppered with instantaneous communication. We live in a very immediate world. Many people expect super speedy replies to their emails. If we’re finding this stressful, we can manage expectations using an email auto-responder to let people know that we will get back to them when we can, but due to the hours we work, we might not reply to them as quickly as they’re used to.
‘Should’ is a pesky word. It’s a word that we often use to beat ourselves up. We ‘should’ have done more in the time we had, ‘should’ have had a better outcome from a seminar we ran, ‘should’ have got our newsletter to print a day earlier. The list can go on, and on, and on. Recognising the ‘shoulds’ that we use, and asking ourselves whether they’re justified, can help us to be a little kinder to ourselves and cut ourselves some slack.
We rarely speak to ourselves in the same way as we would speak to others. Often, we’re much harder on ourselves than we are on our loved ones. Recognising how we speak to ourselves can help us to identify times when we need to give ourselves a break. When we make a mistake – what would we say to a colleague who made that mistake? If we’re worried that our boss is only saying that we did something well to be nice – what would we say to a friend who felt that way? There is a well-known saying about how we ought to treat others as we’d like to be treated, but sometimes it can be more helpful to turn that on its head and think about treating ourselves in the same kind way that we treat others.
Sometimes we prioritise our work over our health or our family. Defining our priorities can help us to take stock of what we really want and how much time and energy we want to allocate to different aspects of our lives. For some of us work might be our top priority, but for others, we might realise that other things come first.
Many of us under-value ourselves. This can mean that we take criticism that we maybe haven’t deserved. We might accept a wage below an amount that truly reflects our skill. Perhaps we don’t go for a promotion that we really want because we don’t see how brilliant we are. Allowing ourselves to see our true value and worth, and to celebrate our achievements, can help us to stop settling for less than we deserve.
Talk About It
There might be times when we’re worried about our work or over-stressed about a project. When these stressful times pop up, it can be helpful to speak to our line manager or colleagues, particularly if we feel as though we’re struggling to cope. As well as managing us, our boss or line manager is there to support us, and we should never have to work ourselves to breaking point. Many workplaces have human resources and occupational health departments, and the government have a scheme called Access To Work. These people are there to support us, and we can always contact them if we need some additional help or support.
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