“Self-care equals success. You’re going to be more successful if you take care of yourself and you’re healthy.” ~Beth Behrs
Does your job ever seem to take over your life?
Mine has, more than once, despite some drastic changes to stop it each time.
For twelve years I worked a sixty-hour-a-week consulting job in London, UK. I loved my team, and much of my work, but I wasn’t good at switching off.
Whiplash from a minor car accident initiated a chronic pain condition that grew worse and worse with each passing day.
I didn’t think I was allowed to take care of myself at work. At work, I felt my focus should be on being productive, getting more done, being the best, getting promoted, earning more—on success.
But my definition of success wasn’t bringing me happiness.
The moment when my chronic pain was such agony that I spent an entire conversation with a beloved team member holding back tears, not hearing anything they said, was a wake-up call.
I told myself what a bad manager I was, piling negative feelings on in addition to the grinding, constant physical hurt.
I created suffering on top of the pain.
After a lot of soul searching, I took a sabbatical where I planned to “lie on a beach and rest.”
But I took my personality with me. I never went back to my job, but within a few years, I’d created a new life, that I also loved, but I worked in 25 countries and took 100 flights a year.
Oh, and I caught strep throat seven times in that same year.
This time, when I realized what was happening, my suffering was a little less. I was frustrated, but at this point, I had developed a self-care practice. I had more tools, more self-kindness, more self-compassion.
Last year, another busy year when I wrote a book about work wellness and ran an international consulting practice, I went to the emergency room several times.
What I thought was my chronic pain had gotten so bad I admitted I needed help.
At the hospital, they decided to do exploratory surgery. And found endometritis, which had caused a 6cmx4cm cyst and spread infection throughout my abdomen. It took the removal of the cyst and a further eight days of intravenous antibiotics before they’d send me home.
I took some time off….
Now while I can’t say I’m never going to go through this loop again, what these experiences have taught me is that in order to be the best version of ourselves, it’s as critical to take care of ourselves at work as is it as at home.
It’s not just okay to take care of yourself at work, it’s obligatory.
Despite the fact our job often takes up a third of our waking hours or more, most of us feel it’s inappropriate to think about ‘fluffy’ concepts like work wellness, or self-care, while we’re working.
If we neglect habits of kindness to ourselves in this arena, our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors at work can lead to burnout, resentment, anger, or exhaustion.
Bringing an attitude of self-kindness and self-compassion to work is likely to make you a better employee. You’ll have more energy to work with the difficult customers and challenging employees, or on the complex and confusing tasks that are dumped on you.
The following are ideas you can try at work to ensure you nourish yourself in that context. They are designed to be small and inexpensive. Leave those that don’t speak to you, but make the choice to include several in each week—and start today.
Simple Self-Care for Physical Work Wellness
1. Clean your tech mindfully. Take three minutes to wipe down your phone, laptop, screen, anything technological you use for work. As you do, be grateful for what these technologies add to your life.
2. Sit up straight. We all have a tendency to slump over our keyboards. Adjust your posture: pull your shoulders back and align your head with your spine.
3. Take one deep breath. Just one. But make it a good, long one. Breathe out and imagine that breath flushing through your body and going into the earth to ground you.
4. Plot a route. Plan a short (20-minute) easy walk you can take at lunch or during breaks at least twice a week. Put it in your diary.
5. Stand up. Use a box or books to lift your keyboard and screen so you can stand up to work. Vary your position during the day between standing and sitting.
6. Scents memory. Find an essential oil or item that you can smell at your desk to energise you, like mint or citrus—especially useful in that post-lunch slump.
7. Light up. Ensure your lighting is sufficient and as natural as possible, and your screen is at an appropriate brightness.
8. Step up. Take the stairs. If you work on the 30th floor, you don’t have to take every flight. Try one flight for a week, then add in more over time.
9. Add color. Wear one small item of your favourite color to work. A tie, pantyhose, socks, cufflinks, lipstick, a hairband, a necklace, earrings, bag etc.
10. Pre-plan health. Identify three healthy meals at your three most-visited lunch places. At least once a week, don’t even look at the menu, order one of those.
11. See green. Spend a few minutes a day looking at something green and alive. If you can’t see out of a window, get a plant.
12. Return to neutral. At the end of the day take two minutes to tidy clutter away and wipe the surface down. This will make the next morning a nicer experience.
13. Stretch while sitting. Roll your shoulders back, straighten each leg and point your toes, lift your arms above your head, and point your fingers to the sky. Move your body for a few seconds in a way that feels good.
14. 20:20:20. Every 20 minutes, look at something for 20 seconds, 20 feet away, to help prevent eye strain.
15. Object of solace. Bring to work an item that brings you physical comfort. A soft sweater, a smooth pebble, a stress ball—anything that grounds you in your senses and can bring you secret consolation on a difficult day.
Simple Self-Care for Emotional Work Wellness
16. Choose a soundtrack. Find a song that energises you, and play it just before you start work (on headphones!) or on your commute to put you in the right mood.
17. Focus on others. When you interact with colleagues (or suppliers, clients, other freelancers) ask them a couple of questions about themselves before you talk about you.
18. Be vulnerable. Share something small about your personal life—a hope, fear, dream, wish, desire—with a work colleague. Ask them about theirs.
19. Build connection. Ask someone new to lunch or for a coffee.
20. Take notice. Say happy birthday or congratulate someone on something they achieved on one of their tasks or projects.
21. Know your personal brand. Write down the five words (qualities, behaviors, knowledge, etc.) others are most likely to associate with you at work.
22. Push through a small emotional discomfort. Take an action you find mildly uncomfortable—talking more in a meeting, talking less, sharing a mistake etc. It will then be easier to do later when you don’t have a choice.
23. Deepen a workplace relationship. Identify someone at work you want to know better. Increase the quality and quantity of your interactions.
24. Connect to a positive memory. Choose a physical item to go on your desk that uplifts you because of its associations (e.g., a foreign coin from a holiday, a special photo).
25. Celebrate. Take a moment to celebrate (privately or with colleagues) a small work win before you rush on to the next task.
26. Create a workplace tradition. Connect colleagues with “Pizza Friday/; or “morning-coffee-and-catch-up,” even if it’s through Zoom.
27. Look forward. Always have something at work you’re looking forward to. Create that thing yourself, if necessary.
28. Build a positive attitude. Think of three things that make work great for you (a friend, a project, a client, a café you visit in your lunch hour), and write a list of these over time. Include one in each week.
29. Take the long view. When upset about a mistake you made, or something that happened, ask yourself, will this still matter to me in five years?
30.What matters? Take a helicopter view, and think about—what do I gain from this job? What does it bring me? Is there a balance between the rewards and the work?
Simple Self-Care for Mental Work Wellness
31. Use physical boundaries. Help your brain switch off via “thresholding” at the bookends of your day. Step through the door that leads into your workspace and tell yourself “I am at work’ “Step out of your workspace and tell yourself “I have left work.”
32. Find your values. Write down the things that are important to you at work and circle the top three to four. Use these to guide decisions.
33. Get feedback. Ask five people who know you well what they see as your top three strengths and development areas.
34. Improve one thing. Choose a behavior that is not working for you and experiment with doing it differently.
35. Have a walking meeting. Ask a colleague with whom you have a meeting planned if you can do this while outside and moving.
36. Get unstuck. When working on a creative challenge, set a timer and free write for five minutes on the problem.
37. Expand your perspective. Ask a colleague to talk you through how they approach a common issue you both experience.
38. Use a timer. Choose a task you do regularly where you know roughly how long it takes, and set a timer for 10 percent less than that. Complete the task in less time.
39. Learn something. Listen to a podcast, read a blog article or several pages of a non-fiction book at the start or end of your day.
40. Know where you’re going. Pick a small career goal and write down three actions that would get you closer to it. Complete one action.
41. Be curious. Always have something you’re learning or developing relevant to your work—a book, course, discussions, professional development etc.
42. Distance self-talk. Create some objectivity in your thoughts by talking to yourself using your name, or second or third person.
43. Make a “small pleasures at work” list. Write down the smallest behaviours (e.g., smile at a friend) you can do that bring you joy in the workplace. Include one in every day.
44. Determine a downer. What one activity do you find most draining at work? What small action can you take to make that activity just a fraction easier for yourself?
45. Enjoy the process as much as the outcome. Achieving a goal can bring delight, but the journey to get there is likely to take longer, so find ways to make the process just as enjoyable.
We Are What We Do Every Day
In the end, the actions we do most often are those that make up who we are.
If we’re going to be our best self, we need to keep self-compassion and self-care in mind at work as well as outside it.
Treat your work as an integral piece of who you are as a whole.
Break out of your loop. Pay attention to your work wellness.
Pick one of the ideas and try it today.
**Ellen has generously offered five copies of her new book, Your Work Wellness Toolkit: Mindset Tips, Journaling, and Rituals to Help You Thrive at Work, to Tiny Buddha readers. Offering 100 simple and super-effective exercises, Your Work Wellness Toolkit is a practical guide to nurturing yourself at work so you can feel calmer, more productive, and more energized, every day.
To enter to win a copy, leave a comment below sharing which self-care exercise above resonated with you most strongly, then email the link to your comment to Ellen at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Tiny Buddha Giveaway” in the subject line.
You can enter until midnight PST on Friday, February 18th. She’ll choose the winners at random and contact them soon after!