Self-care at work is all about working smarter. I spoke to Nadia Narain, yoga teacher and co-author of Self-Care in the Real world and Sarah Bladen, author of Practical Zen for Health, Wealth and Mindfulness about how to look after yourself in the workplace.
Self-care is no longer seen as indulgent or selfish but actually pretty crucial in the digital world we now live in, especially so in the workplace, where productivity is key. “When you take care of yourself you have more energy and resources,” says Nadia. “If you don’t it can translate to you reacting rather than responding to people or situations,” and nobody likes a frazzled and reactive coworker…
So what tips can you take to make sure you’re a delight to yourself and those around you? The first step is pretty simple and involves, quite literally, enlightenment
Let there be light
Make sure you have enough natural light in your workspace. Aim for a desk next to the window or try a SAD lamp if you find yourself working in a cupboard (um, if this actually happens, maybe it’s time to look for another job). You can also try a standing desk or at least check your seated posture and make sure your spine is straight and your shoulders relaxed.
No matter how much self-care you practise, chances are at some point you will be put under pressure. As soon as you begin to feel overwhelmed use it as your cue to take a break, or even better, prevent the feeling of overwhelm by setting an alarm to remind yourself when it’s time for a breather.
Sarah Bladen suggests bringing your meditation practice to work. “Being mindful and present throughout the day gets us out of overthinking and focused on the task at hand. Practising a short meditation is an excellent way of slowing down your blood pressure and balancing your emotions.”
There are also more novel ways to increase your levels of self care at work. “Liven up your surroundings. Place a fun pot plant on your desk, they’re proven to have a healing effect. And it may sound simple but smile as often as possible. Not only does it brighten up other people’s day, your brain starts to secrete happy hormones,” says Sarah.
Taking meetings out for a walk as an excuse to get some exercise is a favourite tip of Nadia who also encourages other group activities as a way of looking after your team. “One of mine and my sister Katia’s favourite ways to increase self-care at work is to get everyone to bring in a plate of food and do a ‘pot-luck lunch’. This is a nice way to build community and ensure you eat healthy food together.”
Of course, a group lunch is no fun when you don’t get on with your colleagues, and let’s face it, there are always some people you’re not going to see eye to eye with, or worse, someone who makes your life difficult…
One of the number one rules in self-care is removing toxic influences from your life. If someone is envious or just overly negative, the effects of their energy can be seriously damaging to your self-esteem, and sanity. Unfortunately, in the workplace there’s not a lot you can do to remove these people, so you may have to come up with other coping mechanisms.
Become a witness
Sarah suggests, “the best way to deal with toxic people is to become a witness when in their presence. Respond in a calm, non-reactive way rather than getting upset or angry. But then, be sure to process these emotions of frustration through movement… so maybe go to a yoga or gym class. Save your energy for your actual work rather than expending it on time-consuming emotional drama.
“It’s important to set your own ethical boundaries too. If necessary speak to your HR department or someone you trust so they are aware of what is going on. If the situation doesn’t improve and there is no hope in sight, it may be worth looking at ways to move on.”
Raise your vibration
It’s all about the positivity so one of the best ways to practise self-care at work is to play around with one of the many ways to boost your mood. You can get creative with mood boards, motivational podcasts or inspirational quotes. Try to stay away from things that subconsciously make you feel bad. If that happens to be comparing your life to celebrities on Instagram, just unfollow them. Simple!
Nadia suggests creating a Pinterest board and saving it as a screensaver on your computer. “You would want to think about how to see your day and what it should look like – calm, inspired, creative… and find images that reflect that. If you have a wall at your desk you could also put a physical mood board up, or you can fill a little notebook that you keep at your desk that you keep coming back to,” she says.
An attitude of gratitude
Journaling is a great way to put your thoughts into perspective. Spend five to ten minutes writing down what you’re feeling and let the words flow. If you’re going to have a moan about your coworkers remember to delete it after. Negativity only breeds more negativity and to practise self care at work you want to get out of that mindset as quickly as possible. It’s much better to focus on the positives than spiral into misery, so try to end your journaling session by listing a few key things you are grateful for.
Nadia Narain explains, “gratitude is one of our main practices in any area and we find the more grateful we are, the more our view changes in every area of our lives. If you can start being kinder to yourself, this then translates to your work, relationships and all other areas of your life. Try starting your morning by visualising how you see your day and three things that would make the day great.”
Another way to increase your self-care at work is by listening to podcasts. Sarah suggests listening to the Zenways dharma talk podcast channel, “otherwise, I love listening to chilled beach lounge music when I work. Something like Café Del Mar,” she says.
We all suffer a bit from imposter syndrome. A little bit of self-doubt keeps people in check but unfortunately has the after-effect of lowering our self esteem. One of the ways this manifests in the workplace is the dreaded imposter syndrome, but this doesn’t have to be entirely negative.
“It’s never a bad thing to be humble and at the same time pay attention to feeling inadequate. Sometimes a little imposter syndrome, keeps you on your toes.” says Nadia.
Sarah adds, “doubting your abilities and feeling like you aren’t good enough can happen to the best of us. Many successful artists suffer from crippling self-doubt. Sometimes this helps to fuel their creative work. However, it’s worth working on upping your self-esteem and building up self-love. It also helps to look at the bigger picture. If you are caught up in a swirl of downward spiral thoughts, simply bring awareness to your breath and slow it down. This immediately calms your nervous system.”
The main thing to remember with self-care at work is that you might not realise you need it until it’s too late, so the best way to prevent a total meltdown is to schedule in little bursts of self-care throughout your working day. And if things do hit the fan, however bad they may get, remember that you are always in control.