In honor of September being Self-Care Awareness Month, we’ll be sharing some thoughts about the less-discussed sides of self-care. First up: Self-care at work, because our needs doesn’t stop at the office door!
When you think of self-care, what comes to mind?
If you’ve gotten most of your education on self-care from television and social media, you might think of self-care primarily as indulgence (the “Treat Yourself” model of self-care). Think wine, bubble baths, vacations, spa days. Life is tough — you deserve this.
If you’ve been to therapy, or perhaps read some self-help books, you probably know that indulgences are fun (and sometimes necessary), but they’re only the icing on the cake when it comes to self-care. The building blocks of self-care are far less glamorous, and often, they require work: Setting boundaries. Nourishing and moving your body. Budgeting. Asking for help when you need it. Getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep.
We don’t often talk about what self-care looks like in our professional lives, but we should. For most of us, work takes up a huge chunk of our waking hours. Often, it also makes up an important part of our identity. All these factors mean that it has a huge impact on our overall mental health and well-being. It’s hard to feel healthy overall if we’re burned out or distressed in our work life.
What does it meant to practice self-care at work?
Self-care at work is more than just achieving that “work-life balance”. It’s about finding ways to feel engaged, connected, and empowered in your professional life too. What might that look like?
Just like setting boundaries with friends and family is important, it’s also important to set boundaries at work. That might mean saying no to work that doesn’t help advance your career, like the “office housework” that women and people of color are disproportionately enlisted into. It might also mean setting boundaries with yourself and others around your availability. For example, leaving your work laptop at the office, or taking a real break for lunch away from your desk.
Giving and Receiving Support
Taking advantage of opportunities for mutual support can be a crucial lifeline when work is stressful. It can also be instrumental in helping to advance your career over time. This includes formal support networks, such as participating in an ERG or mentoring program, but it can also be informal. You don’t have to be besties with your coworkers, but building positive relationships with colleagues can improve your well-being and your performance.
Advocating for Appropriate Compensation
Whether you love your job or hate it, at the end of the day the vast majority of us are here to make a living. Advocating for yourself financially is an important piece of self-care. After all, our financial well-being impacts virtually every other area of our lives. It’s really hard to care for yourself when you’re struggling to make rent or pay your bills. Learning to negotiate for yourself is a skill — and often a tough one for women and people from marginalized groups, given our socialization — but it is one that can be learned and practiced.
Spending Time on Engaging or Interesting Activities
Do you have activities in your work day that engage you mentally or creatively? This is an important part of self-care at work that can be missed. Being mentally engaged is a critical piece of avoiding burnout. If your workday has become dull or monotonous, looking for opportunities to learn something new or engage a different part of your brain can help. That might look like mentoring a newer employee, switching teams, or asking to work on a project you wouldn’t normally be part of.
Treating Yourself with Patience and Compassion for Mistakes
Workplaces can be a hotbed of comparison and perfectionism. Everyone’s trying to look their best (and hide when they’re slacking off or struggling). And even in friendly, supportive workplaces, there’s competition for limited promotions and resources. It makes sense that our inner critic can be overactive in our work life! But beating ourselves up for human mistakes or our growth edges is almost never helpful. Cultivating patience for our professional imperfections can help us develop tenacity and set us up for continued, sustainable growth.
Making Plans to Leave Jobs That No Longer Serve Us
Sometimes, there’s just nothing that we can do to make a bad job work for us. All the self-care in the world can’t change the realities of an abusive boss, or a salary capped well below a healthy standard of living. Maybe you’re looking at this list and thinking there’s no way to even make a dent in your health or happiness at work. On the other hand, perhaps you’re sticking around in a job where you’ve stopped growing because you enjoy your coworkers. Or maybe you’re being held back by a sense of guilt or anxiety when you imagine moving on.
If that’s the case, it may be time to start planning your exit strategy. Even if it’s months or longer before you can start making moves, it can be comforting and empowering to know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
How do you take care of yourself at work?
This isn’t a comprehensive list of what self-care looks like at work, but hopefully it’s gotten you thinking about professional self-care in a new light. What are you already doing for self-care at work? What areas might need some extra attention?
If your work life is a struggle, therapy can often help. As a psychologist who works primarily with women of color in business and tech, professional self-care is a topic that comes up frequently (even if we don’t label it as such). I often work with clients to help clarify what they want out of their professional lives, or to build skills for communicating boundaries with others on their team. Other times, I may help clients overcome barriers that are holding them back from advocating for themselves, or leaving a job they no longer want.
As we mark Self-Care Awareness Month this September, I encourage you to give some thought to what self-care at work means to you!
About the Author
Dr. Maya Borgueta is a clinical psychologist, and the founder of Stella Nova Psychology, a San Francisco therapy clinic. She specializes in working with women of color in business and tech, and knows how hard it can be to practice good self-care in white male dominated industries.
Maya offers individual online therapy for a variety of problems at work and at home, including anxiety, professional burnout, relationship issues, trauma and more.
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