Are you fostering self-care at work?
The long standing ethos of ‘more, bigger, faster’ is based on a misguided assumption that our personal resources are infinite.
Indeed, our personal resources are far from infinite (as we all know), and if we fail to exercise self-care at work (and beyond), it not only affects job performance and moral, but it also puts our health at risk.
The Exhaustion Funnel
Marie Asberg, professor at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, describes burnout as an “exhaustion funnel” we slip down as we give up things we don’t think are important.
Williams and Penman note in their best-selling book, Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world, that “often, the very first things we give up are those that nourish us the most but seem ‘optional’, and the result is that we are increasingly left with only work or other stressors that often deplete our resources, and nothing to replenish or nourish us”.
Exhaustion is the result.
Where the top of the Exhaustion Funnel represents a full and balanced life, with work, family, friends, hobbies, interests; the bottom of the Exhaustion Funnel represents a life that has been stripped down to merely doing those things we have to do to keep going about our day to day – work, cleaning, food, shopping etc.
It can be very easy to slip down the exhaustion funnel if we fail to exercise self-care.
Top tips to foster self-care at work:
Self-care requires self-awareness; knowing what we need in every moment of the day, week, month and acting upon it as best we can.
- Regular lunch breaks away from your desk and ideally away from the office environment (a walk around the block or to the nearby park) - even if it's only for 20 minutes (a 30-minute to one hour lunch break is ideal)
- Accept that it will never all get done and that to-do lists are by nature endless: there will always be more work than time.
- Take regular leave across the year – indeed that’s why we have annual leave - to rest, restore and recover. Holidays, regular working hours – these are just a few of the developments of a modern work place.
- If you manage a team and or lead a company, walk the talk, be a role model of self-care to your team members. When they see you practicing self-care e.g. taking regular lunch breaks, working regular hours, keeping work correspondence within working hours etc., your team members will feel they can do the same. What’s more, you’ll be making a huge contribution to creating a well-functioning, happy and healthy team.
- Create technology free times/days in the week or month.
- Make time for activities you enjoy.
- Drink lots of water and eat well.
- Cycle or walk to work - physical exercise brings balance to mind and body. It can help prepare for the day ahead or wind down from the day that’s been.
- Have a buddy (friend/colleague) you trust at work with whom you can talk and share your feelings with.
- Spend 10-20 minutes every day writing down a stream of consciousness, e.g. in the morning when you wake up or before you go to bed. Just write down what’s there on your mind – and don’t worry about how you write it down and what you say. It’s for nobody else to read. It can be a helpful way of getting worries, concerns, and recurrent thoughts out of your system.
A growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal - including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, and longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent holidays - boosts productivity, performance and, of course, health. (Tony Schwartz in ‘Relax, you’ll be more productive’, New York Times, February 9, 2013).
No working life comes without stress, challenges, conflicts, pressures and setbacks or moments of complete exhaustion but consider this paradox: the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less.