Self Care at Work

Self care is the new health care … but don’t put your self-care in a box and check done for the day because you meditated and did some exercise.    Self care is an all day affair.  One of the most important places for us to practice self care is at work — many people spend at least 40 hours per week there — that’s a lot of time.

Meditation and other self care practices are meant to start our day connecting with breathing, awareness, and balance.  We then want take our slower deep breathing and meditative mind with us off our mats and into work, so your meditation and breathing practice extends into your day, it’s not compartmentalized into a block of morning time.

Not quite sure what self care at work looks like?  Here are some tips and ides for you to try on and see if helps you practice self care.  Try some and see how you feel.

  1. Have a work day daily ritual.  For example first thing in the morning make yourself a cup of tea and sit with your warm tea as you bring your computer and work desk to life.
  2. Speaking of tea, Make herbal teas often!  Herbal teas pack powerful nutrition and medicine, sipping on tea throughout your day is an easy way to practice self care and balance.  Need a lift?  Try peppermint tea or some lemon in water, feeling stress?  Try tulsi tea.  Feeling hormonal?  Try a flower tea.  Stomach queasy?  How about ginger tea?
  3. Have your computer, mouse, and desk chair ergonomically aligned for you.  Ideally when you sit up straight in your desk chair, your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent at 90o, your monitor should be at eye level and your keyboard at elbow height.
  4. Alternate between a standing desk and your normal seated desk.  Standing desks do not have to be expensive, I found a little bar table (those higher tables that are set back in the bar sections of restaurants) that is the perfect standing height for working on my computer.  They sell all kinds of little bar tables starting around $50.00
  5. Take the long way to the bathroom, to get tea or coffee, or to go talk with a coworker.  Do a lap around the office or building.  Talk your coworkers into walking meetings, you both will benefit.
  6. Take breaks from sitting frequently!  This one is very important; sitting is the new smoking.  Get up and move every 15-20 minuets if you can.  It can just be for 30 seconds (or less) for example; stand up, inhale arch back turning your face upward toward the sky, and exhale sit down slowly.
  7. Feel when you need a movement break!  Learn to tune into body sensations when you are deeply involved in a project.  You will save yourself many aches and pains.
  8. DRINK WATER, make a plan to drink at least 1 quart of water during your work day – most of us need a minimum of 2 quarts of water per day to maintain health.  Water … its a little thing that makes a big difference! 
    1. Avoid drinking out of plastic. Put your water in a real glass glass.   Avoid buying plastic bottles all together.  Talk to your office manage and suggest a fountain with a water filter or at least the 5 gallon reusable jugs of spring water.
    2. Place your water where you need to stand up to reach it … However do not let this thwart you from taking sips of water!
  9. Afternoon doldrums?  Make a playlist that motivates you and slip in your ear buds.  And if appropriate, bop around to the beat.  This little fidget counteracts the negative side effects of sitting.  Popping in ear buds can also be useful to block out other stressful situations going on around you.  
  10. Keep a diffuser and some essential oils in your office, make a diffuser blend each day.
  11. Feeling insecure going to that meeting?  Make some affirmations affirming your confidence and effectiveness.  Example; “I am confident and I can present my ideas with ease and composure.”
    1. Power Poses.  Strike a pose — an expansive pose.  Adopting expansive postures causes people to feel more powerful. A person’s sense of feeling powerful produces a range of cognitive, behavioral, and physiological benefits; including improved executive functioning, general optimism, creativity, authenticity, the ability to self regulate, and perform in various domains and conditions — among many other individual benefits to feeling you have power.  This is has been documented by saliva tests showing these postures help increase testosterone while keeping cortisol low — giving you confidence while keeping stress hormones low.  FEEL YOUR POWER.

And the three biggies in practicing self care at work:  Stress, Food, and CoWorkers.

FOOD:  Let’s look briefly at food (telling myself to be brief here!), this one is big.  We need to nourish ourselves with healthy food during our work days – this is perhaps one of the biggest areas.  Nourish yourself while at work — only you know what is truly nourishing to you.

**Do your coworkers a favor and don’t take doughnuts, cake, and candy to the office!  Just STOP it!  Perhaps make some office suggestions that all food brought to share needs to be healthier choices.

Take good food to work, plan healthy meals to take to work — and make sure you take something you enjoy and look forward to eating.  If you grab something because it is quick and easy, most likely when you get to work it is not going to appeal to you.

Have food and nice eating supplies at work, here is a short list of items I kept in my studio office:

  • Toaster Oven
  • Electric Tea Pot
  • A couple real plates, a bowl or two, real silverware
  • A drinking glass (for water) and a real mug for teas
  • paring knife and old cutting board
  • An array of teas
  • Salt, pepper, lemons/limes, spices
  • Nuts & seeds, and organic 70%+ dark chocolate

OK, so maybe you can not get your entire office to adhere to not bringing in sweets. just because they are there does not mean you need to eat them.  Make everything you put in your mouth nourishing.  Theres is no room for any food that does not provide nutrients.  A part of Self Care is asking yourself as you choose want you are putting in your mouth:

Is this nourishing to my body?

Is this nourishing to my emotions?

During times of work stress we tend to grab foods that nourish our emotions but not our body.  If this your case, what else could nourish your emotions that is not detrimental to your body?  

Think about this and make a plan of what you can do.  Maybe its just a healthier snack food to keep in your desk? For example 70% or higher dark chocolate, some berries or other fruit, something warm?  Maybe its slipping in your ear buds and blocking out the office for a bit?  What other ways outside of food could you nourish your emotions?

And Stress … This is a biggie too.

Don’t just try to get rid of your stress — put it to good use!

See my blog on transforming stress here.

We have good stress and bad stress.  Good stress is worrying about something exciting, like an interview or making a TedTalk.  Bad stress (worry over something that might happen, family issues, works stress, money matters, etc.) tends to narrow the arteries more than good stress — hence its higher risk of heart attack, while good stress does not seem to have this effect on our arteries. What is the difference? Cortisol vs. oxytocin.  Bad stress puts more cortisol in our bodies and good stress raises our oxytocin.

If it is “bad” stress you are dealing with — emotional stress, ego related stress, illness stress, too much on you stress . . . then it is the inner experience we want to work with — Your thoughts. Albert Ellis a famous American psychologist coined the ABC theory which states it is not what happened to us that effects our well being — it’s how we think about what happened to us. 

We can apply this idea to stress.

  • First accept the stressor. Remember you are stressed because you care.
  • Observe — don’t react. Get better at recognizing it. Its ok to feel stressed, the key is to recognize it. For example a few years ago I had a fight with my daughter and I remember standing there feeling so angry with her. In that moment I realized I was feeling anger. I stepped back and watched myself — it totally changed how I reacted to her which totally changed her reactions. We ended up laughing at each other.
  • During emotional stress, if we can get ahold of our thoughts we can better put our stress to good use. Direct your thoughts to a positive outcome and steer your actions in that direction. This requires:
    • Mindfulness — means what do you want to pay attention to here? Not the drama of stress, but what you are trying to create? Be mindful of what you are doing to support the big picture.
    • Awareness = Remember. Remember the big picture. Don’t get caught up in the drama.
  • In negative stressors try to lower your cortisol not necessarily the stress, allow the stress to give you the energy you need to address the situation at hand or help you seek better ways to react to life experiences. How to reduce cortisol? Control your thoughts. The best way to control cortisol is with your thoughts. Although there are some foods and herbs that can help if necessary.  (Specifically diffusing Clary sage has been shown to help reduce cortisol levels.)
  • Oxytocin and Community — Oxytocin is also released in the stress response (as per the data spoken by Kelly McGonigal). Oxytocin is known as the cuddle hormone and makes us seek human connection. Adversity and stress can make us seek community. Through community you find support. Having community improves our survival rates. This is what gives us resilience. People who seek community during stressful times gain a better stress response (more oxytocin) and better resilience from their stress.

Resilience is a big upside to stress! Caring protects us from negative stress (due to its oxytocin release).

On work relationships … This is another big cause of work stress.

Not all bad stress is toxic — or needs to evoke the fight and flight response. It seems the more oxytocin in our stress response the better. To have more oxytocin and less cortisol it comes down to the difference between an enemy or ally. If the stress involves a person, befriending and attending is a positive stress response that can evoke empathy, compassion, and community (and therefore oxytocin). 

It’s called approach instead of fight or flee. The best thing you can do in a stressful situation involving someone else is to Befriend the person, make them your ally not your enemy. 

Enemy thoughts = more cortisol and negative stress side effects.  Attending and befriending increases oxytocin (and progesterone) making us not only seek community but also create community right in our work space. Community is a powerful healing tool.

Here are some examples:

  • Apologizing, even if you know you were “right” shows what is more important than being right is the relationship.
  • Connect through your heart — Try to understand the situation from other peoples perspectives, put yourself in their shoes. Ram Dass explains this well in his space suit theory in my article here, about half way down, titled “what channel are you on?”.  Connect on the soul plane with your workmates.
  • Be courageous.
  • Don’t take on other people’s stress ~ stress is contagious and sometimes we unnecessarily take on other people’s stress.
  • Be Empathetic, truly try to feel what the other person is feeling.
    • A word on Empathy, empathy is a positive emotion — but contagious stress is passed through empathy. Don’t catch someone else’s stress by reacting to their stress, ex. “freaking out” about the situation. Attend to the person by nurturing, caring, and being courageous.

And Finally notice when you slip out of self care!  Usually this starts with self neglect (for example not running to the bathroom when you need to, letting yourself get dehydrated, not eating when you are hungry because you are too busy, etc.). Learn to notice when you slip out of your self care and take your steps to come back into taking care of yourself.  After all if you don’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of anyone or anything else?

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