Professional Self Care: Tips to Lower Career Stress

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Managing work-related stress can significantly impact our day-to-day lives, especially when working a regular 40-hour per week job takes roughly 24% of our time each week. Professional self-care is a great way to combat the different stresses that can arise from work and, at the same time, increase productivity, boost your immune system, and allow you to give more to others than you were before. 

Everyone handles stress differently. WebMD notes stress can manifest in a variety of symptoms from:

  • Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody.
  • Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control.
  • Have difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind.
  • Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed.

Do you have a plan to handle stress when your workload starts to pile up, and deadlines are looming closer and closer? If you don’t, remind yourself that “either you run the day, or the day runs you.” (Jim Rohn)

Self Care Meaning

What Is Self Care, And Why Is It Important?

Self-care is the practice of choosing to do things well for our well-being and happiness, especially during stress. Being able to cope with stress is essential for physical health, self-esteem, mental health, relationships, work, and all-around living.

When stress inevitably rolls your way, do you want to be the person carrying the chill, go-with-the-flow, optimistic, un-phased attitude, or be the high-strung, moody grouch? Learning to take care of yourself before stress piles up is excellent for combatting the latter of those two options.

Before you start making excuses of why you can’t do self-care or won’t do more self-care for yourself, ask yourself this. What type of person do you want to be? Who do you want to be? Is it a great parent, a loving spouse, a good son or daughter, a caring friend, an impactful coworker, or all of the above?

Now ask yourself, if I continue on the path I am currently taking, will I achieve these goals? For example, will staying out late and not getting enough sleep help me be my best self? Will signing up for another extracurricular club, sport, volunteer event, or after-work social help me be my best self? Or will it just overwhelm me because it is one more thing added to my plate that I don’t have time for?

Do you struggle taking time for yourself? Are you so focused on taking care of others that you haven’t had time to exercise, read books you enjoy, or just take a nap? Remember the age-old saying that whenever you get on a flight, you must put on your mask before you can help others put on their masks. The same goes for taking care of yourself.

If you aren’t filling yourself up, how are you supposed to give others and continuously fill them up? You won’t be able to! Your well will eventually run dry sooner or later. You need to fill yourself up consistently so you can overflow with life and love. Then that extra awesomeness bubbling over the top of you, filling yourself up, will flow right out onto each person you encounter on a day-to-day basis.

Connecting Professional Self Care with Personal Self Care

There are so many aspects of self-care to work on improving. With a 40-hr per week job consuming one-third of your day, five days a week, it is wise to prioritize professional self-care. Self-care may feel like an indulgence; however, it is a discipline. Taking care of yourself is essential and matters, as stressed above.

How well you take care of yourself can affect your company’s bottom line. So if you have a lot on your plate, remind yourself that taking a few extra minutes to grab a snack, go for a walking break, or do some stretches during work can increase productivity and energy levels.

All in all, self-care in the workplace will help you accomplish more in a shorter period than you would’ve otherwise. In addition, it’s shown that people who take breaks can be more productive at work than those who don’t.

An article from The Wellbeing Thesis backs this up when a study by Korpela, Kinnunen, Geurts, de Bloom, and Sianoja (2016) [3] found that taking lunchtime breaks and detaching from work increases levels of energy at work and decreases exhaustion.” Taking relaxing breaks is also shown to help reset your mood and recover from work stress.

Your self-care environment is another crucial factor in taking care of yourself and managing stress. Working for a company that incorporates strong work-life balance values and cares about employees’ general well-being is vital to maintaining good health.

Some companies will work their employees to the ground with no remorse. Others will limit the number of hours their employees work and have meetings with individual employees to reduce the number of hours they are putting in.

Different companies offer different options of flexibility with working from home, time off, appointments, dress code, and working hours. You will want to find the right fit for you.

Factors that can contribute to this decision are the general culture of a company. For example, how valued you feel as an employee from your team and upper management, how competitive the workplace is, how your coworkers and company executives treat you can all play a role in helping you determine the type of company you want to work for. You deserve to be treated well and your time and talent valued. So don’t settle for less.

Remember, there is always another job or company out there hiring. Don’t force yourself to stay at your current job if the work environment is terrible. Apply to new positions!

If needed, increase your related job skills by taking classes, reading articles, and immersing yourself in the industry. Then, when you apply for jobs, this article covers some important questions to ask during agency interviews regarding work-life balance and culture.

Types of Self Care To Incorporate At Your Day Job

Throughout your workday, you can incorporate multiple types of self-care into your routine. Self-care does not need to look the same person to person. There are various self-care activities you can do to boost your mood, lower your stress levels, and increase your productivity.

Forms of Self Care

Wellness divides into five major categories. Physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual are the five facets of wellness. Listed below are self-care activities to help fulfill each wellness dimension.

Physical Self Care

Physical self-care consists of what you do physiologically to take care of your body to keep it healthy and functioning well. For example, hygiene, getting enough sleep and brushing your teeth fall under this category. You can perform different physical self-care exercises for self-health.

Physical self-care exercises at the workplace include:

  • Using a standing desk.
  • Taking walking breaks.
  • Packing a nutritious lunch and snacks.
  • Drinking lots of water throughout the day.
  • Go on a stretch break.
  • Use the 20-20-20 rule for giving your eyes a break. (Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.)
  • Take the stairs whenever possible.
  • Walk or bike to work if you can.
  • Pay attention to posture. Ergonomic chairs, balance ball chairs, posture correctors, or even intelliskin shirts all work great to promote healthy body alignment.
  • Schedule walking meetings.

Mental Self Care 

Mental self-care involves what you do psychologically to cope with stress, stay positive, and keep your brain fascinated and sharp. Decluttering your mind and engaging in activities like crossword puzzles are a couple of mental health self-care activities for your mental wellness.

Psychological Self Care At Work

  • Declutter or organize your desk.
  • Step away from your desk for lunch and make sure it is an actual break.
  • Take breaks in general. Every 90 minutes, taking a 5 to 10-minute break can help rejuvenate your brain.
  • Try breathing exercises to relax from WebMD or the University of Michigan Health.
  • Creating a to-do list can help get the clutter out of your brain and onto paper instead.
  • Reflect on things you are grateful for. Make sure to let your team know this too.
  • Set boundaries for yourself around when you are working and off the clock. Don’t respond to emails and calls around the clock or on weekends. There is always work for tomorrow. r
  • Set clear expectations with clients around when work can be expected to be complete. This way, you can avoid being time-crunched and in a high-stress situation where you try to appease the client with too high demands.
  • Join a work support group for mental health.

Emotional Self Care

The Tri-State Hospital has an excellent definition of emotional self-care which is, “to become aware of, and identify, what you are feeling, and then allow yourself to lean into the feelings in a way that honors yourself and your emotions.” Having healthy outlets to express your emotions is essential because if we suppress, ignore, or deny our feelings, they will come out one way or another, whether we like it or not.

Emotional Self Care Tips At Work:

  • Celebrate achievements with yourself and with your team. At Augurian, we have a “Kudos” session every Monday where we recognize people’s good work during the previous week. We also have a bell to ring when a sale is made, and everyone cheers when it’s rung.
  • Check-in with yourself daily to ask yourself how you are doing and what you need.
  • Practice self-compassion and be aware of your self-talk. Instead of being our own worst critics, we should be our biggest cheerleaders.
  • Using affirmations or mantras can be helpful. Having a statement at your desk or on your phone background that says the truth about you that you believe or are working on accepting is good. An example could be, “I am enough.”
  • Accept and allow yourself to receive compliments or praise from others. Don’t just brush it off. Saying thank you to a compliment could be a start.
  • Having a quick journal session can help de-stress too.
  • Allow yourself to make mistakes and give yourself some grace. No one is perfect.

Social Self Care

Looking after and meeting your needs for connection and belonging is social self-care. We all have a human emotional need to feel secure and supported. Developing strong relationships with our family, friends, and coworkers can help deepen our sense of belonging by feeling accepted and included by others.

You are worthy of love and belonging. “Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.” (Brene Brown) Don’t let fear of not being good enough keep you from experiencing those gifts. Brene also says, “Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

Social Self Care Hacks In The Workplace

  • Participate in team outings to get to bond with your coworkers.
  • Join recreational work leagues.
  • Go on team retreats with your coworkers.
  • Practice reaching out to others. Reaching out could look like inviting a new coworker or one you’ve wanted to get to know more to have lunch with you.
  • Partake in work volunteer events, or if your work offers time off for volunteering, grab your coworkers and some friends and get moving.
  • Grow your network at industry events by reaching out to new individuals and leaders in the community.
  • If your company only operates on a WFH (work-from-home) basis, ask coworkers to hop on a Zoom call so you guys can get to know each other on a more personal basis other than just work.

Spiritual Self Care

Spiritual self-care involves thinking more significant than yourself and can be religious for people. It can include getting in touch with your values. Dr. Gary McClain describes spiritual self-care saying, “Taking care of your spiritual side can mean being more connected to the present moment, aware of what is important and what is not so important in life, connected to other people in a meaningful way, being guided by God, or a Higher Power. Being connected to a greater meaning and purpose in life.”

Incorporating Spiritual Self Care At Work

  • Immerse yourself in nature by working outside for an afternoon or the day.
  • Pick a beautiful image for the computer background. Studies have shown that seeing water on a screen triggers our relaxation receptors.
  • Use visualization to combat stress. Visualization could be imagining relaxing on the beach by the ocean or walking through a forest. Whatever is your peaceful place.
  • Put your earbuds in and pop in some natural sounds for background noise while working. Also, filtering out environmental noise can work, especially when falling asleep at night, to give extra white noise.
  • Practicing deep breathing and meditation.
  • Praying is another option too.

Self Care Motivation

Motivation is vital when implementing new habits, especially these new self-care activities and ideas we just rolled through. In an ideal world, you would always feel as excited and inspired about the positive change you are making in your life as Day 1. However, if we are realistic, we know that motivation comes in waves and changing habits takes work. That’s okay. There are ways we can overcome our rollercoaster of emotions and ever-changing commitment levels to our goals.

First and foremost, make the process of change enjoyable. Change doesn’t always have to be about the destination. For example, if you are trying to change your current diet that consists of mostly takeout and processed foods to whole foods, that will likely not be an overnight switch. Instead, it will probably be a multi-year process of small changes along the way.

The same is true if you currently complain about everything. You aren’t going to be able to flip a switch and magically never complain again. However, you can start a gratitude journal and slowly realize you are noticing more what you are grateful for than what you lack.

Second, I would realize that when you say “yes” to one thing, you say “no” to another. Use this to analyze your different decisions when it comes to choosing to take care of your health and wellness or not.

For example, saying yes to staying out late with friends may be saying no to getting enough sleep and being present with your relatives the next day at your family reunion. You may think twice about getting home so late if you realize this.

Lastly, remember self-care is not an indulgence. It is a discipline, stated wisely by Dr. Aniesa Hanson. When stress becomes overwhelming, we may not just have mental blow-ups or breakdowns. We may also experience physical symptoms ranging from fatigue, muscle tension, headaches, insomnia, gastrointestinal upsets, and dermatological disorders. These all can be set off by stress.

By adding a few simple professional self-care routines to your day, you can simultaneously alleviate your negative symptoms and increase your overall mood and happiness.

Professional Self Care Plan

Like Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Without creating a self-care plan for work, we can expect to keep our current habits and thought processes. The SUN program developed by the Michael D. Eisner College of Education outlines a step-by-step process anyone can follow.

The steps for creating an individualized self-care plan are outlined here:

  1. Placing Importance On Self Care. If you don’t care about self-care and decide it isn’t important, why would you make any changes? Maybe you aren’t in a particularly stressful period right now, so everything is going okay. Have you thought about how you’ll respond when stress does hit you?
  2. Identifying Your Stress Level. Start to pay attention to your everyday stress level and how it affects you. Monitor your physical, psychological, emotional, & behavioral symptoms. Signs can include headaches, procrastination, short temper, low productivity, feeling overworked or underappreciated. More symptoms are listed here in Step 2.
  3. Recognizing General And Specific Stressors. Notice what causes you stress in your work and personal life. Doing too much, having too many demands, inadequate rewards, money problems, or lack of time can cause stress.
  4. Reflecting On How You Currently Cope With Stress. Check your current coping strategies and see what falls into the healthy and unhealthy stress management strategies. Being physically active, assertive, and making time for fun hobbies can all be healthy while smoking, taking stress-relief medications, and lashing out are not.
  5. Using Direct & Indirect Coping Strategies. Once you recognize the stressors and unhealthy coping patterns you are following, you can implement methods to address these habits. According to the SUN Program, “direct approaches include removing the stressor, recognizing and changing your perception of the situation so that it is no longer stressful, removing yourself from the source of stress, or limiting your exposure to the stressor.” Indirect deals with minimizing the impact of stressful situations. The four main ways to combat stressors are elimination, limiting your exposure to them, reframing your thoughts, and using self-care/stress coping strategies.
  6. Adding Accountability to Your Plan. Now, what is a self-care plan without accountability?
  7. Keep Evolving Your Self Care Plan. Evaluate your plan and keep making improvements. Each person is unique, and what works for you may not work for someone else, or what works for someone else may not work for you. It can be a process of experimentation, trial, and error.

Set Goals For Your Future Work Environment

Taking care of yourself personally and professionally requires commitment. Even when you are doing all the right things, your environment can impact you significantly. To live out professional self-care, we would not want to forget about choosing a company whose culture and work environment reflect our values and ideals.

Work-life balance, team attitudes, and management leadership significantly impact our experience at work and can make or break us when it comes to personal growth and our contribution to the company.

Energizing, welcoming, accepting work environments breed productive, happy workers. Unfortunately, the opposite is true about poor work environments.

Make sure to filter through companies carefully. Read reviews. Check the company turnover rate. Ask about average hours and if working on weekends is a thing. Get a sense of if you are expected to take calls or emails after regular business hours. This article on agency life has a list of essential questions to ask before you commit to a job.

Right now, working at Augurian, I believe I am at one of the leading companies in work culture from our welcoming team members, team outings, flexible work schedules, excellent management, company groups, and flexible time off.

Note I am not being paid to say this. Check out a few snippets of what other people are saying about us to get an idea of what work cultures are out there and what your professional work life could be. The possibilities are endless.

Analyst, Paid Media at Augurian
Marci Ricklick
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