5 Ways To Practice Self-Care At The Office (Yes, It IS Possible!)

Photo: Photo by on Unsplash
self-care at work

All too often we think of self-care as some “frou frou” concept better left to the Birkenstock-wearing, granola-munching hippies sitting crossed legged on the floor. 

The concept of self-care sneaking into the office or workplace is laughable to many, but it shouldn’t be, because self-care is closely tied to performance.

In short, you can’t give what you don’t have, and self-care is about your relationship and connection with yourself. So the stronger and healthier that relationship is, the more you have to give, and the more productive you can be at work.

Self-care also encompasses being purposeful and intentional, which means staying in alignment with what is important to you and your purpose, and not getting manipulated, distracted, or overwhelmed.

Related: 12 Totally Unhealthy (And Sometimes Dangerous) Ways Women Like To 'Relax'

Typically, when the term "self-care" is used at work, the reference is to physical health and defined mostly by exercise and diet or lifestyle choices such as smoking cessation. While these things are important pieces of the puzzle, they are not the whole puzzle. Because self-care can be ambiguous, like any other serious and successful business ideas, it needs to be defined and measurable. Self-care in business includes:

Caring for your mind.

If you struggle with anxiety, excessive negativity, or mild depression, it’s going to negatively impact your ability to be your best self and contribute at a high level at work.

Caring for your emotions. 

If you have problems managing your anger, it will negatively impact you and your ability to work well with others. Even if you don’t have angry outbursts, but rather use passive aggressive ways to “get your pound of flesh,” others will recognize your anger.

Caring for your environment.

If your environment is consistently chaotic, chances are you will get more easily overwhelmed. Some people thrive on chaos, and if you are one of those people, respect that, but be sure to have organized chaos and not just a free for all. The point is to understand what does and does not work for you and keep your environment in alignment with your needs.

Caring for your time.

Your time is your most precious resource and all too often it is the resource we are least protective of. You wouldn’t leave your wallet laying out for others to snatch, so don’t leave the door open to your time for just anyone to wonder in.

Caring for your relationships.

The quality of your relationships is one of the biggest indicators of success not only in your career but also in your personal life.

Self-care can feel elusive, daunting, or even foolish when we are in the throes of work pressures, deadlines, and crises, but those are exactly the times when you need to focus on self-care because it will not only help you survive but actually thrive during good times and bad.

Make self-care part of your standard operating procedure. This will ensure that you don’t start out with the best intentions, but quickly let it slip away like the results of your latest personality profile! Self-care is very personal and varies from person to person. Part of caring for yourself is knowing yourself and honoring and respecting what you need and what works for you.

Here are some general guidelines for self-care. Use the ones that resonate with you and hopefully, the others will give you ideas for your own inspiration:

1. Stop being so hard on yourself


I often work with executives and business owners who, despite their successes, are terribly hard on themselves and this stops them from reaching their full potential.

They are almost always better than they think they are, and everyone knows it but them. At best, they hold themselves back because they think they need to do more or accomplish something else (more training or another degree for example) before they can go for the bigger contracts, clients, assignments, or promotions. Or they sabotage themselves with all their negative self-talk, doubt, and should-haves and could-haves.

When you find yourself engaging in should-haves and could-haves, remember hindsight is always 20/20 and what seems obvious now was quite possibly an unknown at the time. If you had a crystal ball, you would be too busy and too rich to be read this article.

I often have clients sit back, close their eyes and take a few deep breaths.

Then I ask them to envision themselves as if they were a separate distinct person, maybe a trusted colleague or even someone they love and admire. Then I ask them how they would feel about the person and what they would want for the person given the same circumstances they are struggling with.

I ask them if they would be as critical of this other person, would they speak to them in the same harsh way they speak to themselves, or if they would want to add to their burden. The answer is almost an overwhelming “no.” The lesson here is to extend the same compassion and understanding to yourself as you would to others. Having high standards isn’t the same as asking too much of yourself.

Think of it this way, when you have high standards for something in your life, whether it's a performance car, high end electronic or wardrobe investment piece, you’ve typically made an investment in it and treat it well… it doesn’t make sense to treat yourself with any less respect.

2. Understand your emotions.

Your emotions should work for you rather than against you, but all too often that's not how it works for most people.

There are only two pure emotions: love and fear. All the “feel good” emotions such as gratitude, happiness, and excitement are rooted in love and all the “negative” emotions such as anger, guilt and jealousy are rooted in fear. The fear is typically of not being enough. Emotions can be useful tools to help us learn in life. For example, the emotion of guilt is useful because it lets us know that we have made a choice or engaged in a behavior that is out of alignment with our core values.

We don’t like feeling guilty, so we are less likely to engage in that behavior again, and that is a positive use of a negative emotion. That said, when you overuse the emotion of guilt, it holds you back and creates a disturbance because it drains your energy and keeps you stuck in the past whether that “past” is five minutes, five days, or five years from now.

If you are struggling with the overuse of guilt, try engaging in the exercise discussed earlier where you sit back and envision yourself as someone else. Would you want this other person to carry the same kind of guilt you are burdening yourself with?

The answer is probably “no,” so let it go.

3. Your home may be your castle, but your office should be your apartment.

You might not own it outright, but it’s your space and you should treat it as such.

While you don’t do major renovations to an apartment, you try to make it yours and have it reflect the best part of yourself. The same should be true for your office.

That doesn’t mean you clutter it up with your family heirlooms and the knickknacks your mom sent you, but your office should have a few well-chosen meaningful and inspirational pieces that keep you centered on why you are there and what’s important to you.

Whether it’s awards and commendations you have received for a job well done, token memorabilia from a successful project, or pictures of people you care about or a moment in time that was meaningful to you, you should have things that make you feel connected, inspired, and purposeful.

I had a client who was really a minimalist and didn’t want much in his office, but he did have a really high-end desk set. He told me that when he was a kid and he would watch television and the men always had big significant desk accruements and he would think to himself, “I will have that one day.”

As the first person in his family to go to college and have a professional career, it made him feel proud and inspired each day when he came into work. He was truly someone who understood his emotions and his environment and knew how to make them work for him.

4. Treat your time like you would treat any other precious non-renewable resource  because it is!

At the start of each day, make a list of 3-5 things that are non-negotiable that you want to accomplish. Make sure it's a reasonable list and then allow that to be the framework for your day. It’s too easy to get distracted and bounce back and forth between emails, phone calls, and “pop-up” meetings. Because you are starting the day with the list, it becomes easier to see when they day is getting away from you and helps keep you on track.

Confidence is a byproduct of accomplishment, so when you accomplish the important things each day, your confidence grows and reinforces good self-care.

I’ve had several managers confide in me that when direct reports are given on a project or task and they “hit a wall,” too often they come back to get direction or answers. This creates an “interrupt driven” environment which drains focus and energy from the manager’s own work. My response is always two-fold.

First, when managers allow that to happen, they are encouraging enabling behavior… enough said. Secondly, they are denying their direct reports the opportunity to learn, grow, and build their own wisdom.

For example, I asked a recent client who is an engineer, “When you research a question, do you only discover the answer to your question or do you typically discover additional new information or find answers to questions you hadn’t asked?”

He immediately responded with, “I typically end up learning a lot more than I originally went looking for.”

In that moment, he got it. He understood that by simply answering the question or solving the problem for his reports, he was denying them the opportunity to expand their own knowledge base and value. Shifting to this new perspective was a “win-win” for everyone. He became more protective of his time and his direct reports became more independent and had more opportunity to learn and grow their own value.

5. Cultivate solid relationships and invest in them and manage your less than ideal ones carefully

Because so much of what happens to us either directly or indirectly is closely tied to our relationships, it is essential that we have healthy and supportive relationships.

The quality of your relationships can make or break your career or business, so the importance cannot be overstated. Build teams of people that support one another and have shared goals and vision because no one “can go it alone.” There will be times when you need support and then there will be times when they do as well, and good teams recognize that without being told.

Do all you can to surround yourself with people who contribute positive energy and are inspiring. Spending time with people you enjoy away from work helps to build strong relationships through shared experiences and allows you to get to know one another personally.

Be aware and protect yourself from people who are energy drainers… complainers, blamers, and those who engage in negative behaviors. They can bring you and your whole team down faster than political opinion polls the day after a sex scandal. It’s very important to hold firm boundaries with “energy drainers” and limit your exposure.

Related: 6 'Shedquarters' That'll Make You Want To Work From Home 4-EVA

An important part of self-care is recognizing when you are out of balance and need to reset your focus or recharge yourself.

Stay attuned to your energy levels and recognize when you may need to get more sleep, physical exercise or create more balance. For example, getting 8 hours a sleep might not be practical every night, but going to bed an hour earlier two nights a week can go a long way in helping you feel rested. Same can be true for physical activity.

A daily workout might not be practical with your schedule, but taking 30 minutes at lunchtime to walk outside can go along way to boosting your energy.

If you have been burning the candle at both ends at work, make spending time with people you love who energize you a priority and take the time to do the things you love to do with people you enjoy.

In short, self-care isn’t a luxury, it’s part of the job. In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing world, being responsive, organized, innovative and competitive is more important than ever. And while technology can help us or even replace us with many things, there is no replacement for the human element and all that comes with it.

The most innovative companies today, the companies we idolize and want to emulate, understand self-care… mindfulness, meditation, coaching and team building are an important part of their culture. They invest in their talent because they understand their future depends on it.

Monique DeMonaco owns Coach Monique & Associates, an Executive Coaching and Employee Training & Development firm located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has worked with clients such as HighMark, North Western Mutual, Family Wealth Management, Merlot Tarping Solutions, The Higden Group, Rodef Shalom Synagogue, Howard Hanna Real Estate, Albert Anthony Real Estate, CREW (Women In Commercial Real Estate) and PIOGA (Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas) and more. Monique can be reached at 412-400-2085 or via email at .