Let’s talk about self-care at work, shall we?
You wake up late and have to throw your hair in a messy bun… and of course it doesn’t want to cooperate so you end up looking like Principal Trunchbull. [was anyone else terrified by her as a child?!]
You get to work, realize you forgot about a big presentation or client meeting, and quickly prepare. After it goes terribly, you are just trying to get to lunch. And then you realize… you forgot it at home. Your boss comes in and gives you a talking-to about something, your co-workers are driving you up the wall, your voicemail is full with phone calls you need to return. You feel frustrated, overwhelmed and ready to snap.
Anyone else ever been there? Let’s talk about what you do when that happens.
Here’s how I used to self-care at work:
- Go grab a Mountain Dew from the pop machine, regardless of if I had already had one that day
- Grab some chocolate
- Ask my co-workers to go out to eat for lunch with me, usually order something that was NOT good for me, like the best cheesy fries in the planet from a local diner.
- Throw in the towel emotionally… this day is just going to be a bad one… and just try to survive until 5pm
- Go talk to one of my co-workers and spread my bad mood, because misery loves company, right?
- Daydream about other jobs, professions, lives… often one where my hubby and I were so magically rich that we traveled the world without worry about anything silly like a job!
Unfortunately, these strategies did a couple things:
I didn’t get much done, which led to continued stress the following day when I tried to catch up. Instant gratification later led to guilt (chocolate, bad food) and typically a night without sleep (all that caffeine, ugh). I spread my bad mood to my coworkers, which just isn’t fair and never actually made me feel any better.
While all of them may have made me feel better in the moment, they didn’t accomplish much because they actually weren’t self-care at work. I never felt better, it rarely saved my day from being a “bad” one and I typically went home and vented at my poor hubby and my mom on the phone. Sound familiar to anyone?
How do we fix that?
Well, there are things we can do to self-care at work, to pause intentionally that are not stress eating or drinking, giving up or crying in the bathroom (yes, that has happened). And before I hear the excuse, I don’t have the time… because I have said that as well… think about how much time your current reactions take. The pop machine was on the opposite side of the building as I was and if I didn’t have cash, I had to go to a completely different floor. See what I mean? I bet you could replace them with these and still not take any time from your day.
Have something that you know makes you laugh on hand.
They say laughing is the best medicine, and they aren’t wrong… whoever they are. Laughing releases your happy chemical, endorphins and reduces your stress responses. With YouTube available to us always, it’s not hard to get a hold of what you need for a good laugh.
My favorites currently… (if you haven’t watched Schitt’s Creek yet, it’s time!)
Watching these two sing and love each other makes me smile, even when I’m trying hard to be grumpy. I also am a sucker for bloopers of any kind… and with the internet, there are always a TON of these. Sitting in your car at lunch watching things that make you laugh is a LOT better than sitting in your car contemplating never returning to work.
Remind yourself that work is not forever.
It is really easy for our brains to feel like anything negative we are dealing with will last forever. Guess what? It doesn’t. When I was in 6th grade, my family moved to a new town meaning I was going to be the new girl in school. That first day of school, I came home and told my mom it was TERRIBLE. Then I took a nap, and all of a sudden, it didn’t seem that bad. Now we may not all be this dramatic as adults (or maybe we are, no one is judging!) but it’s the same thought… we can feel like something bad will last forever.
Here’s the thing… IT WILL NOT. NOTHING is permanent. You WILL get out of the meeting with your annoying co-workers, with the obnoxious client, with the difficult student, you CAN change jobs or positions if this one feels like torture. And last but not least, you WILL get to go home at the end of the day.
Tip to help with this: wear something meaningful from home.
I have one of my hubby’s sweatshirt with me at work. Nope, it’s not business-casual, but yes when I need a second, I can put my face in it and it immediately smells like home to me. It’s my little slice of self-care at work. It reminds me that no matter how bad my day gets, it’s going to be okay. I have a bracelet from my best friend, I wear it often because it reminds me of her. It reminds me no matter how bad my day gets, I can call her afterwards, vent and laugh the stress away. See what I’m getting at? Sometimes people are able to have pictures of their families and friends in their office, but if you can’t or this isn’t working anymore, get creative!
Have a buddy to self-care at work with!
I was so fortunate in my last position that I had multiple of these, and they were all hysterically funny. Always willing to give me their ear no matter how busy they were, they were able to help me out of my mood, remind me the good I was doing at work and re-focus me, all without even knowing they were doing it. This was different in the strategy of, making my co-workers as miserable as I was… instead, this was getting support when I needed it.
Get it all out!
If you know me personally or follow me on Instagram, you can probably tell I am a fan of writing things down. I think there is power in taking pen to paper. When your brain feels like it may explode, get it ALL out! Take 5-10 minutes on your lunch break and make lists of everything that’s floating around, that is sticking in there. I found when I did that, sometimes the things that were weighing on me the most weren’t even work things, they were things I had to do after work. Realizing that and getting a plan together for after work never took me long, but helped me refocus and put things in perspective.
Time to organize!
I am a big believer in organization: I think the time you take to do this saves time in the long-run. Find a system that works for you. If you try a system and it doesn’t work, keep trying! There is nothing worse for your mood than feeling like you have no idea what is going on. When you have a firm handle on what is going on, then you are able to move through your tasks. Bonus points, this will probably help your productivity, your boss will be happy and she will never know it was a self-care at work trick!
Stop those thought distortions in their tracks!
We will talk about thought distortions more in the future, so I’m not going to go into detail here. Here’s the gist: thought distortions are thoughts we have that we believe to be true, that really are not. Typically, they help us stay in our stage of anxiety, anger or fear, and are incredibly detrimental to our mental health. Take a second and think about yours… one of mine is:
I have to get everything done or I will get fired.
That’s pretty extreme, right? While there are those things that you HAVE to get done, they typically are not every single aspect of your job. For example, social workers are responsible for documentation, medication refills, linking clients to services, client case management and therapists, team meetings… the list goes on and on. Yes, ALL of this is important. Yet, it’s pretty simple to prioritize them day to day.
My time with clients is most important; the other stuff can wait. I remember stressing because all my progress notes weren’t done one night before I went home. I thought about it all night, thinking as soon as my supervisor found out I was going to be fired. The next day I confessed to one of my co-workers, who laughed and said she hadn’t finished last weeks. This doesn’t mean you don’t HAVE to be good at your job or fluff off responsibilities. It’s just a reminder to objectively look at what your brain is telling you; it may be extreme and untrue.
I asked one of my friend’s what her thought distortions at work were, and she explained if I make a mistake, my supervisor will be disappointed and people will think I’m not a good social worker. Okay… let me say this: she is an AMAZING social worker! When she said that, I was shocked. Also… what happens when we make a mistake at work? Does that instantly mean your supervisor is disappointed in you? NO.
Struggling to figure out what is a thought distortion and what is not? Try this: tell the thought to someone else. Typically their reaction will tell you if it’s a true thought or one of those where your brain is keeping you anxious, angry or overwhelmed.
Last but not least, PLAN!
We know bad days and days where we’d rather be anywhere but work, are going to happen. We know that we are going to get frustrated and stressed. Life is not all teddy bears and unicorns, all of the time. Because we know that, we can plan for it! How are we going to take care of ourselves on those days? Do we have a buddy? Something funny to watch? Some time where we can just sit down? PLAN it out! If you have a plan, it will be 100% easier to work through those days.