5 Easy Ways to Practice Self-Care at Work

Self-care has become a popular concept lately. In fact, looking up “self-care” on Instagram results in 23.8 million quotes, flowers, relaxing baths, extravagant nails and beautiful bouquets of flowers. It seems everyone is on the self-care bandwagon, but no one talks about what self-care you can engage in when your day is consumed by work. That’s likely because the definition of self-care is so vague, but taking care of yourself doesn’t have to mean bath bombs and Pinterest quotes–it can mean building a good relationship with and to your job, connecting with yourself as related to your work, and connecting with your peers.

Luckily, self-care is possible whenever you have the time and wherever you are. Admittedly, self-care at work looks a little different than it does outside of work, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Here are 5 ways to practice self-care when you're on the clock. 

  1. 1. Take a quick breather

    silhouette of woman doing yoga pose

    In a society that encourages hustling and being accessible 24/7, work can be a huge stressor. One way to take care of yourself is to use a meditation app! Take your lunch break or any spare minutes you have to sit at your desk and disconnect for a bit. Apps like Headspace or Calm offer short meditations that you can do for free during any of your breaks. Meditation is a great way to check in with yourself and to recognize how you’re feeling during the workday. But if you’re not on the meditation train, don’t fret–there are plenty of other relaxation options. One of my absolute favorite options for relaxing when I’m not in the mood to meditate is doing a quick bit of exercise or yoga. There are tons of at-work exercises available on YouTube, but my personal favorites are Office Break Yoga and Desk Yoga by YogaWithAdriene, Workout at Work by FitnessBlender, and Chair Exercises by HASfit. If exercising at your desk isn’t for you, other strategies for taking a quick breather include taking a walk around the block or even just the building, pressing pause on your work to get a treat or chatting with your peers. The most important thing is finding what works for you.

  2. 2. Surround yourself with good people

    Self-care is typically a solo experience. I mean, it is called self-care. That said, one of the best ways to take care of yourself at work is to surround yourself with people who support you and make you happy. Work can sometimes be discouraging or even isolating. If it is, it’s nice to know that you have people who can cheer you on and cheer you up. I know all of you out there who are maybe starting a new job or are unsure that you get along with your coworkers are wondering how you can do this. Building a community at work doesn’t have to mean that your coworkers in your department are your best friends, but you can try reaching out to anyone you think is interesting and seeing if they would be interested in hanging out. My suggestion for doing this? Start small. Invite your coworkers out for coffee or lunch, ask them if they want to decompress with you after work or during one of your aforementioned breather moments. Find little ways that you can include your coworkers into your routine. It doesn’t have to be an everyday thing, but it's important for community building. Making the most of the relationships you may be able to build at work is one way of taking care of yourself and your happiness.

  3. 3. Take it easy on yourself

    white ceramic mug on white table beside black eyeglasses

    For me, work can sometimes feel like a life or death situation. If everything doesn’t go 100% perfectly, I feel so tense and so stressed. One of the best ways to take care of yourself at work is to change your mentality and take it easy on yourself. Instead of saying negative things to yourself about the quality of your work or the progress you’re making, recognize how well you’re doing and how proud you are of yourself for putting in the work. Whenever you have a negative thought in mind, think about whether or not you would say that to a coworker. If you wouldn’t, don’t say it to yourself. Protecting your soul and protecting the incredible things you are accomplishing is among the best forms of self-care you can partake in at work. I’m 110% sure that the moment you start taking it easy on yourself, you’ll feel so much less stress and so much more comfort in your work.

    Part of taking it easy on yourself is recognizing when you need a sick day or a mental health day. A lot of us feel a lot of guilt for taking days off when we really need them which, hello, we shouldn’t. If you’re sick and feeling like your illness may be contagious, will hinder your performance at work, or will get worse if you go to work, please call your boss and let them know that you will not be coming to work. It’s easy to feel like you should dedicate your all to your work 24/7/365, but when it comes down to it, taking it easy on yourself, especially when you’re not feeling your best, is the only way to be sure that you can give your all to your work when you’re better. 

  4. 4. Update your workspace and work schedule

    If you work a desk job, the area around your desk, particularly when you first start working there, is likely plain, making it pretty boring to sit there all day. One form of self-care is to update your workspace with the things that make you happy. I decorated my workspace with pictures from my travels, stickers of companies that I admire, notes to myself and snacks. These little things keep me motivated to keep working and are a nice little distraction when I need a second to zone out and remember what I’m working for. If you’ve been working for a while and already decorated your workspace, you could cycle out some of your old photos or quotes for new ones. New season of your life, new quotes and pictures. Pinterest can now be your best friend. If decorating your workspace isn’t enough, you could also try changing your workspace entirely if that’s an option. Have you been eyeballing that desk by the window? What about that desk in a quieter area of the office? If you need a change of pace, it might be a good idea to talk to your supervisor about what can be done to ensure you are taking care of yourself and your needs. One thing to note, though, is that updating your physical workspace isn’t the only thing you can do. An important aspect of taking care of yourself is working out a schedule that meets your needs. If the typical 9-5 workday just isn’t benefiting you, you can schedule a time to talk to your supervisor about potentially adjusting your work hours, such as from 10-6 or 8-4. 

  5. 5. Ask for help when you need it

    Don’t get caught up in the notion that you need to be an “expert” or that you need to know it all. Work is all about learning and growing, not about acting stoic or handling every single thing on your own. Self-care at work can look like admitting that maybe you don’t have everything under control and you do need a little help. No one will think any less of you or judge you for needing assistance. Generally, people want to help and will feel good when they can help, so take care of yourself and your stress levels and ask. If it’s a possibility for you, leave your work at work when the day is done. Make it a priority to separate time for work and time for being home and relaxing. The same goes for PTO days or vacation days: Make these days a priority, and take time off when you have the opportunity to do so. I know that it’s hard to take time off of work, especially when you’ve just started a new job or are new to the workforce and eager to make a good impression, but always being available and not taking time off is not healthy in the long term. It’s important to cultivate a habit of ongoing self-care and a good work-life balance early on. For me, in my current job as a teaching assistant, this means that once my work days are done I leave my grading alone and answer student emails when I’m back in my office. For you, it might look like logging off your work email on your phone or setting up automatic responses for vacation days so that you don’t feel tempted to work.  

    Asking for help doesn’t only apply to your peers for support. It could also mean setting up a time to speak with a mental health professional. Work can be stressful, and given the importance we place on it, it can amount to a lot of pressure to be perfect. If it ever feels like too much, speaking with a mental health professional about the things you are struggling with can be a great source of support. I recently went to a mental health professional for the first time and let me tell you, it changed my work self-care regimen entirely. Before speaking with her, I was trying to be superwoman and do it all on my own. I was genuinely convinced that I had to handle the stress of work and responsibilities and being a person outside of work all on my own. She taught me that it’s likely that other people in my department are feeling the same and may be looking for support. After talking to my counselor, I managed to establish a great support system both within my department and in her. If you have the opportunity and resources to speak with a mental health professional and feel that this is the best course of action when seeking help, I highly encourage it.

Self-care is so important in a society that encourages all work and no breaks, all the time. It may look a little different than what you're used to, but you can still partake in practices that will ensure you feel good, healthy, and proud of your work.