Workplace Self-Care

A faint buzzing sound rings in your ear. Your exposed eye that is not covered by a pillow squints open. You look at the source of the sound. Your hand searches for the snooze button on the nuisance. You rustle around and give your alarm the cold shoulder like an abusive ex. The next nine minutes feel like the longest ever. Questions about your career path plague your forethought. Laying there, you contemplate your entire existence and if it is worth rolling over to the other side of the bed.

We have all been there. After a long, relaxing weekend, it is difficult to motivate ourselves to go back to work come Monday morning. This could be the case even if you love your job. The urge to say f*ck it and call out is that much more enticing if you are burnt out or do not like your job.

When looking up some basic statistics about workplace burnout for this post, I found numbers ranging from as low as 25% to as high as 88%. To say the least, people are stressed the f*ck out. In my own informal survey, I asked my Instagram followers in an open-ended format what topics they want to see covered, and “workplace stress” and “self-care in the workplace” were the most requested topics. That says a lot about our culture and the emphasis we put on a hard work ethic.

Signs of workplace stress/burnout

  • Taking frequent or extended breaks at work. There is nothing wrong with taking a quick break to get a snack or go to the restroom. However, when you find yourself taking a fifteen to twenty minute break every hour, then there may be something else at play. The easiest, but not always effective, way to handle a trigger is distraction or avoidance.
  • Procrastination. Avoidance feeds right into procrastination as well. That monthly report has been sitting on your desk for the last three weeks. In the back of your mind, you already have it planned out to do it the day before it is due. Rather than confront it, it feels easier to put off the negativity.
  • Increase in call outs. Sometimes it is more than just the workload that is getting to us, but instead it is the entire environment. In an effort to remove the toxicity temporarily, we call out. This can ultimately backfire however. On your day off, your coworkers seldom help out with the workload or the workload builds up. As a result, when you ultimately go back to work, the to-do list could become even more overwhelming than it was before. A vicious cycle has now begun.
  • Changes in mood. Even the most resilient souls possess their limits. Your once content, even happy-go-lucky attitude has been replaced with pure misery. Someone looks at you the wrong way, and it sets you off. You live in a constant state or irritability. Or you find yourself slowly dragging your empty vessel of a body through the motions of day-to-day living. Or you feel like you are constantly looking over the edge ready for the next panic attack to set in.
  • Emotionally numb. Along the same lines, some individuals will emotionally distance themselves as not to feel. They go into autopilot. The passion they felt for a job in the beginning has all but disappeared.
  • Feeling of dread going to work. As much as we want to retire by the age of 30 and move to a private island, the unfortunate reality is most of us will be working into our golden years. However, this does not mean we have to hate what we do.
  • Hypervigilant. Being in a hostile work environment can put the calmest person on constant watch. This “doing mode” instills a sense of panic. One could slice the tension in the office with a butter knife. No one wants to work in a setting where they feel themselves reading between the lines and always feeling the need to “go! go! go!”
  • Little time for other responsibilities. By the time you get home, you have zero energy left. You go to bed. You wake up. You go to work. You come home. You to go bed. Rinse, wash, repeat. You have no time or energy for a social life, to complete chores around your home, or to enjoy your hobbies. You are merely “being” instead of “living” at this point.
  • Bringing work home with you. This phrase encapsulates both physically and emotionally bringing work home. You have an important deadline approaching. You grab your laptop on the way out of the office and whip out onto the dining room table. You spend the next six hours with your hand on your forehead wondering how you did this to yourself. Emotionally, it can be difficult to leave the stress at work, and it could carry over into relationships at home. You might not spend enough time with loved ones or taking your frustration out on them when they perhaps did nothing wrong.
  • Disruption in sleep patterns. Your bed is a safe haven meant for relaxation and comfort. You finally put your head to the pillow and shut your eyes. Your brain kicks into overdrive with the  stress fueling your ruminating thoughts. Insomnia is your new best friend.

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The reality is humans work a lot. Right behind sleep, work is probably our next largest time commitment. The average person spends forty hours out of 168 hours, or approximately a quarter of their week, at work. Some of us work close to double that even. Therefore, this is where self-care plays an integral part in maintaining the work-life balance.

How to overcome workplace stress/burnout

  • Leave work at work. I had a professor my freshman year of college who told me that he and his wife made an agreement that they would never discuss work at home. He told us that one day his wife came home miserable and spouting off about the day she just had. He immediately told her to turn back around and come back through the door once she hit the refresh button. I loved this story because it highlights the importance of keeping work within its confines. If you work forty hours a week, do your absolute best to keep it within those forty hours. I get that it is unrealistic to think that will always be the case. It helps to keep work and home mentally separate though. For instance, if I find myself pondering what needs to be done for work tomorrow, I will email myself at my work email with a to-do list. That way it is out of my mind and I will see it first thing in the morning when I get into the office. Even when I bring work home, I rarely will bring it to bed. I will usually do it in the kitchen in order to protect my emotional sanctuary.
  • Stay organized. I have a running tally as my to-do list. As things pop in my mind, I write them down on a yellow notepad and cross them off as they are completed. Keeping your work space in order makes it easier to find what you are looking for. A calendar with important dates and reminders will help you stay on task. These tiny little steps save you time and headaches in the long run.
  • Prioritize. Keep in mind not every task is equally important. By picking the most important or urgent tasks to get done, you can focus your time and energy appropriately. You spend time on the right things and deadlines are more easily met.
  • Take a breather. The average person can only focus for so long. After a while, it becomes cumbersome and uses more of your energy. I often try to use breaks as my own reward system. Once I finish a task, I will have a snack or get a drink of water. There was a point that I would just get up to walk around my building or step outside of my office just to break up the monotony of my routine. That little refresher helps to increase longevity and productivity and reduce burnout.
  • Use time off. I understand that not everyone gets paid time off, but if you are one of the lucky ones, use it. It is there for a reason. Your job wants you to use it and that way neither side suffers. If your job pushes you too hard, they lose an employee. If you burnout, it could affect them in return. Take a day or two off here and there to recharge. I also advise trying to set it up ahead of time if you know when times at work will be stressful or to avoid taking off when everyone does such as during the holidays. Furthermore, I like to take mental health days when I know there is not a whole lot going on and that way it will be a smooth transition when I come back to work.
  • Talk to your supervisor/coworkers. Your coworkers can provide amazing support. If anyone can relate to what you are experiencing in the work environment, it is the people in the trenches with you. You might be able to even partner up and help each other knock out tasks faster. Your supervisor can also be a strong support. Your immediate supervisor especially is often feeling the brunt of the workload themselves. Sometimes your team or supervisor can help you brainstorm ways to lessen the stress or prioritize what needs to get done.
  • Employee assistance programs. Again smaller businesses or independent contractors may not have this luxury, but a lot of larger companies have employee assistance programs, or EAPs. These programs usually are free and offer assistance on a variety of topics such as legal advice, insurance, and short-term counseling. My company alone pays for three sessions at local counseling centers.
  • Talk to a professional. If work truly interferes with other areas of your life like relationships or family, then it might be time to batten down the hatches and talk to a mental health professional. Personally, I kept burning myself out even when numerous people around me told me repeatedly to “slow down.” It turned work served as an escape for me and I pride myself on my work. It became an addiction at times to the point I was working seventy to eighty hours a week when I did not have to. Counseling helped me to look at it objectively and problem solve ways to resolve it.
  • Spark your passion. Sometimes burnout comes from a lack of direction. Working day in and day out at a job that does not tap into your potential can drain us as well. Looking for what makes us tick at work provides that extra little motivation we sometimes need to push through even the roughest of jobs.

-The Caring Counselor

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