The Importance of Self-Care
According to a recent survey of Australian workers, 53% of us feel stressed and overwhelmed by our jobs a majority of the time. The result – lower productivity, and an uptick in illness and sick days - costs Australian businesses more than $200 million a year. There is a solution to this that’s relatively easy – the only thing blocking us from it is usually our way of thinking.
Most of us have heard it before: It’s important to take time for yourself, to look after your health and wellbeing. It seems like common sense; after all, how are you going to continue being the best version of yourself if you don’t rest and recharge your batteries?
But it’s much harder to put this into practice, especially when it comes to work. Whether you have a fast-paced, demanding job, a massive amount of responsibilities, a ton of tasks to do each day – or all of those things – it seems difficult to stop and take some time to do anything that’s not productive.
Believe it or not, though, numerous studies have shown that taking a break is vital to our attention spans and general productivity, not to mention our health. Take this one, which found that employee productivity is significantly reduced after 50 hours of work.
The human mind seems to work better when we allow ourselves to take a break from what we’re intensely focussed on for a while. When you think about it, it makes sense. Have you ever ‘slept on’ a problem or stressful situation, then woken up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to tackle it – or even with ideas for a solution in your mind? Have you ever gone on holidays, even a short weekend break, and returned to work feeling less tired? Have you ever been zoning out and suddenly had a flash of inspiration?
Self-care isn’t necessarily something expensive or time-consuming, like taking an overseas trip or a spa day. It can be a free, short activity that still makes you feel good and disconnects you from your current source of stress. Research shows that even taking a few quick breaks during your workday can boost your productivity and general sense of wellbeing at work. Here are a few self-care ideas to inspire you.
- Exercise. This means finding a way to get physical activity that you also enjoy. If the gym isn’t for you, how about taking a walk every day with a friend, or on the treadmill with your favorite TV show -- or taking up an active hobby like hiking, rock climbing, yoga, or dance?
- Eat well. There’s nothing wrong with having a sugary or salty treat now and then, but make sure to take care of yourself better overall. If you have the budget, choose to eat or get takeaway from restaurants that offer healthy options. You could also sign up for a service that sends a healthy recipe and all necessary ingredients to you. If those options are too pricey, you still have many options. Meal prep is a way to ensure you’re eating well because you’ve made your meals in advance, not ruled them out during a busy day. Meal prep strategies are easy to find online. Or, if you like to cook, make that part of your self-care: commit to devoting a certain amount of time each day to making healthy meals. You can do an online search for recipes based on the time you have – for example, look up “healthy twenty-minute meals”. You’ll be surprised by how many choices you have.
- Get enough sleep.
- Do activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Doing something that makes you happy – even something ‘small’ like setting aside time to read, garden, catch up with a friend, or watch your favourite television show – can restore the soul.
While at work:
Try to actually take your lunch break. If you don’t want to eat a long meal, use the rest of the time to do something you enjoy, like taking a walk or shopping.
If it’s hard to get a lot of free time at work, here are some ways to disconnect from the stress even for a few minutes:
- Take a bathroom break (this can also just be a stroll around the office)
- Run a work-related errand
- Do some breathing exercises
- Have a stretch at your desk
- Read an article or two online
- Listen to music
- Check out some baby animal pictures. According to a study cited here, research shows this can actually boost productivity!
- If you have a bit more time, watch one of these TED Talks about the importance of self-care
Self-care isn’t just important for your well-being; that well-being can spill over to your business’s bottom line. The survey of Australian workers I mentioned also found some dramatic differences between workers who were taking care of their physical and mental needs, versus those who weren’t. For example, workers who practiced self-care, including getting enough sleep and exercise, eating well, and managing stress effectively, took 2 days’ sick leave a year, as opposed to their colleagues who didn’t practice self-care, who took an average 18 sick days! Even when these two groups were present at work, their productivity was dramatically different. Those who practiced self-care reported 143 effective hours worked per month, while their counterparts only claimed 49.
So maybe now you’re convinced that self-care will actually help you and your business thrive – but how to do it? In order to take care of yourself, you need time - and you need to be willing and able to take that time. This can be difficult, whether you’re working for yourself or swamped with tasks from your boss. One rather brilliant suggestion I’ve found is to set aside buffer time in your schedule. For example, if you have a conference call that’s supposed to take an hour, block out an extra thirty minutes to that – or, if you can, even a bit more, since those calls can sometimes go a bit over time. You can fill this allotted time in your schedule with a self-care activity.
But if the guilt we place around self-care, as well as the overwhelming feeling of stress and responsibility, makes it impossible for you to make time, another thing to consider is changing that mindset. Here is one way to do that.
You may think self-care isn’t an option for you because you’re so instrumental to your business – but think of it this way: without regular maintenance, an instrument will go out of tune, and one day even break. Take time for yourself, and you’ll see your business and your life become less stressful and more rewarding.